May 05 , 2021
To sit and watch a child engrossed in their play, fully immersed in a magical world a great distance from their current surroundings, can feel like we are witnessing something deep and spiritual. We can all probably take ourselves back to when we were children, where time disappeared and there was only us, our playmates and the game we were playing. There was a lightness to life, with a passport for a journey to the realms of our deepest imagination, the possibilities were endless.
We are driven to play as part of our basic human development. This play drive is as much part of us as the urge to breathe. When we are children, the play drive is what helps us to learn the key skills essential for our survival, with play a child’s main language of communication. Children possess an innate ability to transfer feelings into their play as a way of seeking understanding and to explore something troubling them.
Play is still fundamental to our lives as adults and should not ever just be thought of as a ‘childish’ activity and ‘a waste of time’ as can sometimes be portrayed in societal messages. Without it, we can lose our motivation, passion and innate ‘sparkle’. With the increasing demands on our time and often a growing set of responsibilities around work, family and our social lives, we can easily lose touch with our playful side and with it, our aspiration for the future and experience a drop in our resilience when tough things inevitably happen.
If we go for too long without play and the associated joy and fun that it brings, we may even find ourselves pondering “is this all there is?” with a feeling that something is fundamentally missing from our lives. Play enables us to live a life that feels fulfilling and worthwhile, meeting our own needs but also those of others around us, participating in something greater than ourselves.
When we are adults, play may look and feel a bit different to when we were children, but there can still be that loss of time and complete immersion, leaving us feeling energised and with a sense of contentment and well-being. We may have even resolved something in our minds, as play is natures greatest tool for creating new neural networks and for reconciling cognitive difficulties. Play can give us the ability to make new patterns, find the unusual among the common and generate curiosity. When we play, dilemmas and challenges will naturally filter through the unconscious mind and work themselves out.
Work is not the opposite of play and many of us can find or initiate playful moments within our working day, bringing an increased feeling of enjoyment to the work we are doing or to help us through a difficult situation. Playful moments can often begin to dwindle with a feeling of increased responsibility, pressure or monotony and bring with it the feelings of burden that can be associated with work. We can feel a pressure to perform and achieve results.
Getting oneself into a play state can help to lighten the urgent purposefulness and associated anxiety of work, increasing efficiency and productivity. If we are too entangled in a situation to work out what to do, we may need to get into our imaginary helicopters and fly ourselves up above the situation to get a different perspective to understand how to move forward.
Play can also bring increased communication and social cohesion, which is why team building games and activities are often a powerful way to use play to develop and strengthen relationships quickly. Play can also rise above clashes that there may ordinarily be between different ethnic or cultural groups, and act as a bridge to override hostility and segregation.
As with most things in life, moderation is key, and play is no exception. Technology use is on the rise, with an increasing number of people often choosing play that revolves around using a screen and whilst this type of play can bring benefits, it can also isolate people from the real world, be sedentary in nature and addictive. It does not bring the human interactions that are an essential part of psychological health or any interaction with the physical world around us. Therefore, you may need to consider what might be some of the ways that you can bring more playfulness into your life that does not involve the use of a screen. You may want to look back on the things you used to enjoy playing, where you felt time suspended, a sense of absolute pleasure, of total involvement and wanting to do the thing repeatedly. What tasks or activities could you do to bring that feeling back into your life?
You may feel self-conscious trying to move yourself into a play state. Physical movement can often be a helpful start, given that movement is the first thing that shows up in our development, it can also be the first step back into play. Going for a walk or having a dance to some loud music may help you to get back in touch with your playful side. Playing with pets or children may help you to feel less conscious. Your play impulse may draw you in the direction of creative activities, sport, time with friends, being part of a community group or going on holiday. Bringing some humour or fun into a work environment can make the day more enjoyable and productive.
At a time when the world is beginning to open back up for business, take that playful step forward whilst literally wearing your ‘game face’. Embrace and prioritise that which can bring back lightness and joy to your life, as if you can get play ‘right,’ the rest will duly follow.
As a Play Therapist and Consultant for the development of specialist services for children, young people, families and adults, Liane is committed to providing opportunities for people to thrive. Liane understands the benefits of staying playful and is always on the lookout for opportunities for laughter and lightness as she moves through her day.
Liane’s articles will offer an opportunity to increase your awareness of play and creative mediums and tools, to support reflection and increase self-awareness.