“The opposite of play is not work—the opposite of play is depression. Our inherent need for variety and challenge can be buried by an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Over the long haul, when these spice-of-life elements are missing, what is left is a dulled soul.” – Stuart Brown, M.D.
Play is an integral part of every child’s development. Through trial and error, imagination, and creativity, play provides a safe process for children to learn about themselves, how the world works, and how to engage in relationships. They test limits and begin to understand how to set and respect boundaries, and learn how to work through conflict. They experience failure at reaching an objective and begin to grasp the life lessons of determination, endurance, and resilience. Something changes, however, as we grow up. Many of us think to ourselves, “I’m an adult—adults don’t play.” “Fun, who has time for fun… I’ve got work, the kids, and I need a couple of hours to zone out in front of the TV before I go to bed and do it all over again tomorrow.” I’m guilty of that last one.
Recently, I read the book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown, M.D., and it has inspired me to re-prioritize play and fun as a value that I seek to pursue on a daily basis. In the book, Dr. Brown makes the case that even though there is a purposelessness to play on the surface, there are serious benefits for children and adults. On the National Institute for Play’s website it states that play has profound benefits for all stages of life: “play is the gateway to vitality. By its nature it is uniquely and intrinsically rewarding. It generates optimism, seeks out novelty, makes perseverance fun, leads to mastery, gives the immune system a bounce, fosters empathy and promotes a sense of belonging and community.” Through activities like sports, creative writing, painting, traveling, board games, and movies we can in turn impact other areas of our lives like work, relationships, and physical, mental and spiritual health.
At i360, we hold a value for play. We are intentional to play together as a staff, always looking for creative activities to do together to develop the team’s bond. We’ve been indoor skydiving, played trampoline dodge ball, and even ridden a donkey… don’t ask, you had to be there.
As part of our holistic approach with clients, we also want to help clients discover play again. For someone struggling with anxiety, depression or addiction, therapy can be a helpful tool to gain insight, self-awareness, and healthy coping skills. We provide individual, couples, family, and group therapy. However, we also realize that therapy is limited. As a co-worker once told me, “knowledge or insight is great, but if you don’t make actual changes in your life to meet your stated goals, then what’s the point?” In addition to the traditional therapies, we also offer a service called Life Development. Through Life Development, we walk with clients outside the office and in their everyday environment to help them translate their insights into behavior change. One benefit of this program is to practice the value of learning how to enjoy life again through meaningful relationship and healthy activity.
In his book, Dr. Brown describes the following 8 different play personalities. He states that typically each of us connects with a mix of a few of these and sometimes it depends on the environment or situation. Take a look below. Which types do you identify for yourself?
- The Joker – You enjoy making people laugh, crack practical jokes, and engage in nonsense.
- The Kinesthete – You are happy when engaged in physical activity, but not for competitive purposes. You feel alive pushing yourself to physical limits.
- The Explorer – You love exploring the physical, emotional, mental or spiritual world through traveling, researching, listening to music or meeting new people.
- The Competitor – You enjoy games with rules and play to win. You strive to be the top dog.
- The Director – You live to plan, organize, and execute scenes or events.
- The Collector – You desire to have the best of particular objects or experiences.
- The Artist / Creator – You find joy in making unique things or experiences.
- The Storyteller – You use your imagination through acting, dance, music, or teaching to tell a story.
Now that you’ve identified with one or more, take a moment to reminisce on that time of your life when that part of yourself thrived. How was that time? What activities did you enjoy? What was your mood like? How were your relationships? Finally, how can you incorporate these activities back into your life on a consistent basis? I encourage you to take play seriously, and learn how to have fun again. It just may change your life.
If you’d like to learn more about play and its benefits, check out the following resources:
- Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown, M.D.
- Brown’s TED Talk on Play: http://bit.ly/1RsBPU7
- The National Institute for Play – http://www.nifplay.org/
Written By: Mitchell Isle, MA, LPC, CSAT – Clinical Coordinator and Therapist