My fondest memories growing up all involved playing with my friends when I was a kid. From riding our bikes together, climbing trees, to playing sports, I was always my happiest
when I was carefree and playing with my friends. I’m sure you share many of the same experiences in your childhood. However, somewhere along the way, towards this evolution of “adulthood,” we lost this ability.
Everything shifts from playing, having fun, and being goofy to being all stringent, hypersensitive, and “too cool” to engage in the light-hearted fun that we all grew up loving. There are many theories to why this occurs and I’ll share some of my own:
1. All of our focus turns towards money and working (aka “paying the bills”). I get it, it’s important to have enough money to cover our basic needs.
2. We get caught up in the lazy narrative that we are “too busy.” Even though we all find time to bullshit in some other nonproductive ways.
3. We are afraid of being judged.
4. We’re too “grown” to play.
5. We don’t realize the positive impact playing can have on our day-to-day adult lives.
Benefits of Play
Play has been shown to help keep peace, increase learning, productivity, and job satisfaction, enhance bonding, as well as help adults be more resilient towards stress.
Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College, says, “Play primarily evolved to teach children all kinds of skills, and its extension into adulthood may have helped to build cooperation and sharing among hunter-gathers beyond the level that would naturally exist in a dominance-seeking species.” That is to say, for our earliest ancestors, play wasn’t just about adding fun to their lives, it may have been a way of keeping the peace, which was critical for survival.
There’s a reason that adult play exists in modern society, says Lynn Barnett, a professor of recreation, sports and tourism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. One theory is that we play because it’s therapeutic — and there’s research to back that up, she says. “At work, play has been found to speed up learning, enhance productivity and increase job satisfaction; and at home, playing together, like going to a movie or a concert, can enhance bonding and communication.”
Playful adults have the ability to transform everyday situations, even stressful ones, into something entertaining, Barnett says. She co-authored a study that found highly playful young adults — those who rated themselves high on personality characteristics such as being spontaneous or energetic, or open to “clowning around” — reported less stress in their lives and possessed better coping skills. Perhaps they have these attributes because they are better able to keep stress in perspective, Barnett theorizes.
“Highly playful adults feel the same stressors as anyone else, but they appear to experience and react to them differently, allowing stressors to roll off more easily than those who are less playful,” she says.
Play Your Way
Playing has a host of benefits for adults and it can come in so many different forms. According to psychiatrist Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play in Carmel Valley, California, how we play is “as unique to an individual as a fingerprint.” This can include playing golf, reading, tossing a football, hiking, playing cards, collecting stamps, coloring, etc. “What all play has in common is that it offers a sense of engagement and pleasure, takes the player out of a sense of time and place, and the experience of doing it is more important than the outcome.”
To find out how to better incorporate more play into your life, reflect back on your child and see what type of activities brought you the most pleasure. Once you find that, see how you can incorporate that into your adult life. If you loved playing sports as a kid, see if there are any adult sports leagues you can join. If you loved drawing, painting, or coloring, visit your local Paint With A Twist location or buy a coloring book and some colored pencils. Or just get outside and play with whatever type of earth you have around you.
Rekindle your love for fun. Grab a friend or family member and give both of you the favor and go out and PLAY!
-You Can 2