Are you playing enough? Chances are that if you are out of elementary school, you might not be playing as much as you should, some experts believe.
There are many different kinds of play that can be enjoyed at any age and have benefits throughout life, according to experts who study play and its effects on the brain.
“Nothing lights up the brain like play,” said Stuart Brown, MD and founder of the National Institute for Play. Mr. Brown made this comment during a TED Talk he gave on this topic. “The opposite of play isn’t work, it’s depression.”
Play can occur in many forms: social play, imaginative play, rough and tumble play, storytelling, games, and more. “The thing that is so unique about our species is that we’re really designed to play throughout our lifetime,” Dr. Brown said. “The basis of human trust is established through play signals.”
Play seems to have been lost in the crunch of work, commutes, online activity, and taking care of day-to-day responsibilities. What makes play so healthy is that there isn’t a right or wrong way to do it—no one takes a class to learn how to play—and it’s voluntary when you want and how you want to do it. There can be organized play too, such as sports, or crafts and clubs where there are the additional benefits of dependable social engagement.
It might feel a little awkward to set up a playdate for yourself, but there are more and more options available for adults who want to rediscover their inner child:
- Grab a coloring book designed for grownups. See if there is a coloring book party (like book clubs) going on in your area. An NBC Nightly News report noted that adult coloring books are so popular in France that they are outselling cookbooks. Adults that enjoy this pastime describe it as “meditative” and “stress reducing.”
- Join a laughter club—for free. It sounds backwards to makeyourself laugh, but the idea is to relax, let off some stress, socialize, and be spontaneous.
- Finger paint or try on some costumes! Seriously. The trend of adult play is so popular that there is now an “adult preschool” in Brooklyn where people with jobs do traditional preschool activities together after work hours and find that mushing Play-doh, playing dress up, and such is fun and relaxing.
While these ideas are a bit retro, the concept is the same as joining a local sports team, signing up for arts & crafts clubs, meeting for regular card or board games, or other non-work activities and times to connect socially.
All Work and No Play…
Play should not be optional, but a key part of daily life for people of all ages, experiences, and abilities. In other words, play should not be treated as a luxury, but instead a necessity to everyone.
“We do know that in domestic animals and rats when they are play-deprived that they don’t develop a brain that is normal,” said Dr. Brown. “Think about a life without play, no humor, no flirtation, no movies, no games, no fantasy, and try and imagine a culture or a life, adult or otherwise, without play.”
This acceptable play is something of a backlash to the multi-tasking world of adulthood that is so familiar. Playing can be physical activity—jumping on a trampoline or into a ball pit, shuffleboard, softball, swimming, tennis, pickleball, and much more—or it can be playing a musical instrument, or engaging in something that brings you joy.
If you aren’t sure what your idea of playing or fun is, Dr. Brown has some advice: “Explore backwards as far as you can go to the most playful image you have, and build on that emotion.”