"We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing. " -George Bernard Shaw
My morning started with an eruption of laughter and play.
Not all of my mornings start this way. I have the privilege of being a bonus mom (there are no evil stepmothers here) to an awesome five-year-old boy.
And this particular five-year-old loves to start the mornings off with a few snuggles followed by silliness.
In the middle of make believe, funny voices, karate moves, and giggles, we rush to get ready and out the door for kindergarten.
This morning featured a race through the subway turnstile followed by a full-blown nose bleed.
Somehow, amidst the bustle of rush hour, we stopped the bleed, cleaned up, and found ourselves on the next train telling stories, finishing some forgotten homework, making it to school on time. (I have some newfound respect for moms everywhere.)
Now, my bonus child is awesome (see above), but he’s still a five-year-old boy, and there have been plenty of times we have had tears and even a tantrum or two on the train.
What made today different?
I think the answer lies somewhere in the morning's play.
Play is linked to a slew of positive benefits. My guess is we were both primed to be less stressed. Play does, after all, reduce stress hormones.
Play allows us to explore new possibilities.
Play makes us smarter, more creative, and happier. Play has even been linked to preventing Alzheimer’s disease. (Read more here.)
I don’t know how our morning play was stacking up against future disease, but I can tell you my playful mood made me more resourceful and creative with the problem at hand.
I know, as many of us get better and better at adulting, play seems more and more like a distant, childhood memory. For some of the more serious folk, it seems irresponsible and a waste of time.
I argue it’s irresponsible not to play.
As Brian Sutton-Smith , the Dean of Play Studies at the University of Pennsylvania says, “The opposite of play isn’t work, it’s depression.”
Stuart Brown, who is the king of play research has conducted over 6,000 interviews on the subject and is the author of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, says in this Ted Talk, "And I think if you think about life without play - no humor, no flirtation, no movies, no games, no fantasy...Try to imagine a culture or a life, adult or otherwise, without play. And the thing that's so unique about our special species is that we're really designed to play through our whole lifetime."
Brown says play is good for our relationships, too. He even counts sex as play (oh, so now you’re listening, eh?). (Read more about Brown’s findings here.)
Don’t let play’s happy-go-lucky, frivolous reputation fool you. Play isn’t all fun and games, it’s good for the brain, too.
Studies show that play improves memory and is linked to creative problem solving.
Turns out our younger selves may have been onto something after all. Play is good for us and may even help our success-driven goals. Research shows that people of all ages benefit from unstructured play time amidst the go-go-go of life.
Not sure where to start with play or what even counts as play? Lucky for us, Brown says there are 124 different types of play, from rough and tumble to imaginative. Even for the pickiest of us, there's bound to be a form of play our adult selves can get behind.
Greg McKeown talks about the importance of play in Essentialism describes it as, "...anything we do simply for the joy of doing rather than as a means to an end.”
Brown defines play similarly, saying, “Play is something done for it’s own sake. It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”
This means taking up dance competitively, or focusing on the fitness aspects of dance, does not count as play; dancing for the sheer joy of Shaking it Off does.
I know it can go against what seems best in our success-obsessed culture, but as psychologist Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek says in this interview, "Play isn't a human luxury. We know that goats play and dogs play and monkeys play and humans play - you don't have to be taught it, and there must be an evolutionary reason for that. By abandoning play, we're abandoning an important part of ourselves."
How can you add a little more play into your life?
I'm personally hoping they bring this giant ball pit back to the city this summer as a way to infuse some more play into mine!