Feb 20, 2013 at 4:05pm
Playtime for Grownups
When was the last time you played? Not the last time you humored the kids while they smashed block castles, but actually dove into the activity and ran at the blocks yourself? If you’re like most adults, it’s probably been way too long. What are you waiting for? Is it because it seems childish? What’s wrong with being childish every once in a while? Where is it written that grownups have to be serious and sophisticated all the time?
Even wild animals play - birds get drunk on rotten berries, polar bears slide down frozen hills, dolphins leap for the simple joy of it. Playtime is how biological beings unwind, relax, and remember what it means to be alive - hint: it has nothing to do with money, bills or material things.
Play can be anything that makes you happy - in fact, if it’s not fun, it’s not play. You might enjoy playing tag, or you might prefer video games. Maybe Sudoku is your thing, or maybe you’ve never met a tree you didn't want to climb. It doesn't matter what it is. Make an effort to play for at least a little while every day and you will absolutely see your quality of life improve.
It’s Social - But It Doesn't Have To Be
Having a strong social circle has been repeatedly linked to longer life, better health and increased happiness. Instead of sitting in a bar drinking with your friends, why not organize a snowball fight? Or an epic game of Capture the Flag? Or Hide and Seek? Or maybe an Angry Birds showdown? Any one of these things will cause more laughter, more exuberance and more bonding than sitting in the same dive, listening to the same music while presiding over the same drinks that you’ve done every weekend for years.
If you’re not the social type, don’t feel pressured to play with others. It’s perfectly fine to play alone. Try hiking a new trail or exploring a new part of town. Take your dog to the park and just be silly. Do whatever feels right, and who cares if people are looking? If it stresses you out, it’s not the right play for you.
Divorce Yourself From The Outcome
Grownups get into the habit of basing experiences on the outcome - "I’m not gonna do all that just for that!" - sound familiar? The point of play is the experience of doing it - not who wins or loses, not who’s the better player, not whether you might become an expert someday, and definitely not whether or not you could possibly make a career out of it. It’s about losing yourself in the action - diving in head first, not being necessarily good at it, and doing it anyway because it’s just so darn fun. It’s freeing, and it reminds you that you are so much more than a sum of your talents and abilities.
It Increases Your Activity Level - Or Not
Play, by default, can increase your daily activity levels without feeling like work or exercise. Even if you regularly work out, a rowdy game of "chase" with your toddler still counts toward your calorie burn. Even days where you don’t feel like going to the gym, you might still be up for a romp in the dog park or a game of pickup basketball. Just because it’s not an organized "workout" doesn't mean it’s not good for your body. Get your muscles moving, your blood pumping, your joints lubricated and flexible, and you’ll feel young forever.
You Become The Master of Your Own Joy
We all experience joy in our lives, but too often it’s dependent upon others. You felt joy at your daughter’s wedding, then at your grandson’s birth. You felt joy when you won that award or got that coveted promotion. You felt joy when you came into money. While all of these things are great, not one of them is 100% under your control.
With play, all you have to do is make the decision to go play, make the commitment to give yourself over to it entirely, and the joy will come. You can grab a joy infusion anytime you want, and it doesn't matter if your daughter’s even dating, or who else is in the running for the award, or whether there are jobs available in upper management, or whether great-aunt Lucy is still alive and kickin’.
In the end, you are the boss of your brain. You are the one who decides to be stressed or calm, happy or sad, free or constrained. By incorporating more play into your life, you incorporate better good things of many varieties, and that can never be bad.