Play Has A Place In The Good Life
Three arguments on why we should get out of our comfort zones and have more fun.
“We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
I have two left feet, so I’m glad Nietzsche wrote metaphorically. With this quote, I think he was saying something true and profound about the importance of play — that it’s an essential part of living a good and balanced life.
What I hope to convey are some philosophical, scientific and personal reasons for why we should all get serious about messing around. I hope that by reading this, you’ll feel compelled to actually pencil in some time for more frivolity.
Are you familiar with the bestselling book The Top 5 Regrets Of The Dying? As the title suggests, it’s about what dying people wish they had done differently. The information is philosophically valuable because it sheds light on what we ought to do now to ensure we use our time correctly and live our best possible lives.
Here are the top five regrets:
- “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
2. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
3. “I wish I had let myself be happier.”
4. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my true self.”
5. “I wish I’d lived a life true to my dreams instead of doing what others expected of me.”
In America, we have a mild obsession with “success” in financial and status-building terms. There’s a productivity imperative that’s always nagging us to work work work and “make something of ourselves.” But dying people rarely look back at their lives and wish they’d spent more time rat-racing. Instead, we tend to wish we had prioritized enjoyment and authentic pursuits with the people we loved.
With this philosophy in mind, play isn’t just a bit of foolishness or an indulgence. Instead, it’s integral to living the good life. It helps us avoid regrets like “working too hard” and “not being happy enough.” Play facilitates social bonding and keeps us in touch with friends. It can even be an indicator of what kinds of activities we ought to pursue in our work to “express our true selves” and “realize our dreams.”
It’s important to get out and frolic a bit or, as Nietzsche would put it, “Hit the dance floor and shake your tail feathers” (which is probably not how Nietzsche would put it, but you get the idea).
Play is just plain fun, which is a reason enough to want more of it but there are also scientific reasons to believe that play is instrumentally vital for well being.
Psychology has recently gotten serious about play and its benefits for kids and adults alike. Studies suggest that flirting, humor, imagination, sports and other forms of play bolster positive emotions, creativity, engagement, relationships and even achievement.
I’m not going to delve off into the nitty-gritty of any particular studies, as my purpose is more of a philosophical persuasion in favor of more play, but I’ve included links (see bottom of page) that I recommend for further reading. What I’d like to emphasize is that these are not just intuitions or flights of argumentative fancy; the scientific community has much to say about the value of play. Here are some examples:
- It’s been shown that play is generally lacking in individuals who end up in jail.
- Time for play is often abundant in the lives of those considered to be creative types.
- Just getting up and wiggling your body playfully can improve your mood.
- Social play improves relationships.
- Taking time to play can make you more productive.
As Positive Psychology superhero Christopher E. Peterson put it, play is “…a robust predictor of how satisfied we are with our lives.”
This isn’t going to be one of those “Hey, I was a schmuck, but now I’m awesome” kind of stories where I discovered play and my life transformed overnight, but I did have a eureka moment that helped me reengineer many of my habits and thought patterns in a positive way.
Back in my university days, I was depressed. I was having trouble getting out of bed to face the day and it seriously sucked. There was at least a full year there where people would say I wasn’t my usual happy-go-lucky self and they’d continually prod me to find out what was wrong.
Thankfully, I was living next to a fascinating woman who helped me out of my funk. Olivia was one of the all-time eccentrics. I would usually run into her while she walked her pet chinchilla through the nearby park (shoeless of course). She’d read me poems she had written about her past lives. She informed me that during her psychedelics phase that she had taken LSD over 200 times. She was 65 years old. She was a hippie, a philosopher, a published author and one of the most authentically caring people I’ve known.
One day I decided to share my life’s concerns with her. Her response? “Have more fun.” She said it simply and with the kind of conviction that comes from a lifetime of experience. It was her mantra and I think it’s one of the all time greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever received. It resonated with me and helped me reprioritize my activity in a way that got me up and moving.
There are some compelling reasons to think that play is more than just a good time. Philosophically, scientifically and personally, I think it’s a bonafide necessity. If you agree, take a couple hours this week to “have more fun.”
Post originally shared on Holstee’s online magazine, Mindful Matter.