Play

Play is most often associated with children. It’s how they make sense of their world, build skills, and create meaning. As we grow, we tend not to engage in play as much and let that part of us fade into the background. Our focus tends to shift to our work, family responsibilities, and finances. However, research shows that play is extremely beneficial to people of all ages. Dr. Stewart Brown, founder of the National Institute of Play, argues that play is a biologically programmed need. It helps grow our brains, helps to foster empathy, helps navigate complex social groups, and is the core of innovation and creativity. In our busy lives, we often think that stopping to engage in play would be a “waste of time”. However, Dr. Brown states that the opposite of play is not work, it is depression. Without play, we are more susceptible to burn out, stress, and overwhelm. So how can adults engage in play?

Step 1: Find your play personality.

Do you enjoy telling stories? Are you a collector? Do you love working with your hands? Dr. Brown has identified eight play personalities that influence the types of activities we enjoy. There is often a blend of these within each of us, but some are more pronounced than others. Think back to what you liked doing when you were a kid or take the play personality quiz to uncover yours.

Step 2: Consider how you like to play.

Humans enjoy different ways of playing, from social play to movement or exploration. By thinking back to what you enjoyed as a child, you may have ideas as to how this could fit into your life today.

Step 3: Try something that sounds fun.

Look for ways to incorporate play into your life in a way that feels right to you. Enjoyable play will not be the same for everyone, so reflect on your personality and what makes sense. Try not to let negative self-talk influence your choices. As an adult we tend to worry about how we look doing an activity or whether someone else thinks it’s “childish” or “weird”. Try to focus on the enjoyment of the activity instead. Remember, there is no wrong way to play!

Step 4: Find a new approach to a favourite activity.

If you loved bike riding as a child, but find it physically exhausting now, perhaps invest in an e-bike. If you enjoyed climbing trees, join a hiking group and explore new natural spaces. Be creative in revamping favourite activities from your childhood so they fit your physical abilities and lifestyle as an adult.

Whatever activities you decide to try, remember that if you are engaged and feeling content, then you are playing. If an activity feels boring, irritating, or a burden, this is not the right fit for you and another type of play would be more appropriate. Also work to challenge any negative thoughts that come up when playing. It is important to recognize that play actually enhances our work, helps us deal with difficulties, and is the only way to finding lasting joy and satisfaction in what we do.

If you are interested in learning more about how play can make a difference in your life, reach out to any of our counsellors to book a free 15-minute consultation.

Written by Cat Zydyk

References:

Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Hazelden Publishing. National Institute for Play. (2024). Play for adults. https://www.nifplay.org/play-for-you/make-play-part-of-an-adult-life/