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The Importance of Play: Part Two

After reading Part One of this blog series, you may have a better understanding of how important play is in our children’s lives.  Play, not rigid and structured educational pressures, is vital for the development of a child’s mind allowing them to become more creative, compassionate, self-reliant, and successful throughout their lives.  Don’t get us wrong – we aren’t suggesting that everyone pull their kids out of school and let them play all day.  Instead, we hope that you, as parents, get involved in your children’s lives (both at home and in school) and make play a priority.

Now, on to Part Two.  Play … as an adult.  The benefits for a child may seem obvious, but what about the benefits as an adult?  I know what many of you are saying …

I don’t have time.  I have responsibilities that are far more important.  Playing is for kids.  Playing doesn’t pay the bills. 

Okay, so that last one might be true, the rest are excuses not facts, excuses that may actually be making your life more difficult, more stressful, and definitely less enjoyable.

office work

The Stigma of Play

I think it’s important to bring to light the stigma of playing as an adult and how we’ve created a system that punishes us for doing something completely natural and important for our health.  In our society, we have a basic framework that our lives are supposed to fit into – a structure developed over decades if not centuries.  We go to school as kids, eventually graduate (first high school and then college), start working in our career, get married, buy a house, have a family, raise said family, pay for our kids’ educations so they can do the same, and eventually retire.  Sound familiar?  These are the expectations that we place upon ourselves, the checklist of events that we feel we must complete in order to be successful.  Not all of us follow this, of course, and there are plenty of variations, but for argument’s sake, we’re going to use this as an example of a standard life.

Now, look at that list … where does the fun fit in?  There are two typical places – in our school-aged lives as kids and again, several decades later, when we retire.  I don’t know about you, but waiting until I’m 65 or even older to do all of those fun things I’ve always dreamed of doing sounds … ridiculous.  Not that there’s anything wrong with working hard for your entire life so that you can enjoy your retirement, but what about the decades in between?

Why do we push all thoughts of play until retirement?

Perhaps the most obvious is expectation.  Society expects us to wait until retirement to start frivolous hobbies, RV across the country, to have fun.  Society expects us to devote all of our prime years to working, building a career, making money, and focusing on our responsibilities.  Those expectations filter down to individuals in many ways and the pressures to conform are ridiculously high.

With expectation comes guilt.  A prime example of this that happens on a daily basis in this country is “mommy shaming.”  I’m talking about people either passively or directly trying to guilt/humiliate/shame a parent for taking ten minutes to relax while their kids run around outside with messy hair, mismatched clothes, and smudges from their lunch still on their faces.  It’s expected that a parent will be able to keep a house running smoothly, keep the kids picture perfect, and still present themselves in a satisfactory manner.  When that doesn’t happen?  In comes the guilt.  Most of us have probably felt it, and it’s not pleasant.  Worse, we willingly set ourselves up for guilt by striving to ridiculous, unrealistic expectations that very few could possibly meet.

While that speaks to a much larger issue that we won’t go into here, that same guilt is applied to play.  How dare an adult go have dinner and movie with friends when there are files to be finished for work!  In this age of social media and digital connection, it’s even harder for us to separate our work life from our home life, which means that we have even more expectations, more guilt, and less enjoyment in our lives.

It’s expected that we drag our work home with us and cut into our all-too-little family/me time.  It’s expected that we cut things out of our life to make room for those added expectations.  And what gets cut to make room?  Play.

Adults dancing

Adults Need to Play Too

What happens when you stop using a certain muscle for a long time?  Without repeated use, muscles deteriorate.  Our minds work in much the same way.  Playing as children engages important parts of our minds and helps our brains develop.  If we stop, however, those same areas start to deteriorate and weaken.  That alone should be reason enough to add a little fun time into our schedules, but for those of you who need a little more convincing, here are other reasons why playing and having fun are important as adults.

Fun Improves Relationships

Both at work and at home, having fun with others helps to boost our relationships by building and strengthening bonds and even improving our conflict resolution skills.  At home this can mean a happier home life with fewer fights/arguments.  At work, laughing with co-workers can build trust, increase communication, and develop creativity, which can translate into better problem-solving skills and an easier time working toward the same goals.

Want to be Smarter?  Play.

If you’re worried about your ability to concentrate or your memory, studies suggest that playing and having fun could be some of easiest ways to boost both.  The act of playing can also boost our creativity, which generates new ideas, introduces new questions, and, in turn, promotes self-directed learning.  Here’s an example:  You decide to have a little fun and go to the theater with a friend.  While there, you watch a traditional Chinese dance that is as beautiful as it is entertaining.  Suddenly, you start to think about how you loved to dance as a child and then you find yourself thinking about how fun it would be to finally learn how to tap dance.  Soon, you’re researching dance studios in the area and end up signing up for a class next month.

One night of fun suddenly pushed you to learn a new skill.  Dancing, wood-working, writing poetry, singing – no matter how you play there is always a chance to learn more and because it’s something you (hopefully) enjoy, you’ll pursue it with far more passion than you might bring to a required learning seminar for work.

Laughter is the Best Medicine

I think almost all of us recognize the stress in our lives.  Although we can’t eliminate stress, we can change how we deal with it, and that can have monumental impacts on the quality of our lives.  Laughter not only buffers us from the harmful effects of stress, but it also reduces the amount of negative emotions we have.  The obvious result of this?  Happier lives.  Who doesn’t want a happy life?

Man laughing

Reducing our stress levels has other positive effects.  Stress is a known drain on energy.  When we are stressed, we feel sluggish, tired, frustrated, depressed, or even angry.  If we can boost our stress-handling capabilities and let fewer stresses affect us, we can get some of that energy back.  It’s kind of like having a mini Fountain of Youth ready and waiting whenever you need it.  George Bernard Shaw perhaps said it best when he said …

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.

Whether your idea of fun is to read a book, go for a hike, play cards with friends, or learn how to properly cook a quiche, it’s important that you make time for play in your life.  Don’t let the obligations, responsibilities, and expectations of the world around you run your life.  Instead, take charge by taking some time to focus on your health.  You may be surprised by the full impact a little fun can have on all aspects of your life from handling that flat tire on the side of the interstate to dealing with customers at work.

We’re not done yet!  Come back soon to learn about the difference between real fun and fake fun (yes, there is such a thing)

and get some ideas on how to figure out which form of play is best for you.