When we’re young, playing is seen as a normal and natural part of our daily lives. At certain ages, while we’re growing up, play may be the activity in which we’re investing the vast majority of our time and energy. Rarely, if ever, does anyone question devoting of an enormous amount of time to this activity during early childhood. We all understand the importance of playdates for toddlers and playgrounds for elementary school children. Yet, we often fail to see that adults must make time to play, as well.
“Studies have shown that the free-play that comes with recess is crucial to a child’s cognitive, social and emotional development.”American Heart Association, “Kids Need Recess”, Heart Insight Magazine, 2016
Time to Play Tends to Take a Backseat
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, we lose sight of the importance of play. For some, this turning point comes earlier than for others.
“Kids have society’s permission to play, and most adults don’t. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, most of us exchange play for work, and forget to play with the abandon and joy of childhood.”The National Institute for Play
Why Didn’t the Wild Polar Bear eat the Husky?
Many parents and teachers, whether they’re aware of it or not, have a hard “play deadline” in their minds. They’ve determined some age to be the point at which children must begin to grow up. When this age arrives, it may be accompanied by more responsibility, in the form of household chores, handling money, or babysitting. To many, perhaps most, growing up also equates to setting “childish things” aside. Outgrown artifacts of the previous life stage may include stuffed animals, cartoons, or playing.
Although there are exceptions, teens are praised, rewarded, and at some point, expected to give up purely fun activities to take on more productive tasks. For most, by the time they leave high school, play will have been re-framed, quite effectively, as immature and a complete “waste of time”.
Exceptions aside, this is the standard formula for entering adulthood in our culture. We absolutely need to accept responsibility, and engage in more productive work as we get older. The question is, as we’re doing that, do we need to leave playing behind?
The Many Benefits of Having Fun
Play isn’t just beneficial for children, it’s an essential component of wellbeing at any (every) age.
Among the potential benefits of play are:
- Boosting mood
- Building social skills
- Creating positive memories
- Developing leadership skills
- Engaging in friendly competition, sportsmanship
- Enhanced strategic thinking, critical thinking, creativity
- Expanded vocabulary, perspective taking ability
- Forming relationships, or strengthening connections
- Fostering a sense of belonging, cooperation
- Improved cognitive functioning, memory
- Increased energy
“Stepping out of a normal routine, finding novelty, being open to serendipity,Stuart Brown
enjoying the unexpected, embracing a little risk, and
finding pleasure in the heightened vividness of life.
These are all qualities of a state of play.”
Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul
Why We Don’t Make Time to Play
If having fun is cognitively, physically, and socially beneficial, why don’t we do it more often? As a blog writer, I’m also a blog consumer. I read for fun, to learn, and to see what topics are “hot”. Without getting into the statistics of it, there are tons, literally tons of people who feel they’ve lost their joy, meaning, and passion.
“We are a nation of exhausted and overstressed adults raising overscheduled children.Brené Brown
We think accomplishments and acquisitions will bring joy and meaning
but that pursuit could be the very thing that’s
keeping us so tired and afraid to slow down.”
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
Culturally, we’ve invested heavily in becoming more and more productive, although our non-productive activities, our “wasted” time, may ultimately be more valuable. We may find, when we revisit our time spent playing, that it holds some of our most cherished moments with family and friends. When your children are grown, like mine, you may wish you had gone that extra round of kick the can, instead of returning to your work…
Amazing Careers Still Constitute Work
I can honestly say, I have a long way to go in this area (making time for play, play-work balance).
Looking at the larger picture, I’ve simply spent too many hours working. On top of that, I have a tendency to continue to think about, and talk about work, once I finally “stop” working. I’ve even dreamt of work on multiple occasions.
As a community college instructor, I can’t count how many times I’ve lost track of time while creating a classroom presentation. At some point, a colleague would peek in and say, “Are you still here?” Jolted out of my state of flow, I was always momentarily confused, trying to collect my thoughts and quickly piece back together the reality I’d abruptly crashed into. It was similar to the feeling that ensues after an alarm clock disrupts a serene, lovely dream. Once the fog lifted, and my awareness of time and place was restored, I would realize the day was gone. The sun had set. Now, as a writer, when I’m drafting a book, chapter, or article, I’m just as lost in the process…
Or, I would go home and work. I am sure my children wish they had a dime for everytime I said, “In a minute, I just want to finish this last thing.”
On the bright side, one of the reasons I’ve put in so many hours is that (for the most part) I love what I do. I’ve been lucky (or strategic) enough in life to land careers that are rewarding on multiple levels.
They say if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. I’ve found that to be only partially true. Although loving your work is wonderful, as with most things, moderation is key. Limiting the time spent on work, much like restricting the amount of chocolate consumed, leaves us healthier, happier, and more balanced.
Work is, after all, just one aspect of our lives. And living to the fullest requires that we find ways to divide our attention and energy, creating a balance that will ultimately lead to wellness and wellbeing.
“And I think what this leaves us, as a message for all of you, I think is a little bit like this:Ricardo Semler
We’ve all learned how to go on Sunday night to email and work from home.
But very few of us have learned how to go to the movies on Monday afternoon.
And if we’re looking for wisdom, we need to learn to do that as well.”
How to Run a Company with Almost No Rules, TED 2014
What are You Waiting For? Go Goof Off!
Have you done something fun today? Not something productive, or useful, have you engaged in one activity strictly because it was fun?
There’s a time to work, and a time to play. Perhaps, now is the latter. Dedicate a short amount of time, each day, to fun, silliness, and play. Do this for, minimally, a month.
Then, check in with yourself. See how you feel, determine whether play has brought benefit to your life. If it has (which I’m sure it will), think of ways to ensure its inclusion in your daily routines, moving forward.
And, remember to hold frolic and fun up, as a high priority, alongside your many other “more productive” endeavors…