Taking Time to Play

Have you ever sat and watched a group of children play, and sighed to yourself, thinking, “Man, I’d love to be a kid again!”? How nice it would be to feel so care-free again!

Yet just because we’re grown up doesn’t mean that we can’t still play. In fact, taking time to play is very beneficial for our well-being, relationships and even productivity.

 

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A Waste of Time?

Author and psychiatrist, Dr. Stuart Brown, MD has studied the life histories of over 6,000 people and found a compelling link between a person’s success in life and their childhood, and current, playing habits. “An adult who has “lost” what was a playful youth and doesn’t play,” he says, “will demonstrate social, emotional and cognitive narrowing, be less able to handle stress, and often experience a smoldering depression. From an evolutionary point of view, research suggests that play is a biological necessity.” And yet so many of us don’t allow ourselves to be playful.

We certainly live in a results-driven society. When it comes to work, education, and sometimes even how we spend our free time, our focus is usually on what we will achieve by the end of a particular activity. We spend our time in the same way we would spend money; we feel we must put it to ‘good use’, and not fritter it away on frivolous things. If we do spend time on something that was fun but not ‘useful’ (i.e. we don’t have anything to show for it afterwards), we may feel guilty for having wasted that time. For example, we may avoid investing time in learning new things unless it will benefit our career, or if we exercise it may because we have particular fitness goals that we want to achieve, rather than because we enjoy moving our bodies. This is probably why we envy children’s ability to play: they don’t play to achieve something; they play because it is a joyful way to spend time.

Yet if we really watch children play, we can see that they are not wasting time at all. Firstly, enjoying our lives is never wasteful. And secondly, children learn many skills from playing. They learn how to interact with the world, with other people, and in the process of playing they explore their dreams, emotions, and who they are. Studies, such as Brown’s, show that this beneficial process doesn’t stop justbecause we’ve grown up.

Enjoying This Moment

One of the main benefits of practicing mindfulness is that it helps us become more present. Being present in the moment doesn’t mean that we forget about our responsibilities, or that we don’t make plans for the future. However, if we are spending the majority of our time preparing for the next day, week, months or years, then we are perpetually missing the gift of the present moment.

While we of course can’t become completely like children again, we are able to become more conscious about how we spend our time, and can actively choose to spend some of that time simply enjoying life. Giving ourselves permission to play is an excellent way to do this.

How to Play

Dr. Stuart Brown, MD compares play to oxygen: “…it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.” The opportunity to play is all around us because all it really means is to engage with our present surroundings with curiosity and imagination. Cultivating a sense of curiosity helps us stay mindful, because it means we are really taking notice of things. We can do this anywhere, and in many different ways.

We could buy a pack of paints and start adding them to a canvas, with no idea of what we’ll end up creating, just exploring how the colours look, how they blend together or contrast with each other. We could take a walk with no destination in mind, just because we want to explore where we live, or an area of countryside. On our walk, we can stop to notice trees, plants, streams, touching them and engaging with them as if the world is our playground. We could take some time to look out of the window at the clouds and daydream. We could have funny conversations with our pets, and notice the cute and amusing ways they react to us. We could dance like no one was watching, or sing like no one could hear us. We could try on clothes that we wouldn’t normally wear, or experiment with make-up and accessories, not because we’ve got to get dressed up to go somewhere, but because it’s fun to play dress-up sometimes, just as we did as children.

Regaining our sense of play can help us in many areas of our lives. It can help us become more creative in work or at home, it can help us connect with loved ones, friends and even strangers, and perhaps most importantly, it can help reconnect us with ourselves!

 

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