I always knew that playing was a massive part of how children learn to interact with the world around them, but I always assumed that, as an adult, playing was a waste of time. This book ‘Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul’ by Stuart Brown, taught me how essential it is to KEEP PLAYING even as an adult. If you’re looking to have better relationships, be more successful at work, and even possibly live longer, YOU NEED to check this book out!
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Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of time to let loose and play. I was the oldest of three kids, and I often had the responsibility that befalls the firstborn to look out for their younger siblings. I was also homeschooled and often had to teach myself (as well as my siblings), and I helped my mother with her at home daycare. I wasn’t allowed to roam the neighborhood, my friends were limited, and we didn’t have health insurance for my childhood, which meant that I had to be especially careful of not breaking anything and that’s probably why my mother was overprotective.
I remember playing once with some dolls and my father coming in and asking why I wasn’t reading, or studying. I was often made to feel guilty for just letting go and playing.
I always felt that I had missed the window for playing. That is until I visited Provincetown. For those of you who don’t know, Provincetown has a large LGBQT community, but they are also an epicenter of arts and FUN!
My curiosity about play happened last year when I traveled there for a future blog post. I remember sitting outside in the sun, drinking a mimosa, and watching people walk from store to store on the little street. They seemed really happy. Playful. They wore bright colors, and you could see them really embrace who they were. I really envied that. Realizing how my life didn’t look like that, I started asking myself what was so different. I mean, I’m not part of the LGBQT culture, but I didn’t really think that mattered. I had met some straight people who also exuded this same level of happiness. As I continued with my weekend and people watching, I realized that it was the allowance for one to have FUN that I was missing. These people were having fun and being themselves and enjoying that!
While there, I picked up the Brene Brown book “The Gifts of Imperfection” (which I reviewed HERE), and while reading that, she brought up the book ‘Play’ by Stuart Brown, so I bought and read it. I have to say that not a day goes by that I don’t remind myself how important it is to schedule PLAYTIME for myself because of this book.
One story I liked proving how essential using our minds, and playing is was the one on the sea squirt. It talks about how as a child, the sea squirt goes and explores its, but once it reaches adulthood, it attaches itself PERMANENTLY to a rock or a boat haul and becomes passive. If that wasn’t the worst of it, it starts to “digest its own brain.” Yeah, you read that right. Its body realizes that it no longer needs its brain to process information anymore, so it eats it. I know a few people who resemble this story. They may have had active young lives, but as they grew into adulthood, they settled into life. Their routine became eat, sleep, work, and watch TV, and they really didn’t grow past that. Now, as they reach their elderly years, they’re starting to realize how little they enjoyed life. The thing is, LIFE isn’t the problem. Life happens to us all. The difference is that some people chose to explore life from a lens of having fun and learning more about who they are, while others decided that was too hard to do and decided to live passive lives from Lazy-Boy chairs.
This book explores play starting with animals and how absolutely useless it is to play on the outside. He uses the example of mountain goats who bounce from rocky cliff to rocky cliff. Some of them slip and die…but they keep playing. Our brains and bodies are designed to keep us alive and asses risk and danger so from that perspective play seems pretty useless to our survival. HOWEVER, the author writes, “The great benefits of play, as I’ve said, are the ability to become smarter, to learn more about the world than genes alone could ever teach, to adapt to a changing world.” Creatures who play and survive have a better understanding of their surroundings and themselves, which means they have a better chance of surviving than animals who are prevented from playing.
