Before we discuss the importance of play and its invaluable relationship to our wellbeing, lets explore what play actually is. Play is a verb and consists of activities performed for self amusement that naturally have behavioral, social, and psychomotor benefits. Play is seen as enjoyable and spontaneous. The best kind of play is one that is unstructured and personalized to your interests and abilities. Play includes any and all activities that stimulate the mind, body, or both simultaneously! We find that young animals and children spend most of their time at play. Scientists have only recently discovered how important play is for social and physical development. Play inherently teaches social constructs and aids in developing social bonds; Play introduces bodily awareness and the discovery of physical abilities; Play gives us room to make error without judgment or danger being present. Adult animals and humans considerably decrease their playtime naturally, however there are many adults that don’t even consider play to be important, let alone essential for life. So how essential is play?
Play is 100% essential to life. Without play, most animals would fail at forming bonds with others, have poor social skills, lack feelings of joy and excitement, have poor locomotor skills, lack strength and agility, and in the end, life would come to a screeching halt. Every single animal, on land and on sea, use play as an essential part of life as important as food, water, and sleep. So why don’t humans see play as essential to our wellbeing? Our culture and our educational system reward hard work and sacrifice, while condemning unstructured activities that stimulate our creativity. In essence, our society sets us up early in life to see play as a luxury, or even worse, as a waste of time. Only recently have we been restructuring our educational system to allow children more time to spend with creative and physical activities such as art, music, performance, dance, recess, etc. This is because scientists have discovered that the more a child plays, the better they retain and learn information while their listening skills improve and behavioral issues decrease.
The same goes for adults. When you make a point to play each day, you become more productive in your work, you have better focus, you decrease stress levels, you improve your relationships with others, and it keeps you feeling young and energetic. This doesn’t mean you have to schedule an hour each day for “play time”, (although wouldn’t that be fun?) but rather understanding that incorporating play can be as simple as changing your perspective on your every day activities. Instead of doing the dishes, and letting your mind wander, try and sing a made-up dishwashing song while you work. If you’re at your job, you can share a “joke of the day” with your coworkers and have a good laugh. If you’re in the throws of parenthood and are struggling with several children melting down at once, you can imagine yourself doing the same thing and have a secret chuckle to yourself. Play isn’t just something you can do, it’s also something you can perceive.
As adults, especially those of us who are parents, have many compounding responsibilities that we didn’t have as children. It’s normal to have playtime gradually decrease as we enter adulthood, but that doesn’t mean we should let playtime disappear altogether. Especially as we age, play becomes increasingly vital for the elderly. Play stimulates memory, learning, and physical activity for all ages. We must see play as valuable and then intentionally incorporate all your favorite ways to play in your daily life. It’s time to grab a friend and make an adult play-date! The way we shine, is to fill our hearts with joy. The way we fill our hearts with joy, is to play! Play on, friends!