The Practicality of Play
The Practicality of Play
"When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up." C.S. Lewis
What are your earliest memories of play? I remember playing hide and seek with my Mom and Dad. They took turns hiding me and my brother like Easter Eggs.
I remember playing cowboys with me as the Marshal, my brother as my Deputy, and Dad as the bad guy we had to capture. The bunk beds were the jail we put him in and we were always surprised that, despite our diligent search, he always managed to come up with a derringer from somewhere to make us let him out, at which point the classic fight would ensue which always ended with us in a big pile rolling on the floor laughing as he tickled us. I remember riding horses and building forts. I remember playing in the sand box and building sand castles. I remember seeing how high I could swing, playing Tag, Red Light, and Dodge Ball. I remember catching fireflies and the feel of the cool grass under my feet as the day turned into night. I remember learning to count playing Monopoly and Crazy Eights. Later came Basketball and bicycles; hiking, camping, fishing, and telling stories around the camp fire. I remember lots of laughter and fun. What would life be without play?
What is play? Play is something done purely for its own sake, just for the joy of doing it. A well known researcher in the field of neuroscience and play, Dr. Stuart Brown, says; "If it's purpose is more important than the act of doing it, it is probably not play." Ironically, many people think they need a "reason" to play, that it is fun but not a practical, essential part of life. Play is a lot more than just having fun. Play IS practical. Play is a key component to a healthy, happy life! For those who need it, I am going to give you some reasons.
Playing with others is the foundation of trust and relatedness. Positive Psychology is a recent branch of psychology that is about the study of positive human functioning, making normal life more fulfilling, not simply to treating mental illness. The bottom line of all the research in Positive Psychology is that other people matter. Our relationships with others determine our overall satisfaction with our lives. I was watching a fascinating series on Public Television called "This Emotional Life" and struck by one study in which couples were asked to rate their level of satisfaction with each other. Then they were asked to perform a "novel task" together. In this case it was to tie one of their hands and one of their feet to their partners, kind of like a three legged race, and crawl across the floor maneuvering a ball through a series of obstacles. There was a marked increase in the rating of their level of satisfaction with each other after the "novel task." In other words, they were happier with each other when they played together! Play is a transformative force in relationships.
Playing with ideas is the platform for passion about life and creative thinking. While play does not have as its primary focus the accomplishment of an objective task, objective tasks are more readily accomplished with a playful attitude. We all have had the experience of being in the flow. In Positive Psychology, the word "Flow" is used to describe a mental state in which a person in an activity is fully immersed, feeling energized and focused. When we are in the flow we are fully involved and have a feeling of success in the process of the activity, we lose track of time. The work/play distinction blurs within Flow. Time really does fly when you are having fun! Play is an altered state within which intelligence is enhanced and new possibilities arise. It is easier to stick with something you are having fun with! I remember watching my daughter play with blocks, seeing how high she could stack them. She would become frustrated sometimes but kept at it doggedly until she could get them as high as she wanted and then laugh with glee as she knocked them down.
According to Dr. Brown, "The opposite of play is not work. It is depression." We get depressed when we are not having fulfilling relationships, playing with others. We get depressed when playful creativity is not a part of our work. All work and no play not only leaves Jack a dull boy, it leaves him depressed as well.
My life is still characterized by play. It has just taken on some more sophisticated forms. I still love playing games. I just traded Old Maid and Crazy Eights in for Scrabble, Chess, and Poker. I still love camping and sitting around telling stories by the fire. I just added backpacking, mountain climbing, white water rafting, and Wilderness Survival Skills. I still love exploring the neighborhood like I did on my bike. My neighborhood just expanded and included getting in a car and driving across the country or getting on a plane and traveling around the world. I still love to be creative and build things. I just expanded into drawing, photography, and writing. We are not meant to leave play behind as something belonging only to childhood. We are meant to learn and get better at it as we grow. It is, in fact, fundamental to our growth.
How much of your life is characterized by play? What is play for you? Play makes you happier, others around you happier, and makes you more effective in your work.
Play is not just something to set aside time for now and then. It is an approach to life. Enjoy you relationships. Enjoy your work. Enjoy your life. Play!
For more about the positive aspects of play check out the link to the TED talk by Dr. Stuart Brown.
"Dr. Stuart Brown came to research play through research on murderers -- unlikely as that seems -- after he found a stunning common thread in killers' stories: lack of play in childhood. Since then, he's interviewed thousands of people to catalog their relationships with play, noting a strong correlation between success and playful activity."