As I have been struggling to stay productive over these last few months, I have also been contemplating what it means to incorporate play in my life in equal measure. Once we grow up, society basically tells us that play is no longer important for adults; but nothing could be further from the truth.
Play adds a sense of vitality to life – without it, life becomes dull, restrictive, and duty bound. Play helps you to feel more optimistic and creative because you tend to come up with innovative solutions to problems. It is also the foundation of most cultural aspects of our life such as art, games, books, sports, movies, and many more – basically the things we enjoy doing during our free time.
I referred back to the book “Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul” by Dr. Stuart Brown, and I wanted to share some of the insights from that book that stayed with me. One of the activities that Brown recommends is taking a look at your “play history” as both a child and adult to figure out what activities you most enjoy. Some of the questions he advised asking yourself include:
- What did you enjoy doing as child? Why?
- When have you felt free to do and be what you choose?
- Is this part of your life now? If not, why not?
- What do you feel stands in the way of your achieving some times of personal freedom?
When I completed my play history, I remembered that I spent a lot of time reading when I was young – my fondest memories involve libraries, book mobiles, and hours curled up in my cubby hole with a good book. Reading is one of the activities I consider to be my form of play now. But there was a period of time in my life where I was not reading on a regular basis, and my life was definitely not very enjoyable. I remember having thoughts like “Is this all there is?” (which is one of the questions that Brown mentions being a common question for people who are mainly just doing what is required in life without having much fun). Then, in 2007, I had a sort of epiphany, and started reading fiction again in earnest. Since I started reading again, my life has certainly changed for the better – I started to attend book related events, met new people that shared my interests, joined a writing center to learn more about the basics of writing, and of course, just started reading for pleasure in general. My other forms of play are also related to storytelling – writing and producing illustrations to accompany my writing.
One of the most compelling chapters in Dr. Brown’s book identifies eight basic play personalities that most people fall into (one is your dominant type) – here are general descriptions of the play personalities:
- The Joker – these people love nonsense, practical jokes, and telling jokes; they love to illicit laughter; examples include stand up comedians and class clowns
- The Kinesthete – these people love to move; they actually think better when they are moving – examples include athletes, dancers, yoga instructors
- The Explorer – these people love going new places, exploring new emotions, or delving deep into things at a mental level through research; examples include frequent travelers and scientists
- The Competitor – these people love competitive games and activities with specific rules; they play to win; examples include sports, gambling, sales
- The Director – these people enjoy planning and executing scenes and events; they like power, organizing, and throwing grand events; examples include event planners, film directors, entrepreneurs
- The Collector – these people enjoy having and holding the most, the best, the most interesting collection of objects or experiences; examples include hobby collectors, flea market lovers
- The Creator – these people find joy in making things or making something work; these include artists, crafters, designers
- The Storyteller – these people love using their imaginations; enjoy telling stories or reading/experiencing the stories created by others; examples include performers, writers, illustrators, cartoonists
As I mentioned earlier, I identify most with the Storyteller. Which one do you identify with the most? This may be the key to figuring out some activities and hobbies you might consider adding to your life to increase your sense of play.
In summary, we play to bring joy into our lives. And we can do this at any age. As one of my favorite Christmas songs says about the Christmas spirit being for “kids from 1 to 92” – I believe play is for all ages as well.
To learn more about Brown’s research on play, check out his book or visit his website at the National Institute for Play