When is the last time you let go and had the pure joy and ecstatic feeling of play? Play is an important source of relaxation and stimulation. It gives us time to forget about work and commitments, and to be social in an unstructured, creative way. There doesn’t need to be any point or goal to the activity beyond just having fun and enjoying yourself. Play could be simply goofing off with friends, sharing jokes with a coworker, throwing a Frisbee on the beach, wearing a costume on a Holiday, building a snowman in the yard, playing fetch with a dog, a game of charades at a party, or going for a bike ride with no destination in mind. Play may or may not involve smiles and laughter; it is always accompanied by a feeling of “Yes, this is what I want to do right now.”
By giving yourself permission to play with joyful abandon, you can reap numerous health benefits.
- Play relieves stress. Play is fun and can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
- Play has been scientifically provento be good for the brain. Older people who get regular exercise and play are less likely to suffer cognitive decline. Playing chess, completing puzzles, or pursuing other fun activities that challenge the brain can help prevent memory problems and improve brain function. The social interaction of playing with family and friends can also help ward off stress and depression.
- Play stimulates the mind and boost creativity. Play nourishes your ability to be adaptive and problem solve. It is nature’s great tool for creating new neural networks and for reconciling cognitive difficulties. When you play, dilemmas and challenges naturally filter through the unconscious mind and work themselves out. Even a few hours spent doing something you love can make you new again. One reason why play is such an ideal state of mind for creativity and learning is because the mind is focused on means. Since the ends are understood as secondary, fear of failure is absent and you feel free to incorporate new sources of information and to experiment with new ways of doing things.
- Play improves relationships and your connection to others. Sharing laughter and fun can foster empathy, compassion, trust, and intimacy with others. Play doesn’t have to be a specific activity; it can also be a state of mind. Developing a playful nature can help you loosen up in stressful situations, break the ice with strangers, make new friends, and form new business relationships.
- Play can keep you feeling young and energetic. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Playing can boost your energy and vitality and even improve your resistance to disease, helping you feel your best. Play nourishes the spirit.
Incorporating more play into your daily life can improve the quality of your relationships, your mood, and outlook. Play can help you keep a positive, optimistic outlook through difficult situations, disappointments, and loss. Even in the most difficult of times, taking time away from your troubles to play or laugh can go a long way toward making you feel better. The good feeling that you get when you laugh and have fun remains with you even after the fun subsides.
It’s never too late to develop your playful, humorous side. Reclaim your inner child by setting aside regular, quality playtime. Give yourself permission to do whatever you want for the time you’ve allotted. Be spontaneous, set aside your inhibitions and try something fun, try something you haven’t done since you were a kid. Enjoy the change of pace; you never know what magic may happen!