There’s power in play.

“Go out and play.”

That’s what I wanted to hear in the past few days, weeks, well, most of 2020.

I wanted to let go of being an adult. For just a moment, I longed to forget about the news, responsibilities, and all the pain in the world.

Remember when your mother urged you to go outside in the sunshine? Maybe you ran to the swings or drug your trucks through the sand. If you were lucky, you had a tree to climb or a creek to explore.

What if you told your grownup self to take a few moments and —play?

What? 

No time? Too many meetings? Important work on a deadline?

I challenge you to reconsider your grown-up stance on play and view the world again through your childlike wonder. 

Play matters because people matter. It reminds us of our interdependence and gives us a chance to really see other people.
And in turn, to be really and truly seen.
—Jill Vialet, Founder of Playworks

The Power of Play

No. 1 Play fuels our creativity.

Play and intrinsic joy are intimately connected, creating a synergy that naturally leads to greater inspiration, effort, and creative growth.
Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire

Adults who embrace play experience less stress, cope with stress more effectively, enjoy their lives, and experience more positive outcomes. Playfulness gives way to novel ideas. Novel ideas become the gateway to novel solutions. 

Solutions that we might otherwise miss. We become blinded by our staid and even stagnant thinking.

Kaufman and Gregoire argue, “that we are all, in some way, wired to create and that everyday life presents myriad opportunities to exercise and express that creativity.” Cooking, gardening, knitting, inventing, accounting, and anything else you can imagine become gateways to releasing our inner spirit of playfulness and creativity.

No 2. Play protects our mental health.

The opposite of play is not work. Life without play is depression.

“If you think about life without play—no humor, no flirtation, no movies, no games, no fantasy and, and, and. Try and imagine a culture or a life, adult or otherwise without play. And the thing that’s so unique about our species is that we’re really designed to play through our whole lifetime.
—Dr. Stuart Brown

Dr. Stuart Brown, the founder of the National Institute for Play, studied the lives of Texas murderers. He discovered a common thread among these individuals. They all suffered from play deprivation in their childhood. His subsequent studies have demonstrated a strong correlation between play and our mental health and wellness.

Neotony, the retention of immature qualities into adulthood, makes human beings one of the most adaptable species. As we face stressful times, play can relieve stress and build resilience. A game or two will also and keep you younger, a bonus.

If you hear someone at your door calling, “Do you want to build a snowman?” I suggest you gear up and have some fun.

“During this pandemic, play is proving to be a powerful weapon to combat the wearing psychological effects of isolation. Play is not denial. Play is fighting back.”
Scott G. Eberle Ph.D.

No. 3 Play strengthens relationships

Play is a powerful tool for building and maintaining relationships. I don’t have to look far as I watch my adult children who laugh and challenge each other in all sorts of games.

Playing a game together actually builds up bonds and trust, and cooperation. We actually build stronger social relationships as a result.
Jane McGonigal

We host a family party and set up games like Jenga and bean bag toss. Adults and children engage with equal vigor and competitiveness. Launching rockets brings everyone outdoors to marvel at the height of the soaring rocket or laugh hysterically at other failed attempts.

Play brings us together and creates shared memories and trust. Play at its best adds joy and vitality to our relationships in families, among friends, and with colleagues at work.

The Challenge

Take time each day to play.

My husband and I find excuses to go out and play (and will again soon, I hope). These outings might be a walk in a state forest, a trip to a museum, a day at the beach. 

Recent months have challenged our “playtime.” But we look for brief outings where we can remain safe. Sometimes, a quiet hour on the swing in the evening beats any activity. A brilliant sunset adds unexpected delight.

If you have no idea where to begin, I found a great Help Guide with these suggestions and added a few of my own.

  • Host a regular game night with friends or family. We have close friends who use FaceTime or Zoom to continue their game night.
  • Arrange nights out with work colleagues. While this might not be possible now, I have friends who plan evenings together through Zoom. I even shared in a book launch for a writer. We each dressed up and toasted the honoree.
  • Play with a pet. Puppies, especially, make very willing playmates. If you don’t have your own, borrow one from your local animal shelter.
  • Surround yourself with playful people. Spontaneity among friends gives a sparkle to even the most mundane of activities. 
  • Learn a skill or craft. Visit a magic store and learn some tricks. Or invest in art supplies, construction toys, or science kits and create something new. I tried loom knitting. The output is nothing spectacular, but I tried and had a little fun.
  • Play with children. Nothing brings out your playfulness better than sitting on the floor playing with legos, trucks, dolls, or the occasional imaginary friend.
  • Play an instrument. When I feel myself becoming too serious and stuck in my thinking, I grab my ukulele or guitar and sing. That’s my go-to remedy for most of life’s challenges.

And finally, George Bernard Shaw offers this wisdom:

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

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And always—be and become #yourbest.