When I was a kid, I was a play expert. I had the magical ability to make myself believe that I lived in colonial times, or that I had a friendly purple monster that followed me around. My brother and I would build sprawling Lego towns, pretend we were vicious lions, that we lived in tiny houses in the woods, and that our basement was haunted.
But as I’ve grown into an adult that works and lives within the confines of society, I have become too serious. I am always concerned that I’m not doing anything “productive”. I feel as if there aren’t enough hours in a day, and I feel under pressure to get things done.
But when I do play – when my husband and I dance in our living room, when I tell jokes to my dogs, when I fill up the kiddie pool just for myself and my pink margarita – my heart feels light and my mind clear.
Play is a state of being. It’s fun and brings joy. It has no purpose. It’s not meant to be taken seriously.
But maybe we should all get a little more serious about being playful. There are numerous benefits to playing every single day.
Health Benefits of Play
- Play improves relationships by helping us bond. It helps keeps relationships fresh and exciting. I feel like a carefree teenager whenever my husband and I play a game of darts or when we leap through the sprinkler.
- Play relieves stress. The enjoyment of play releases feel-good endorphins, and also helps relieve pain. Play helps us keep things in perspective and gives us a fresh outlook.
- Play improves brain function, memory, and problem solving skills.
- Play stimulates the imagination, allowing us to become more adaptable and creative.
- Play can keep you feeling happy, relaxed and boost your energy.
The Guilt that Stops Us
“What, me? Play?” You might scoff, “I don’t have time to PLAY. I don’t have time to go off, gallivanting around, trolling for happiness when I have kids to feed, a job to do, a house to clean, and bills to pay!” ** Warning: your eye might twitch and your voice may crack when you shout this sentence. If this is the case, you need a funnel cake and a carousel STAT.**
I feel like I have to always be doing something IMPORTANT or USEFUL or PRODUCTIVE. I wear myself down with my high expectations. I feel like I have to create art for a purpose, write with an end-goal, and keep grinding down the bullet-points on my to-do list until I’m dead.
I need to remember to play – to embrace the unimportant moments, the moments of levity and silliness.
We don’t make time for play because we consider it pointless. We consider it a waste of time. But whether you’re a straight-laced businessperson, a parent, a doctor, a teacher, or an artist, play is essential to kicking ass and bouncing back.
Art and Play: Making art for the fun of it
When we play, we explore with no rules, no destination, no boundaries, and no fear. Play gets us used to asking “What if?” It helps us meet failure with acceptance. It helps us try again.
The next time you sit down at your canvas, notebook, or piano, don’t think about creating for an end-goal. Think about how the paint feels between your fingers, where the music takes your mind, or what words might sound prettiest to you right now. Completely envelope yourself in your process. Become childlike. Play with it.
Become conscious. Focus your awareness in the present moment. Become aware of your art – what your body does to create the art, how it feels, smells, sounds – what thoughts flow through your mind.
We have a tendency to take ourselves – and our art – so seriously. But our little inner artists are like children. We make art because it’s fun to make art. It’s exhilarating. It’s refreshing. Let your inner artist off the hook. PLAY with no goal in mind.
How to stop being a curmudgeon and embrace playful, silly fun
- Become a kid again
What type of play did you enjoy as a kid? Think back to when you were young. What lit you up? What made you forget reality and cast off the sails into imagination-land? What are some of your best play memories? Can you recreate this today?
- Hang out with goofballs.
Playful friends and family members can shake the dust off your boring, serious adulthood brain and get you dancing with your cat. It’s good to be a goofball! Don’t forget to play with others in your life. Crack jokes in the elevator. Be playful with your spouse, play with your friends, and get each other laughing.
- Leave play reminders around the house and office.
In a 2010 study, researchers found that when they allowed students to play with a wad of play dough for 10 minutes before conducting a creative or standard task, the students had better output and more creative ideas.
Leave yourself little reminders to play. A paddle ball on your desk, some bubbles for the backyard, sidewalk chalk, art supplies, a yellow ukulele, and a slinky for the stairs will release you from your ho-hum grind and into a colorful, creative world.