More than Child’s Play: The Benefits of Letting Loose and Having Fun

You’re staring intently at the space on the table in front of you. The others sitting with you are also focused on the same space to you. You frown. Rub your temple. “Hmm,” you mutter. Then it hits you. “Yes!” You’ve got the solution!  No, you didn’t just solve a work-related conundrum. You’re plunking a set of wooden tiles down on the Scrabble board to turn someone else’s “ox” contribution into “orthodox.” Even better, one of those letters now rests on a triple-word-score tile. Eureka!

Sound familiar? If not, you need to keep reading. The word “play” often conjures up mental images of children frolicking and laughing. We encourage the young folks in our midst to explore the world this way. We recognize the value of play as an educational outlet and as a way to unwind. As children, play is our job. We go to school. We have our chores. But mostly, we play.  Then we grow up. Finding time for games and frivolity is a luxury. We have responsibilities. We have more important things to do. Right? Not quite.

The Benefits of Play

There’s no shortage to the benefits of play, and get this, there’s no age limit on who enjoys those benefits.  Studies have found that play is a powerful mechanism to help adults cope with stress. It contributes to our overall well-being, after all, as play nurtures our optimistic side. Play builds connections between ourselves and others. It can give our immune system a boost, too. It supports resiliency, problem solving, productivity, focus, and creative thinking. That’s just the tip of the iceberg!

What is Play?

According to Dr. Stuart Brown, head of the nonprofit the National Institute for Play, “Play is something done for its own sake. It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”  Which is to say, you don’t need to spend time reconnecting with your childhood toys or playing tag until the street lights come on, unless, of course, you want to.

For adults, just as with children, play takes on many different forms. It could be hiking through your favorite park, playing softball on a rec league, reading a book, painting, photography, solving puzzles, cracking the illusive Rubik Cube, or refinishing the table that was your latest garage sale find.  What makes it play is that it offers us a pleasure. It gives us a break from the stress and busyness of our go-go-go lifestyles. It’s an experience where the experience itself matters more than the eventual outcome.

Identify Playful Outlets

Tuck a book of cross word puzzles in your laptop bag. Keep a fidget cube and a Slinky on your desk. Tuck some colored pencils and a pad to doodle on in your drawer. Add a couple of game apps to your smart phone. When you feel yourself losing focus, grab the gizmos off the desk and give yourself a mini-play-break. When you’re sitting on the train, solve a crossword or two or get your daily fix of Candy Crush.

Then think bigger. You remember those piano lessons you wished you took as a child? Take them now. The dance class you’ve been thinking about? Go for it! Think about what you’d like to learn for the pure joy of learning it. Think of the places you’d like to explore. The books you want to get lost in. Just make sure this process begins with identifying playful potential and ends with you participating in the things you’ve listed!

Set a Goal to Play More

Certainly, play lends itself to a bit of spontaneity. Setting a goal to play more doesn’t mean this element of your life needs to be regimented and to-do listed quite the same way getting your work projects completed or your laundry done. That said, you do need to make downtime a priority. Schedule date-nights with your partner. Make time for your hobbies. Put aside the tether to your email and phone to make time to color with your child. When you’re penciling in meetings, deadlines, and other responsibilities, leave yourself some time each day for things you enjoy also.