He connects animal play with human by saying that “We are designed by nature and evolution to continue playing throughout life. Life-long play is central to our continued well-being, adaption, and social cohesiveness”. It’s not that we “outgrow” our play nature. It’s that we feel increasing pressure not to play because it’s silly, or a waste of time, when in actuality, the more you play, the more you might find what you really enjoy and then make choices to experience more of that. For example, I have found that I really enjoy reading about spirituality and religion. I enjoy making things. I enjoy painting, writing, travel, cooking, and home care. I have a broad range of things that I do when I am playing. I enjoyed it so much that I make choices in my day that allows me to do one of those things every day! If you play, and you’re having fun, you’re going to start naturally asking yourself how you can make it part of your lifestyle. It’s like the saying goes: “Find something you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
The book also explains that playing is not something you DO, but something you FEEL. The author talks about competitive golfers and how what is a fun sport can often be taken way too seriously to the point where it’s no longer FUN. He says, “These people are not playing. They are self-critical, competitive, perfectionistic, and preoccupied with the last double bogey. These emotions don’t allow them to feel the playful, out-of-time, in-the-zone, doing-it-for-its-own-sake sensation that accompanies joyful playfulness”. A personal story of just this comes from my childhood. I was hanging out with a childhood friend and his family. We all decided to play mini-golf. HOWEVER, he and his family were really competitive. They kept score. They got annoyed if the hole was missed too many times. I started to stress out while playing mini-golf! So instead of having fun, each time I went up to my silly pink ball, I got nervous, which meant I usually messed up! I didn’t have fun. I wanted the day to finish up because I felt like I was embarrassing. Recently though, my husband and I went and played mini-golf, and I had a lot more fun and played better! The reason is that I was able to just “HAVE FUN.” There was no pressure! Fun is an emotional state that you cultivate…not something you can necessarily stage.
He goes into talking about how play can help a marriage that is having trouble. Play allows for exploration and mistakes without them being taken too seriously. Play is essential for a creative and exciting sex life, and play helps us learn more about ourselves and our significant others!
In the workplace, companies that have areas where play unrelated to work is experienced; they usually have more creative answers to problems. “Creative people can escape into the imagination but are also firmly grounded in reality. Creative ideas are often those that bring together ideas from different domains or fields”. He writes that “Creative people can be simultaneously hardworking and goof-offs.” I completely agree with this. Just ask my husband! As a creative person, I am constantly trying to find ways to play now because I see how important it is to help me come up with new ideas.
Lastly, one thing I found to be beautifully helpful, was a chapter towards the end on what to do if you’ve lost your sense of play, or you didn’t have much, to begin with, due to an unpleasant childhood. I am experiencing what is referred to as a playing debt. Much like how you have to sleep more if you’ve missed a night of sleep (sleep debt), Play debt is much the same! You have to play more to feel emotionally caught up. This is probably why now, as an adult, I actively look for things to do that are fun and playful.
He explains that if you’re also looking to regain what that playful spirit, you’re going to have to take a trip down memory lane and find out what you did as a kid that you thought was fun. For me, I LOVED writing, and drawing, and making things. I was told early on that “No one makes money that way” and I stopped thinking of it as something I could do as a job….but I never stopped doing it as a hobby. Now, as an adult and the freedom to make my own choices, I’m starting to see how I can make my work fun by making this blog! You will have to do similar. What do you remember doing as a kid that really made you happy? Was it hiking in the woods? Reading? Playing with cars? Designing crazy clothes for your dolls? Find that thing you enjoyed and see if as an adult you can bring it back into your life and create something you love out of it!
I might write more on my personal experience with play and how healing that has become in my life, but for now, if you find yourself looking to justify a more playful attitude, you need this book. It can be very scientific at times but by no means a dry book. It’s perfect if you need a scientific “sign” to take some time to go for that walk, or go on that vacation! It’s also a great read if you have children. Sometimes play for kids can be rough or even appear to be mean, but often kids are learning about what is socially appropriate and how to fix social situations in which they may have hurt a friend.
If you get this book and want to discuss play further, please feel free to message me below. I loved this book, and I would love to talk about it with you. If you found this article really informative and would like to Buy Me A Coffee, I appreciate that! Also, if you would like to be kept up to date on future posts, please feel free to SIGN UP for email notifications whenever a post is made. I hope you enjoyed this article, and enjoy this book even more! May it help you to have a little more “PLAY” in your life! Have a beautiful (and playful) day! -Heather Astaneh