WHY PLAY DOESN'T END WITH CHILDHOOD
For years, parents have learned about the importance of play for their children – but what about the importance of play for grown-ups? Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, most of us stop playing. Our tribal ancestors were constantly chasing their children, recreating or reframing the hunt with dance or drums, swinging from a vine and digging in the sand. They knew, innately, what the National Institute for Play spent time and money researching – that play is not a luxury; it is a necessary activity.
We exchange play for work and responsibilities. When we do have some leisure time, we are more likely to zone out in front of the TV or computer than engage in creative, brain-stimulating play.
Art De Vany, Ph.D., suggests, ‘We are deeply unsatisfied with more and more, because we evolved from a time when material goods did not matter.’
The times have changed so rapidly that our genes have not had time to adjust. Material things have replaced social stimulation and personal interaction. We crave real social stimulation rather than social media/Facebook isolation.
By giving ourselves permission to play with the joyful abandon of childhood, we can continue to reap its benefits throughout life. On average, our tribal ancestors spent about 3–5 hours of his day acquiring food, 3 hours building shelter, making tools and engaging in general housekeeping duties, and 10 hours sleeping and resting – which leaves about 6 hours for ‘play’.
Play is as important to our physical and mental health as getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising. Play teaches us how to manage and transform our ‘negative’ emotions and experiences. It supercharges learning, helps us relieve stress and connects us to others and the world around us. Play can also make work more productive and pleasurable, improve relationships, improve the education we provide to our children and improve our creativity.
‘Life without play is a grinding, mechanical existence organised around things necessary for survival.’ – Stuart Brown, MD, author of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. How do we, as adults ‘play’ in the modern world? Joining a sports team, social group or club is a good place to start. For those of you who CrossFit, have you ever noticed that the exercise rig closely resembles monkey bars you would find in a playground? Any face-to-face interaction where you are sharing joy, challenges, laughter and fun with others, promoting bonds and strengthening community, is seen as playing.
Psychiatrist and writer Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has studied play extensively. He describes play as a flowing state that requires just the right balance of challenge and opportunity. If the game or situation is too hard or too easy, it loses its sense of pleasure and fun. Maintaining a flow state in games with others requires all participants, regardless of age or ability, to feel challenged, but not overwhelmed.
Action Steps for Improving Play:
• Be spontaneous. Go surfing on your lunch break. Have lunch at different restaurants.
• Join a team sport or social club.
• Play a practical joke on a friend.
• Pull out some old toys, such as Lego, and build something.
• Involve yourself with children’s playtime more often.
• Play a board game or cards with your family and friends.