Why we all need to add more play to our lives

Reading time: About 3 minutes

Are you doing enough stuff that is purposeless, fun and pleasurable? If not, perhaps you need to add more play to your life…

I’ve always disliked playing cards and most games. 

Monopoly? Boring and it takes too long. Candyland? I played way too many rounds of that when my triplets were young. Scrabble? While I’m interested in language, I’d rather write a sentence than get a point value for creating a word. It just seems tedious and dumb to me. (Although it’s certainly not dumb to many other people and I mean no criticism here. My husband loves Scrabble.)

The thing is, I’m just not a games person. But the more important question is: do I know how to play? 

Perhaps not enough. 

The COVID pandemic, which has had the puzzling side effect of making time immaterial — did that event happen two days ago or two months ago? — has also made me more bored with my life.

Everything seems the same. I wake up just before 6 am. I go to my office to do my back exercises for 30 minutes and then I start working. I take breaks during the day for meals and a bit of reading. And by the time evening rolls around, it’s time to make dinner. Again. Before I know it, it’s time to sleep. Again.

Life has a relentless sameness about it — unrelieved by the social activities and entertainments that used to add a frisson of interest to it. Recently, I read an article in the New York Times under the headline “How to Add More Play to Your Grown-Up Life, Even Now,” and it caused me to rethink my attitude towards play.

In his book Play, author and psychiatrist Stuart Brown, compares play to oxygen. He writes, “…it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.” (Does this ring a COVID bell with anyone?)

But our society tends to disregard play for adults. Grownups are meant to be serious people, who believe there’s no time for play, which is both unproductive and petty. But, in fact, play takes us out of time, giving us the chance to have fun in the moment. 

Play includes making or appreciating art, reading books, seeing movies, making or listening to music, and daydreaming. It also means doing silly things, like dancing to music while you’re making dinner or drawing chalk cartoons on the sidewalk in front of the place you live. According to Brown, who is a founder of the National Institute of Play, play is “purposeless, fun and pleasurable.” You are not trying to accomplish a goal, he says.

Now that COVID has thrown a great big monkey wrench into most of our lives, it’s time to get serious about play. Here are five ways in which you can incorporate more play into your life: 

1-Decide what fun means for you. Understand that everyone has certain styles of play that suit them better. study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences identifies four distinct and different styles: other-directed, lighthearted, intellectual and whimsical. As soon as I heard about this study, I realized my error! I was trying to adapt myself to categories that don’t suit me (e.g. playing cards). 

Other-directed play refers to playing with other people. Lighthearted play means not taking the activity too seriously. Intellectual play has to do with ideas and thoughts. And whimsical play means doing odd or unusual things in everyday life. (I much prefer the intellectual and whimsical categories!) 

2-Set a fun minimum for yourself. Just as you might decide to exercise for 30 minutes a day or meditate for 20 minutes, schedule some specific time for fun, too. I know this sounds at odds with the nature of play (which should be purposeless, fun and pleasurable) but just like everything else in life, if you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen. You might need to start with baby-steps (perhaps colouring in a colouring-book if that’s something that appeals to you) but schedule the activity. You can branch out to become more spontaneous later. 

3-Have more fun at work, too. Work doesn’t have to be all drudgery. Figure out ways you can make your work more engaging, too. One thing I’ve started doing is playing fun music when I’m doing otherwise boring activities like filing or cleaning my desk. (Lately, as an antidote to the presidential debates, I’ve enjoyed listening to Randy Rainbow.)

4-Find small moments for play. Most of us have days that are too short, so, in addition to your scheduled fun time, try to work in super-small amounts of spontaneous play. You can talk to your dog in a funny voice,  or put a silly hat on your head, or make your lunch sandwich in the shape of a face. Even doing a cross-word during your morning coffee break will be relaxing (assuming you like cross-words.) 

5-Do something without sharing it. One of the benefits of COVID has been an end to the relentless vacation-reporting on Facebook. I always found the “here-we-are-in-Italy-again” posts to be both show-off-y and slightly offensive. (In fact, that’s part of what drove me off of Facebook for the last year. Side bonus: more time in my life!) In any case, if you are doing something to post about it, you’re not doing it just for fun. Take a vow of silence about your fun activities and do them only for yourself, not to share with your friends. 

One of the biggest benefits of adding more play to your life is that it will act like jet fuel to your creativity. Children learn best when they’re playing — and that same principle applies to adults, as well. Play will help stimulate your imagination, allowing you to write in a more relaxed and creative way.

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Are you getting enough play in your life? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to Bill Spaniel, the winner of this month’s book prize, for a Sept. 15/20 comment on my blog. (Please send me your email address, Bill!) Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Oct. 31/20 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!