by Associate Editor, Psych Central: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/11/15/the-importance-of-play-for-adults/
society tends to dismiss play for adults.
Play is perceived as
unproductive, petty or even a guilty pleasure.
The notion is that once
we reach adulthood, it’s time to get serious. And between personal and
professional responsibilities, there’s no time to play.
“The only kind [of play] we honor is competitive play,” according to Bowen F. White, MD, a medical doctor and author of Why Normal Isn’t Healthy.
But play is just as pivotal for adults as it is for kids.
lose the need for novelty and pleasure as we grow up,” according to
Scott G. Eberle, Ph.D, vice president for play studies at The Strong and editor of the American Journal of Play. Play brings joy. And it’s vital for problem solving, creativity and relationships.
In his book Play, author
and psychiatrist Stuart Brown, MD, compares play to oxygen. He writes,
“… it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until
it is missing.” This might seem surprising until you consider everything
that constitutes play.
Play is art, books, movies, music, comedy,
flirting and daydreaming, writes Dr. Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play.
Brown has spent decades studying the power of play in everyone from
prisoners to businesspeople to artists to Nobel Prize winners. He’s
reviewed over 6,000 “play histories,” case studies that explore the role
of play in each person’s childhood and adulthood.
For instance, he found that lack of play was just as important as
other factors in predicting criminal behavior among murderers in Texas
prisons. He also found that playing together helped couples rekindle
their relationship and explore other forms of emotional intimacy.
Play can even facilitate deep connections between strangers and
cultivate healing. In addition to being a doctor and speaker, Dr. White
is a clown.
His alter ego, Dr. Jerko, is a proctologist with a large
behind and a doctor’s coat that says, “I’m interested in your stools.”
Over two decades ago, White began working with renowned physician Patch
Today, White continues to clown at children’s hospitals and
orphanages all over the world. He even clowns at corporate presentations
and prisons. “Clowning isn’t something we’re doing with kids, we clown
with everybody,” he said.
He’s clowned on the streets of Moscow. White doesn’t speak Russian,
but that didn’t stop him from playing with people in Red Square. Within
45 minutes, he was juggling and joking with a crowd of 30.
In Colombia, White’s wife and Patch Adams’s son - also clowns -
visited a bedridden father, at his daughter’s request. Once there, they
sat on either side of his bed. He didn’t know English, and they didn’t
know Spanish. Still, they sang songs, laughed and played with a whoopee
cushion. They also cried. The woman later told them that her father
deeply appreciated the experience.
As White said, play can lead us to these sacred spaces and touch people in powerful ways.
What is Play?
“Defining play is difficult because it’s a moving target,” Eberle
said. “[It’s] a process, not a thing.” He said that it begins in
anticipation and hopefully ends in poise. “In between you find surprise,
pleasure, understanding - as skill and empathy - and strength of mind,
body, and spirit.”
Brown called play a “state of being,” “purposeless, fun and
pleasurable.” For the most part, the focus is on the actual experience,
not on accomplishing a goal, he said.
Also, the activity is needless. As Brown said, for some people
knitting is pure pleasure; for others, it’s pure torture. For Brown,
who’s almost 80, play is tennis with friends and a walk with his dog.
How to Play
We don’t need to play every second of the day to enjoy play’s
benefits. In his book, Brown calls play a catalyst. A little bit of
play, he writes, can go a long way toward boosting our productivity and
happiness. So how can you add play into your life? Here are a few tips
from the experts:
Change how you think about play
Remember that play
is important for all aspects of our lives, including creativity and
relationships. Give yourself permission to play every day. For instance,
play can mean talking to your dog. “I['d] ask my dog Charlie,
regularly, his opinion of the presidential candidates. He respond[ed]
with a lifted ear and an upturning vocalization that goes ‘haruum?’”
Play can be reading aloud to your partner, he said. “Some playful
writers are made to be read aloud: Dylan Thomas, Art Buchwald, Carl
Hiaasen, S.J. Perelman, Richard Feynman, Frank McCourt.”
Take a play history
In his book Brown
includes a primer to help readers reconnect with play. He suggests
readers mine their past for play memories. What did you do as a child
that excited you? Did you engage in those activities alone or with
others? Or both? How can you recreate that today?
Surround yourself with playful people
Both Brown and White stressed the importance of selecting friends who are playful - and of playing with your loved ones.
Play with little ones
Playing with kids helps us
experience the magic of play through their perspective. White and Brown
both talked about playing around with their grandkids.
Any time you think play is a waste, remember that it offers some
serious benefits for both you and others. As Brown says in his book,
“Play is the purest expression of love.”