The Perks of Playfulness

If you desire a deeper connection with loved ones, a creative and fulfilling life and a healthier mind and body: playfulness might serve you better than seriousness.

How many times have you worried that you didn’t get enough done in a day?

We live in an age when high value is placed on productivity, while frivolity and fun are viewed with suspicion. These notions may have a religious origin: the protestant work ethic suggested that wealth and success were signs of god’s favour and proof of a place in heaven. Perhaps this idea subconsciously affects the way we live today and is part of the reason why we feel guilty if we ‘waste’ our time on playful activities. Our society still reinforces the value of hard work, however, an increase in stress-related illness and relationship problems indicates that this way of thinking is no longer helpful in our lives.

Spending more time playing could be the solution to the problem. Play helps build social bonds, improves learning, increases creativity and reduces stress.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

George Bernard Shaw

Fostering deeper connections with loved ones,

Many animals use play to improve social bonding and strengthen the group. Play helps individuals within the group feel a sense of belonging while also helping the whole group to live more harmoniously. This works for us, too. Sharing laughter and fun can improve the quality of our relationships by increasing compassion, trust, and intimacy with others, as well as easing tensions. Shared happy memories also increase the bonds we feel with those we love and add to our sense of security and belonging. Even reading novels and watching films can benefit our relationships because they improve our empathy and understanding of others by allowing us to walk in someone else’s shoes for a while.

Having fun with any group, be it work colleagues, family or friends can improve every members well-being because emotions are contagious. Have you ever noticed that if you are in a bad mood, it seems that everyone around you gets grumpy, too? The good thing is that the reverse is also true. If you are feeling upbeat and cheerful, it is likely to lift the mood of your partner, colleagues and children. So, far from being selfish, looking after your own happiness is a win-win solution for you and the people you care about.

Building a creative and fulfilling life

The urge to be playful is part of our nature for a good reason. Children use play to experience new situations, experiment with ideas and work through problems, and we can do the same.

A playful adventure or experience exposes us to new ideas which can help us think differently, which increases the variety of options we can exploit when we need a creative solution. Play also increases brain function and you’ll learn a new task better when it’s fun and you’re in a relaxed and playful mood.

Play can also reduce our fear of failure by giving us the opportunity to experiment in situation where there are no serious consequences. This reduces our fears and inhibitions allowing us to explore more innovative and creative ideas without risk.

Playtime is often spent in activities that have true meaning for us. When we play we are usually following our deepest desires, passions and interests. This can help improve our life satisfaction and help us to develop a sense of purpose. When we focus on a pleasurable activity we tend to worry less and are less self critical, which can increase our confidence and self-esteem.

A healthy body and mind

Play can also improve our physical health. Fun activities, such as stroking a dog, cuddling, listening to music or laughing at a funny film can reduce levels of cortisol a hormone which can have a negative effect on our weight, immune function, digestion and blood sugar levels. And of course physical play is a great alternative to slogging at the gym.

Play can also improve our well-being by reducing stress and increasing relaxation. Play is relaxing because we take a break from the need to achieve something and enjoy the activity for its own sake. In his book, Play how it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, Stuart Brown M.D. tells us that play, ‘energizes us and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities.’

“The business of the wise man is to be happy”

Samuel Johnson

Incorporating play into our lives.

Of course, with our lives being so busy, it can be hard to make time for play. But playfulness can be incorporated into everyday activities, perhaps by having a sing-a-long in the car on the school run or playing word games while doing errands, Buying cheerful stationary for your work files, wearing bright colours or accessories and being jovial with work colleagues can add to the fun in your work life. Making a game of chores with the kids, listening to a funny podcast while cooking dinner, or joking and reminiscing as you work with your partner can get tasks done with a smile. Often we make chores and work something that must be got done so that the fun stuff can begin, but we can make the chores fun, too.

It is worth scheduling time for fun activities, too

Write a list of things you might find fun to do. If you are stuck for inspiration think back to what you loved to do as a child: hanging out with friends, getting outside and active, or snuggling up with a book. Perhaps you loved collecting things, woodworking or camping. Your childhood passions can offer clues as to what might be the most fulfilling playful activity for you now.

Alternatively, consider what you enjoy most about your life now. Perhaps you love to be at home, dancing round the kitchen with your kids, singing in the shower or lying on the sofa doing absolutely nothing. Or maybe you prefer getting out and about and going to gigs, shows, festivals, the beach or the lake. Or perhaps you are happiest quietly writing, reading, drawing or learning to use a new gadget.

When you have written your list, schedule some time to try them out. I know scheduling sounds a bit serious, but if you don’t plan the time you may never get to the fun stuff.

The benefits of play can be far reaching and the new-found enthusiasm, openness, creativity and love we feel can impact all areas of our lives, including our relationships and work life making us more happy, fulfilled and, counter-intuitively, more productive.