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Play to live better

In his 2008 TED Talk on play, Dr. Stuart Brown makes the astute, but widely ignored, point that “the opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.”

In Brown’s books and the works of a  number of researchers, the benefits of play don’t end with simple fun, they begin there.

A growing body of work shows that playing (whether it’s board games or rock climbing) leads to improvements in most every aspect of a person’s life and include:

• Reducing stress;

• Speeding up learning;

• Enhancing productivity;

• Creating or strengthening social bonds

• Improving communication skills

The recognized value of play is nothing new. Ecclesiastes 3 makes clear there has always been “a time to laugh” and “a time to dance” along with time for work and being serious.

This balance seems lost in a modern America trending ever more serious - too consumed with work and money and status and constantly stressed to the max. You can see it everywhere with  the “I’m so busy” crowd always itching for a fight, but not for a chuckle – unless it’s a sour, mean joke at someone’s expense.

The research points out that humans are hard-wired for play throughout their lifetime. It’s not only kids who need to cut loose. In some of the recent articles that will pop up in a multitude of Google results by searching play, whether it’s figuring out how to catch larger or more fish, hang-gliding or re-arranging your stamp collection, you are not wasting time – unless you choose play over showing up for work.

In Dr. Brown’s simple explanation, play is essentially problem solving and is a transferable skill. Figure out how to better play a guitar solo or grow bigger tomatoes and you will fare better the next time you face a roadblock at work.

An article by Michael Forman at wanderlust.com discussed how adults who don’t play get locked into a set-in-stone type mentality. “Adults get very set on who they are and the types of activities that we do and do not like,” Forman wrote.

Play in all forms keeps a mind flexible. Consider how many of our most divisive national issues come down to large segments of the people who are absolutely set in their ways to the extent they aren’t open to even hearing another point of view – a lack of play leads to lack of interest in exploring new ideas or activities. And besides these people are no fun to be around.

Dr. Brown goes one step further noting there may be a link with mass killers who grew up being deprived of play and the inability to control violent impulses. He cited “rough and tumble” play and sports as  means of establishing boundaries of what level of aggression is acceptable.

An article in the Washington Post, “Why it’s good for grown ups to play,” leaned heavily on the stress reduction. Fully concentrating on hitting the basketball shot or finding the right color for your art project let’s you get outside the daily grind of problems and may lead to looking at some nagging issue at work or home with a new perspective.

Researchers in the referenced materials often concluded that in the bigger scheme, having some element of regular play leads to more satisfaction with your life and that leads to better overall well-being and that lead back around to real health benefits and a longer life expectancy due to lower stress.

Dr. Brown defines play as most anything done for fun with no specific work purpose which could be as simple as jumping up-and-down, “How we play is as unique to an individual as a fingerprint” and could mean collecting stamps, tossing a football, reading a book or climbing Mount Everest, he states.

So, do yourself a favor if you are the nose-to-the-grindstone 24/7 type, lighten up/chill out/relax; maybe take up a new hobby or just goof off in the backyard. If you are always angry or busy, maybe it’s time to have some fun.

Your increased productivity and better health will more than offset the time spent playing.