Wanna Play?

Why play is essential to our health

What if there was a way to feel happier, more energised, more creative AND be even smarter? And what if that way was actually fun, and pretty much free? Would you do it?

It’s not a new drug or expensive treatment, it’s play.

In essence, play is something you want to do for the sake of it, not for any outcome or result. It is purposeless, all consuming, and fun.

Humans are wired for play. And when we deny ourselves the chance to play, things go, well… haywire.

In fact, there is such thing as “play deprivation”, and it has serious, even fatal, consequences.

Psychologist and researcher Dr Stuart Brown is one of the leading authorities on play.

He began with researching the background and childhoods people convicted of murder, and found many had severe play deprivation.

He subsequently did research on rats. (He says funding for play research on humans is hard to come by; too few Universities will give a grant for “play” over more serious topics.)

He took two groups of juvenile rats. One group was allowed to play, the other was not. The groups were then presented with a collar saturated with cat odour: fear and danger. Both groups ran and hid. But, here’s what happened next:

“The non-players never come out – they die. The players slowly explore the environment, and begin again to test things out. That says to me, at least in rats – and I think they have the same neurotransmitters that we do and a similar cortical architecture – that play may be pretty important for our survival.”

Infuse your life with play

“The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression,” says Dr Brown. “Think about life without play – no humour, no flirtation, no movies, no games, no fantasy. The thing that’s so unique about our species is that we’re really designed to play through our whole lifetime.”

At the end of his popular TED Talk, Dr Brown says, “So I would encourage you all to engage not in the work-play differential – where you set aside time to play – but where your life becomes infused minute by minute, hour by hour, with body, object, social, fantasy, transformational kinds of play. And I think you’ll have a better and more empowered life.”


How to play as an adult

As adults, we tend to avoid risk of failure. We don’t want to try something new in case we’re bad at it. Play removes that pressure. It doesn’t matter if you’re not “good at it” – it’s the doing of it that matters.

Here’s how to start”

1. Think back to the play you enjoyed most as a child, and then find similar activities. If you enjoyed climbing trees, you could try rock climbing. If you loved play dough, you could find a pottery class, or, as a cheaper option, start making bread at home.

2. Make time to be spontaneous. You might need to schedule blocks of time where you allow yourself to play. Make an appointment in your calendar to act as a reminder.

3. Don’t post about it. When you share your play on social media, you’re giving it a result. Try doing it just for you.