‘We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.’ – George Bernard Shaw
The world of adulting is one we’re all pretty familiar with. We’ve all caught ourselves getting excited about cutlery sets, new sheet covers and house plants. We’ve all been up to our necks in life admin and tax returns. But the concept begs the question… when was the last time you played?
And I mean, properly played. Like the letting your hair out, singing, dancing in the rain and jumping on the bed – kind of play. The instances of getting messy, loud and letting go completely… simply for the sake of fun and feeling good.
For a lot us, it’s been too long. Perhaps even decades. Sadly, as a society on the journey of childhood to adulthood, we tend to leave ‘playtime’ behind. This is unfortunate because as humans, play benefits us enormously no matter how old we are.
Why Do Adults Need Play?
Play allows us to innovate, problem solve, create, dive into our curiosity, and much more. In the act of play, we make connections we wouldn’t normally make and see things in new ways. It boosts our creativity, heightens our mood, makes us laugh, and engages us in the world in ways that our regular ‘adulting’ tasks do not.
These ideas have been supported over and over again. Stuart Brown’s research with the National Institute for Play (yes, that really exists!) revealed that play is deeply correlated with human development and intelligence.
His studies found ‘nothing lights up the brain like play.’ Humour, games and fantasy worlds are much more than just fun. The play we experience in childhood helps to develop happy, smart adults – and keeping it up can make us smarter at any age. (If you’re interested, watch his TED talk here.) Specifically, play helps to improve memory and stimulates the growth of the cerebral cortex. It has also been shown to trigger the secretion of BDNF, a substance essential for brain cells growth.
Whether scientifically, emotionally or in the realm of human connection – play gives us access to a wonderful lightness of being, which brings more balance, happiness and fulfilment into our lives.
So, you guessed it! We’ve listed some ways for you to go out and PLAY.
Using outdoor adventures can always add more fun, play and colour into our lives.
Cognitive neuroscientist, David Strayer, studied a phenomena called the ‘three-day effect.’ By comparing and observing backpackers’ problem-solving abilities before and after outdoor trips, findings saw their creative thinking and problem-solving skills increased by 47%. Results were due to shifts in the frontal cortex (the executive taskmaster of our brains).
It seems that routine has a way of clogging this part of our brain. Yet, beautifully, gifting our brains just three days in nature seems to be enough to create a detoxification. Studies also showed that when the frontal cortex activity shifts, other parts of the brain take over – such as those associated with empathy, day-dreaming and sensory perception. Amazing!
If a three-day wilderness expedition isn’t currently possible for you, don’t worry. Simple activities that introduce outdoor play, like a family bike ride or walking the dog will be a great start.
Create Play Space
Many of us fall into the pattern of filling our schedules with deadlines, appointments, work commitments and so on. We neglect to plan any time to play.
Yet in order to infuse our lives with more fun, it can be necessary to schedule it in like any of our other obligations. This is especially true if pursuing fun isn’t (yet) a natural process for you.
What follows, is protecting that time fiercely, and sticking to the commitment. If we’re not scheduling any time for play, it’s just not going to happen!
Create for the Sake of it
Grab some paint, crayons, charcoal and whatever else tickles your fancy. Join a drum circle! Either way, try a style of creating that’s completely different from your usual. This will enable you to let go of any expectations or concerns about whether or not your creations are ‘good,’ and to just have fun. If it’s an option, involve the kids.
Some ideas where you can really let go of control are: resin art, drumming, collage, splatter art, or acrylic pour painting.
There’s a million and one reasons why laughter is a wonderful thing. On a health level, it decreases stress hormones and increases infection-fighting antibodies, improving your resistance to disease. It triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. It even helps burn calories!
Set aside time to watch funny movies or connect with the friends and family who make you giggle. This simple tool is one of the most powerful in alleviating stress.