“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” ~George Bernard Shaw
Play. It’s a lifesaver.
It’s something I talk a lot about, but what is it really? I am currently reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, and it’s really got me thinking about the true, undeniable importance of play in our lives. In one of the chapters (my favorite so far), she discusses her efforts to include more play into her life in an attempt to succeed in her aforementioned Happiness Project.
So what is play?
Play allows us to be happy. It gives us time to spend on ourselves. To be happy, we can’t just have the absence of depression, sadness, or bed feelings. No, we need to feel cared for; we need to care for ourselves. And play is the way we can do that. As far as I am concerned, there is no definition of play. Play is different for each person. It is taking time to do whatever it is that makes you happy – not because you think it “should” make you happy, but because it truly, deeply, purely brings you joy.
Though, the importance of daily play is not a new concept to me (this should be clear if you’ve been following along for long), what Gretchen got into that really grabbed my attention was her eloquent discussion of how play can be something so different for each individual; there is no single definition of play, and my play might very well be quite different from your play. To Gretchen, for example, play is often times sitting down and reading adolescent literature. Though I am a reader at heart (an English major, Literature teacher, and lover of fiction), sitting down to read Harry Potter or Twilight is NOT my idea of play.
Many people (myself included) get set on this idea that play must involve movement, games, running around, or the jungle gym, and while for me, that does seem to be the case (my ideal idea of play is to be out all day, getting lost in the woods or near the ocean with my husband and pups, and moving my body while freeing my mind), I am coming to understand that movement or the childhood idea of play might not be everyone’s idea of a good time, and the reality is THAT’S OK.
While moving every day is essential for quality of life and longevity (and while it is important to make movement not only as enjoyable as possible, but also as functional and natural as possible), it doesn’t necessarily have to be all you do for YOUR play. And it is essential that you do play daily for a variety of reasons that I will cover in a bit. For my husband, play can sometimes be going to the movies and quoting every good line with his best friend. For my mom? Sudoku never fails. My dad and his friends enjoy hunting and fishing for fun. My brother will drive his new car and find bliss. And my little sister finds her play in a night out on the town. Each of these is a very unique take on play, but each is just as valid as the other.
And you know what else? Our definition of play can change as we do. I just bought a new Mandala coloring book and a set of Prismacolor pencils, and guess what… Sitting down and coloring, not only relieves stress and acts as a form of meditation, but it’s PLAY as well (and yes, it’s rare seated play for me). I’ve found recipe creating in the kitchen to be so much fun, and I find joy in gardening too. While I used to think I had to be working out, hiking, climbing, or moving to be “playing”, I am learning that life (and play) are about balance. Writing this blog in itself is a source of play (and I plan to keep it that way). Going to a concert, or heading out for a night with friends for a some good food, a glass of wine, and even some dancing (movement see?) can lead to laughter, joy, and yes, it counts as play too!
Get it? Ok cool, so now why all this talk of play?
No matter what play is to you, though, what’s MOST important is that you DO IT.
A 2012 review of over 200 studies shows that there is an undeniable connection between positive mindset (happiness, optimism, and life satisfaction) and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. And it’s experiences (read: play) that bring the most happiness – NOT money or things.
In fact, a new study published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that older people who are happy have a 35 percent lower risk of dying over a five-year period than unhappy people. There are stories of folks smoking their whole lives, but living to 100. Why? Because they are happy. While I am not saying you should pick up a smoking habit, I am saying that happiness seems to be one of the (if not the) most important factors in our overall health.
And if living a long life isn’t a big concern for you, how about quality of life? Laughter, joy, and happiness increase not just the number of days you live, but the quality of each one of those days. It’s hard to argue with that. Who really wants to live life without joy? Anyone who says he does, only needs one day of play for a change of heart.
So, I leave you with a question… what do you do for play? I’ll do a followup post with a list of all the things you guys enjoy – a collage of sorts. Maybe we can all learn a little something from each other.
So, leave a comment below with your idea of play, and then go and do it. Set a goal for just 20 minutes of play a day. What a difference that can make!
Dig Deep, Play, and Live Rad, my friends!