image by Daniel Apodaca
As adults, particularly those with busy and hectic lives, play is too easily consigned to the box marked ‘childhood’. Once we reach the age of 18, it’s expected that we should grow up and start behaving like an adult. However I think that playing and having fun are important for everyone, and that life would be missing something without it.
The definition of ‘play’ can be hard to pin down, but in general it can be described as taking part in an activity for enjoyment rather than a practical purpose. What can be tricky is that there’s no specific definition or dividing line. Taking sport as an example, some people play for enjoyment, some play just to win, or some make their living from it. Whether it’s play depends on the attitude you take rather than the activity itself.
We know that play is vital to children. It’s an opportunity for them to explore and experiment with their world, to develop their intelligence and social skills. Through play children get to try new behaviours out, to see what works and what doesn’t. They make friends, build relationships and strengthen their sense of who they are and what they enjoy. Not being able to play as a child can be severely damaging. In a range of studies a common factor in the background of violent and anti-social men was an almost complete lack of normal play throughout their childhood.
Part of the problem is that within our society play is seen as something adults should fit in round the edges of their life when the ‘important’ things are complete. With our ability to work from home, or access our work e-mails from our phone, there can be a feeling that the work is never done, as your workplace is stored in your back pocket.
What this perspective overlooks is the obvious fact that play is good for you. For adults play is useful in relieving stress, connecting with others and boosting creativity. A study from Realnetworks Inc. showed that games help us to reduce stress, support mental balance and aid relaxation. Even former UK Prime Minister David Cameron admitted that he used to play Angry Birds to de-stress. When you’re absorbed in play you are totally in the moment, focused only on the activity at hand, and play becomes a temporary release from the pressures of daily life.
Play can also be a useful tool in helping us to deal with difficult emotions. A 2017 BBC report described the lives of enthusiasts who re-create Viking battles, an activity which attracts those who have violence in their past, whether as a victim or perpetrator. Through re-playing the battles they are able to express themselves in a safe and acceptable way, and build support networks of likeminded people.
When it comes to creativity, Google has been at the forefront of encouraging play in the office to boost inventiveness and keep employees happy, motivated and productive. Google offer free food, sleep pods, games, and health and wellbeing opportunities. By encouraging relaxed and happy staff, Google ensures that their employees spend more time in the building, and are in the right frame of mind to be creative. More conversations equal more ideas, any one of which could be a new innovation or product worth millions.
Play is vital in helping us to relax, connect and be creative, how about making some time for play in your life?
Chris Mounsher is a BACP registered humanistic counsellor working in private practice in Brighton and Haywards Heath. He offers both long term and short term counselling and has particular experience working with anxiety, addiction, depression, low self-esteem and relationship difficulties.
You can read more from Chris on his website or follow him via Twitter.
Brown, S. (1998) pp 243-259 Play as an Organising principle: clinical evidence and personal observations in. Animal Play: Evolutionary, Comparative and Ecological Perspectives, edited by Bekoff, M. and J. A. Byers. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge