“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw
Play may be associated with the carefree days of our youth, but does it have to be? According to play researcher Dr. Stuart Brown, humour, games, and fantasy are more than just fun. His research shows that while play in childhood makes for happy, smart adults, play for adults can make us smarter at any age. It doesn’t just make us joyful, but it’s also energising.
Read on to learn more about why play is important for our physical and mental health and how it can help nurture our relationships.
Mental and physical health benefits of play
During play, our brain releases endorphins, our body’s feel-good chemicals. This helps to reduce stress and promote an overall sense of wellbeing. According to the National Institute for Play (NIFP), play is considered the “gateway to vitality.” It not only generates optimism and fosters empathy, but it also gives the immune system a boost.
In one 2013 study, researchers found that adult subjects who were more playful used healthier coping styles like acceptance and positive reframing for anxiety. The authors also noted that even though less-playful adults were equipped with the same coping skills, playful adults were more likely to use them effectively.
How play affects our careers
Current evidence suggests that play optimises learning. Just as children learn best when they are playing, so do adults. You’re more likely to learn a new task or behaviour faster when it’s fun and you’re relaxed. Play can also stimulate your imagination and help you solve problems more creatively.
Along with making you more innovative, play can strengthen the bonds you have with your colleagues and simply add more joy to the workday. It’s no wonder that studies have linked play and playfulness with overall life satisfaction. Research shows that playful adults tend to do more enjoyable activities and have a more active life than less playful adults, on and off the job.
How play nurtures our relationships
Having a playful attitude doesn’t just help you bond with your colleagues; it can positively impact all your relationships. For instance, research indicates that playing games or pursuing fun activities with your spouse increases bonding, communication, conflict resolution, and relationship satisfaction. Play can also promote spontaneity when life falls into a routine.
And playing with your child is one of the most important things you can do for their mental health. According to Dr. Michael Popkin, an expert in the field of parent education, playing with your child fosters their self-esteem, helps the child learn about the world, provides opportunities for them to learn new skills, and builds the bond between parent and child.
Why don’t we play as adults?
In many families, there is too much focus on achievement. This is based on the perception that we are only valid if we are successful. We only get attention when we do something well, whether it’s academic performance or athletic achievements. Pretty soon, our motivation is goal-based, and we stop being able to enjoy the process.
Many Hoffman Process participants report that their parents restricted the ability to express joy. They’d say things, like “Don’t be so silly!” or “That’s enough fun now!” In that moment, the child gets shamed for expressing and experiencing fun. Later in life, that person will have difficulties experiencing joy as it is associated with rejection.
Unless we can heal our toxic shame, many of us will continue being resistant to having fun. We’ll think play is frivolous and not for us. The Hoffman Process helps to heal this toxic shame and offers a corrective experience in being able to honour who we are and what we feel, both heavy and light. Each Hoffman Process participant can reembrace their playful inner child in a safe and supportive space.
How we can add more play to our lives
Just like making time for exercise, it is equally as important to make time to play. This looks different to everyone and may take some exploration to find what brings you joy and lightness, but this is only possible if you give yourself the space to experience boredom. Out of a space of ‘nothing is happening’ our creativity can arise. Video games, TV, social media, email—modern technology is great at entertaining us, but it’s also notorious for stealing away our ability to listen to our own senses as they are drowned out in constant stimulation.
Just be aware of when you might be using play as an escape. Some people use humour and play to avoid facing themselves and others. Routines and responsibilities feel like entrapment and so they avoid committing to anyone or anything. The result is a lack of involvement with others. The Hoffman Process offers a way to deal with the ‘entrapment’ issue so that people can embrace both fun and commitment. You do not have to sacrifice your childlike playful qualities to be a healthy and responsible adult.
This article was contributed by Erica Garza. Follow @ericadgarza on Instagram