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The Benefits of Play

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“We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything than when we are playing.” – Charles Schaefer


Before we talk about the benefits of play lets briefly talk about the definition of play. I say briefly because we can actually go into great depth about the meaning of play but in the interest of time and getting to the main point here we’ll just give a quick overview.

What is Play?

By definition play as a noun is an exercise or activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation and as a verb it is to engage in an activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose. It also simply means to have fun. The synonyms listed under play are as follows:

amuse oneself, be life of party, caper, carouse, carry oncavortclown, cut capers, cut up, dally, dance, disport, divert, entertain oneself, fool around, frisk, frolic, gambol, go on a spree, horse around, idle away, jokejump, kibitz, kick up heels, let go, let loose, let one’s hair down, make merry, mess around, rejoicerevel, romp, show offskip, sport,toytrifle

The Institute of Play defines play as “a state of being that is intensely pleasurable. It energizes and enlivens us. It eases our burdens, renews a natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities.”

The Origin of play is this: 
before 900; (noun) Middle English pleye, Old English plega; (v.) Middle English pleyen, Old English pleg ( i ) an  (cognate with Middle Dutch pleien to leap for joy, dance, rejoice, be glad)

So now that we’ve stated the obvious and have a basic understanding of play let’s talk about the many benefits of play and why you must play:

Play is the anecdote for what ails you, especially the blues.

If you’re depressed you may not feel like playing but play is exactly what the doctor should prescribe. In recent years a growing number of noted mental health professionals have observed that play is as important to human happiness and well-being as love and work (Schaefer, 1993). Play therapy is a well-known and respected healing technique used on both children and adults. Play is known to elevate our spirits and regulate our emotions.

In the book, Play Therapy With Adults, author Charles Schaefer, a world-renowned psychologist who specializes in play therapy, states that  “when we are laughing, singing, moving about happily, or simply engrossed in a pleasant diversion (i.e., play), we tend to take fuller breaths, thus getting a better oxygen exchange. When our digestive process relaxes, we reduce the chances of gastrointestinal disorder-not to mention the easing of cardiac tension. General muscle tension is eased, as well, when we play, which reduces fatigue and generalized body aches and stiffness.” So there you have it, play cures our dis-ease.

Play reduces stress.

Play induces a sense of well-being and calm. It helps us relax and let our hair down. Honestly, how stressed can you feel while making silly faces, blowing bubbles, and tickling little ones. My husband is the breadwinner in our family and I know that the weight of that is often stressful for him but I also know that the moment he walks in the door and instantly starts playing with our two young children the cares of the day melt away.

Play eliminates boredom.

Play is a form of entertainment that stimulates our senses and awakens our spirits and sense of adventure. It’s hardly boring jumping out of a plane or white water rafting on grade 4 rapids. When you’re doing things you love or trying on a new adventure, or simply exploring the world around you life becomes interesting and is often full of surprises. So one thing is for sure life is rarely boring when you stay engaged through play.

Play connects you to others in a positive way.

Our children make their first set of friends at “play” group. As they get older they connect with others by “playing” on teams and as adults we connect with others by joining groups and clubs that gives us an outlet for our interests and passions. Through our playful interactions with others we build trust and rapport. Play opens us up and increases our capacity for empathy and intimacy. Play teaches us how to work together, how to support one another, and how to combine our collective efforts to reach a goal. When we play with others we no longer feel lonely and isolated. Ultimately play promotes a sense of community and compassion.

Play stimulates creativity.

Play opens the door to our imaginations and encourages us to creatively solve problems. Play is by far the most important key to unlocking our creative potential and to making the kind of discoveries that contributes to the advancement of society.

Play makes you smarter.

Studies show that play is associated with brain development and is “so important to our development and survival that the impulse to play has become a biological drive” according to Stuart Brown in his book, Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. Early on, play provides the connections needed to help babies fully develop their brains. These connections continue to build on one another as long as we continue to stimulate our brains through play and interactions with people and things. The more you play and connect the smarter you become. The old adage “use it or lose it” applies here as well. If you stop playing and connecting you can actually weaken your cognitive development.

Play puts you is a flow state.

The state of flow as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a state of concentration and complete absorption in an activity to the point that you lose track of time and nothing else matters. Play gives you the sense of being fully engaged in the moment and in what you are doing. The key to reaching a flow state is being engaged in an activity that strikes a balance between the challenge of the task and your skill level. The activity should neither be too easy or too difficult. And when you think about it we often play and engage in activities that match our skill level but challenges us a bit to improve our skills. Therefore, play helps us reach our fullest potential which gives us a sense of purpose and contributes to our ultimate happiness.

You simply must play.

It should be clear by now that the benefits of play are enormous and that play is indeed a necessity. But if it isn’t, I suggest you read Brown’s book in which he states, “if we don’t take time to play, we face a joyless life of rigidity, lacking in creativity. The opposite of play isn’t work, but depression. If we’re going to adapt to changing economic and personal circumstances the way that nature armed us to do, then we have to find ourselves having some play time virtually every day.”

So tell me, are you ready to play more in your life? If you need some ideas for fun-filled activities and ways to play check out this post, 88 Ways to Play for some inspiration.

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