The Power of Play

My god daughter was just here visiting. One evening we were reviewing our favourite moments of the previous days. Mine came to me instantly. It was the time we spent making silly videos featuring her face and my feet. They were goofy 5 second videos that served no purpose other than entertaining us. It was pure pleasure. But while we were making them we cared about them.

“Let’s do it this way…Try again…How about if the foot comes from a different angle this time…Now make it look like your feet are actually mine…” For just a short time we were totally engaged in the creative process, improvising and improving our way through it all. We were focused and lighthearted, connected to each other and the work at hand. It was pure play.

The vacation was full of moments equally satisfying, like our lunch on the beach, just the two of us talking about friends and boys and travel vs. french class. There was less laughter and less creative focus, but the pleasure of engaging and the focus of the moment were the same.

I have always associated play with laughter, movement and competition. I’m not a very competitive person, I spend a lot of time on my own, and have spent many years in physical pain, so how is it my life feels so full of play, when it wouldn’t look to the outside world that I spend a lot of time playing.

I learned from Dr. Stuart Brown, author of the book PLAY, that play is not as limited as I had thought. Play includes spontaneous movement, fantasizing, storytelling, being an engaged spectator, handling objects, games and more. Play is being fully engaged in the process, rather than just focused on the result. So you see there are multiple opportunities to play every day. Ideally, Dr. Brown says, our lives are infused with moments of play so much so that work and play are integrated.

In our goal-driven, results oriented, competitive world, we risk losing play in our life. That is no small thing. Play is essential to the evolutionary process.  Babies who play become happier children. Children who play become happier, smarter adults. Play nourishes the brain. Adults who play are more creative, better problem solvers, more adaptable, experience more intimacy, compassion and pleasure, and have a greater sense of belonging.

Research shows that when play is suppressed we not only miss out on many of the joys in life, we are more prone to aggressive behaviour and we risk losing our survival instincts. Play is vital to life.

If the purpose is more important than the process it’s probably not play.” ~ Dr. Stuart Brown”

Play brings about an altered state. It creates connection with yourself, with the process, and with others. Play brings focus and presence. Play is seriously important. And a critical part of self care.

Here are three ways to bring more play into your life.

1. Acknowledge all the ways it already exists.  Before you strive for more, first appreciate what you have.

  • How often in a day are you fully engaged in what you are doing, rather than plowing through it so you can achieve a result?
  • When do you feel connected to yourself and others?
  • Can you sense times when you are really in the flow, outside of your regular sense of time and space?

You may be playing more than you think. Noticing and appreciating the play in your life can bring about more.

 2. Notice the many times you feel an impulse to play.

  • Have you ever felt like skipping down the sidewalk, dancing for no reason, or stretching your body and wiggling around?
  • Do you want to lose yourself in a good book or conversation with a friend?
  • Are you noticing the urge to create with your mind or hands, alone or with others?

These impulses are your natural ways of connecting, nourishing yourself and thriving. You may override them from time to time to get on with the serious work at hand, but allowing yourself to follow these impulses daily, even just for a few moments, will infuse your life with play.

3. If you want more play in your life and don’t know where to begin, remember what you liked to do as a child.

  • Did you love making up stories and putting on plays – maybe you’re a natural writer or performer.
  • Did you play with lego or take things apart – try making something with your hands.
  • Do you recall hours roughhousing with your brothers – physical play might be the thing for you.
  • Would you lose all track of time in nature – more exploring outdoors could do you some good.

It doesn’t have to be exactly what you did as a child, but remembering what you loved can set you in the right direction.

Over a decade ago I stopped striving for goals and immersed myself in the process and pleasures of life. Ironically, it’s led to pretty outstanding results.