Play is Necessary for Adults

Last week, I interviewed play expert, Brandi Heather. She talked about how you can pay attention to how pay occurs in your life, and look for opportunities for more play. In this episode of Changes BIG and small, I’m going to share some of the research about why play is so important. There are compelling reasons to add play to your life. Stay with me and by the end of the episode, you’ll have some concrete ideas of how you can enrich your life with play. This episode is for everyone.

When I say play, what comes to mind? Are there any adults in the mental image that you create? Do you see yourself play? your children? the children that you know? your younger self?

What is Play? (1:25)

As Brandi Heather mentioned last week, it’s hard to define play. Medical doctor and play expert Stuart Brown says of play “It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”

When we think of that description, we can see that play is individual. What’s play to me may be the very thing that you dread doing, or vice versa. What are the things that come to mind for you that fit that description? Now imagine a life without play.

Dr. Stuart Brown says:

Our heritage as humans is to…play.
Yes, we are built to play, and built by play.

Dr. Stuart Brown, The Science of Play: Why Play

Why Play (2:30)

Maybe you’re not convinced and you think play is for children. You’re not sure of its value in adulthood. Dr. Stuart Brown outlines 8 benefits of play which you can read on his blog. His research and that of other researchers in the field and adjacent fields about flow, brain health, learning, happiness, work satisfaction, etc. show that play benefits adults in many ways. These include:

  • Relieve stress
  • Improve brain function
  • Stimulate the mind and boost creativity
  • Maintain physical fitness, strength and flexibility
  • Improve relationships and connections with others
  • Improve productivity
  • Develop social skills

Your Play Story (3:55)

I’ve just presented many benefits of play for adults, but you may find it easier to relate play to childhood. Let’s explore your play story.

What is the first memory that you have of play?

We discover play early, as babies. In preschool and elementary school, children have recess, during which they are expected to play. Although recess still exists in middle and high school, it seems to be less play focused. I spent my childhood years with my grandmother, and I remember her telling me to go outside and play. But as the years went by, the instruction to go outside and play was replaced by instructions to study.

Let’s do the exercise Brandi mentioned in last week’s episode. Take a moment and think about the last time you played. How did you feel? How long did you spend playing? What happened to trigger play and how did it end? What are the activities that are fun for you, and thus playful? Could you make a list of those activities?

It might help you to consider your play personality. Dr. Stuart Brown identifies 8 personalities:

  • Joker
  • Kinesthete
  • Explorer (physical, mental or emotional)
  • Competitor
  • Director
  • Collector
  • Artist/Creator
  • Storyteller

Like with many personality models, you don’t have to solely be one thing or another. You can be a combination of these, or perhaps you behave differently in different situations. I think the classifications are useful for thinking of the types of activities you may enjoy. Use it to open yourself up to more options and not to limit yourself.

What Can You Do for Play? (7:13)

Consider this long list of activity that may be play. Which ones do you think of as play and might you do them alone or with someone else?

  • Gardening
  • Playing in the park
  • Sharing jokes
  • Dressing up in a costume or in fancy clothing
  • Playing board games
  • Playing fetch with your dog
  • Playing sports
  • Joining a club
  • Completing Crossword/Sudoku
  • Doing some physical exercise
  • Cracking jokes
  • Hosting an event
  • Befriending a fun person
  • Smiling and laughing out loud
  • Trying out new things
  • Singing and dancing
  • Volunteering
  • Going to a sports event, the theatre, a fair, etc.

Lots more ideas here and here.

The Play Challenge (8:40)

This week’s challenge is to have some fun. Each week, we talk about change, and improvement. The goal though, is to be happier, healthier people who feel free. Letting yourself go in a moment of fun is one of the ways that you can create freedom for yourself every day. It’s something that you can do just for yourself, a gift with cascading effects.

I invite you to find some time for play every day. I’d love to find out what you consider play, so please share one of your playful moments and tag me:

I hope that you’re feeling inspired after listening to this episode. If you’re intimidated by the idea of play, find someone to play with. Come share your journey with us on social media or in the Changes BIG and small Facebook community. I’d love to connect with you.

And as always, don’t forget that change starts with one small step. How will you play today?

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