Everyone knows that play is important for kids. Play teaches them coordination, adult roles, social interaction, and basic problem-solving skills. But somehow, many people have fallen prey to the idea that play is only important for kids. Play is important no matter what your age. Dutch historian Johan Huizinga (1872-1945) once described it as the defining characteristic of our species. For Huizinga, humanity is notable not as Homo sapiens, “wise people,” but Homo ludens, “playful people.”
Play is good for your health. A lot of play involves exercise, which is a good thing in and of itself, but there’s more to it than that. Play relieves stress and releases a whole range of feel-good chemicals in your brain, which not only make play fun but relieves tension across the whole of your body. Play is good for your brain, too. Play lights up the entire right side of your brain, creating a state of hyper-creativity that literally changes the way you see the world. Play unites your mind and body. In play, the gap between physical sensation and mental sensation is bridged. Play creates social bonds. There’s evidence that the earliest social bonds are primarily playful ones. As an infant develops a sense of its own identity and begins to recognize other people as beings with identities of their own, it begins to learn play and socialize at the same time. That doesn’t go away as you get older – play is still a rock-solid foundation for social behavior. Fortunately, there’s an easy and proven effective remedy for play deprivation: go out and play!
Spending some profoundly non-serious time with yourself or with others may well make you better at all that serious stuff that’s been sucking at your soul and preventing you from playing in the first place. You’ll feel better, be more relaxed, and enjoy more creativity, which can’t help but make the rest of your life that much better.