On a Friday night about six months ago, I was engaged in my usual routine. It was close to midnight and I was hunched over my computer keyboard banging out another freelance project. Trying not to think about the dishes that still needed to be washed, I also attempted not to obsess about when I’d squeeze the laundry into an already packed weekend, and kept a responsible eye on the time; my daughter would need to be picked up on the other side of town soon. I was falling asleep, feeling frustrated and overwhelmed by a growing “to do” list, and listening to the voices of happy people as they walked home from a night out at the local bars and movie theater. I was quietly but deeply resentful. And that’s when it hit me: It had been a long time since I remembered to play.
Day to day existence can be harrowing. And sometimes, let’s face it, life can throw some serious challenges our way. The instinct to survive simply takes over. While attempting to be a good parent, rebuild a life, establish a career, meet the challenges of day to day life, it’s tempting to just think about getting through the day, the week, the year; it’s also common to become hyper-focused and determined – to become way too serious.
Most adults feel somewhat guilty if they’re not using every available minute of the day to do something productive. That productivity, paired with our level of exhaustion, according to Brene Brown in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, seems to have become the measure of our self worth and status in a society that dismisses play as frivolous, a guilty pleasure, or something for children.
The truth is, play is as fundamental to our mental, physical and general well-being as are sleep and good nutrition. In fact, according to the National Institute for Play, it’s absolutely crucial to our vitality. It fosters optimism, inspiration and innovation, boosts the immune system and promotes curiosity. It has, the Institute says, the power to breathe new life into long-term relationships, sparking “humor, the enjoyment of novelty, the capacity to share a lighthearted sense of the world’s ironies, the enjoyment of mutual storytelling, and the capacity to openly divulge imagination and fantasies.” Play, then, restores an enthusiasm for life and the world around us, deepens our connections to others and to our innermost selves, and provides us with the energy and motivation we need to be at our best in our careers, personal pursuits and relationships.
So what do you do when you find yourself feeling a bit disconnected, when you aren’t smiling anymore, are worrying too much, or haven’t deviated from the same old survival schedule for days or, worse, months? Get up and play. Play includes anything from feeding your soul with music, a good book or art; catching a comedy show; playing on the floor with your toddler and laughing wholeheartedly; taking a brisk walk or a leisurely one; flirting; baking cookies with your teenager and getting into a flour flinging fight; dancing in the kitchen; connecting with old friends and laughing, even if it’s only on the phone; daydreaming; making something – doing whatever it is that you do to feel light-hearted, joyful and alive. Most importantly, remember that play deserves to be a priority on your “to do” list. Far from a waste of time, play encourages you to approach all of those other pesky chores and responsibilities with more passion, energy and intent.
Just in case you don’t want to take my word for it, read these fabulous thoughts by some great thinkers on the importance of play:
“A little nonsense now and then is cherished by the wisest men.”
– Roald Dahl
“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”
“Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.”
– Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.