You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.
Do you want to go out and play?!
As adults, our time for playing is usually not as spontaneous as that. Our playtime is often highly scheduled, goal-oriented, competitive, or in many cases, non-existent. We may have hobbies, activities we do for relaxation, or things we do to pass the time, but how much of it is fun? How much of it is carefree? How often is it spontaneous?
As adults in Western society, we have many expectations placed on us. We’re expected to go to work, pay our bills, raise our children; more fundamentally, we’re expected to act “responsibly.”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but for many, this sense of responsibility displaces any sense of fun we had. We may occasionally let our hair down in a card game with friends or at the beach on vacation, but is fun and playing an essential part of our lives? Is it part of who we are?
Having fun doesn’t necessarily mean running around the neighborhood in bare feet every summer evening (although it might!). So, what does playing mean for adults?
To me, playing doesn’t refer to a specific activity. It is more about an attitude. If we can develop the ability to be carefree, to approach life with a light-hearted attitude, we can learn to play and make life more fun. There will always be times when we have to be serious, yet there may also be times when we could be having fun but serious is our default attitude. We should take care that our serious selves don’t start to elbow our fun selves out of the way.
Some might say that they don’t have any time to play—that they have more important things to do (see Time). But if we really analyzed what we get in return for our playtime relative to the benefits of other activities, we would see how valuable playtime is. Analyzing the benefits of playing can seem counterintuitive, but if we’re not spending enough time playing because we think it is not worthwhile, it can be a helpful exercise.
Aside from being fun, playing can also provide many other benefits, including
- Blowing off steam: Play can be a great stress reliever. In the modern world, this can be a vital benefit.
- Increasing our creativity: When we play, we create and experience scenarios. The better we do this, the more successful we are in our playtime. This builds our capacity to be creative.
- Making us smarter: Any time we repeat an activity, it creates or strengthens our synaptic connections. When we play games, we identify and understand patterns.
- Improving our relationships: When we spend time having fun with other people, including our children, it strengthens our relationships with them.
- Challenging ourselves: Playing can help us see what we’re made of. This can help us to know ourselves better.
- Health: Relieving stress, being active, and using a different part of our brains are all related to our overall health.
It’s important to recognize that mindlessly passing the time, such as by watching TV or surfing the net, is not the same thing as playing. Playing should be fun and rejuvenating. When we play, we should be actively engaged.
Playing should also not be limited to specific activities. If we keep our eyes open, we can find opportunities for playing every day. For example, one of the things we say to our children when they are struggling with something is to make a game out of it. What we are saying is that they should play with the problem—make the problem fun. As adults, we can do the same with our own problems; it just takes a slight adjustment to our attitude and an open mind.
We should also be very committed to the things that give us the most joy. We should be able to rattle off the top ten things that make us happy without hesitation. If we can’t, we’re not giving them enough time. Be disciplined and committed to those things that make you happy. They are what make life worth living.
When we are engaged in those things that make us happy, we need to give ourselves over to them completely. This makes the distinction between merely passing the time and playing. We need to clear our minds of our responsibilities and concerns—they will be there when we return. We need to make ourselves literally carefree—otherwise, we are not really playing.
When we play, we need to be very serious about not being serious.