Do you find yourself procrastinating or getting “stuck” on tasks at work that seem “easy?” Do you ever look at your partner and “remember when” you used to have fun? Are you “serious?” Boring? Unhappy? Even depressed? If someone suggested to you that you should “play” more, would you tell them that play is for kids? Grownups aren’t supposed to play. We have problems. We’re too busy. We have important things to do.
When did play move to the bottom of your priority list? Probably about the time that being happy became second to being productive. Ironically, it may interest you to learn that play may be the cure to low productivity, unhappy relationships, boredom, and depression. Research shows that when you’re stressed, the brain’s activated emotional hub, the amygdala, suppresses positive mood, fueling a self-perpetuating cycle of negativity. Yuk! Play can break you out of that straitjacket. When we are playing the brain gets a rush of dopamine – the “feel good” neurotransmitter. This leads to improved executive functioning including increased attention, motivation, ability to persevere, better problem solving and resiliency. Studies show that playfulness can increase performance on the job and stoke creativity by breaking up the mental set that keeps us stuck. It resets the brain.
My story…. If any of you knew me 2 years ago you might have gotten a very different impression of me. I was in a miserable relationship, I was irritable much of the time, I had much less patience (was in fact crowned Queen of Impatience 5 years running), watched a lot of television in my spare time, and went on a lot of impulsive “adventures.” Business was good but I was not really happy. About 2 years ago my son was diagnosed with ADHD and the amazing Dr. Milliken figured out that she was the genetic link that caused this. It was then that my entire life started to make sense. In the midst of this I realized that I was always at my best when I could incorporate play into anything I was doing. When a book was boring I played “mind games” with the clock and getting to the end of the page- continuing to read until the second hand on 12 and the end of the page spontaneously synced. I loved challenges. The biggest challenge I ever took on was when my psychology teacher in high school told me to never become a psychologist. Did she know how much I loved competition? Eight years later I had completed the course work for a PhD. It took another 4 years to finish my dissertation- I got distracted by working for the NYPD! I also love social play, being active, and, of course, digital play.
When I suggest to friends or clients that they might enjoy life more, be more efficient at work, have more energy, feel more inspired and just be happier if they were more playful, many of them roll their eyes at me. Y not play? Today most of them have come to realize the value of play in their lives.
What do I mean by play? Kicking a ball, running around, playing tag, trying to avoid cooties? No! (unless you’re into that) Play can take all kinds of forms, including social, creative ,digital, active, and intellectual.
So what is play really? Play is described as –
“voluntary, inherently pleasurable, apparently purposeless activity or process that is undertaken for its own sake and that strength- ens our muscles and our social skills, fertilizes brain activity, tempers and deepens our emotions, takes us out of time, and enables a state of balance and poise.”
Play is at the root of creative thinking. Playfulness can help us do our jobs better, and find more innovative solutions. Play can help us be more adaptive, collaborative, spontaneous and joyful. Dr. Stuart Brown believes that the relaxation and trust resulting from people playing together can lead to an increased willingness to take risks. Many believe play can be the antidote to isolation, worry, loneliness, fear, and violence
As you have read this I hope that you have come to your own response to the question “Y Play?”