In our modern society, work is valued way above play. Sure, children play — have play dates and other activities — but what about the adults? Play or “entertainment” is considered an expendable activity and a luxury that conjures a feeling of guilt at the thought of having a pleasurable time. Recent findings show that play is just as important to productivity, creativity and health as good sleep habits and good food.
It wasn’t always this way. In our modern society people take work so seriously they never have time to relax and disconnect with technology. Most cultures other than the Western world and particularly America, spend much less time working. Modern Americans work 40+ hours a week — sometimes at a job that they hate.
In order to GET HEALTHIER we need guilt-free play. Our culture is set up to chronically deprive people of play from a very early age. This sets us up for burnout, anxiety and other health problems, both physical and emotional.
In his talk at PaleoCon, Charlie Hoehn described how he became an anxious wreck after over-working at a stressful job for a few years. The doctors offered him medication, which he immediately rejected because he feared addiction.
He tried everything from yoga, meditation, natural therapies and acupuncture to prayer. Nothing helped his anxiety — until he read the book Play by Dr. Stuart Brown and he realized exactly where his problem was coming from. After that, he implemented strategies to incorporate play into his life and he is totally better now.
I found this to be an incredibly inspiring story with an important message for all of us.
Play is an essential part of being happy and healthy and may be the missing link for some people in their healing journey.
Play is Part of Development and Attitude
Play starts in childhood and serves a very important means by which children develop not only their physical capabilities, but also their intellectual, social, emotional and moral capacities. It is also a state of mind that develops high-level reasoning, problem solving and creative activities. In earlier cultures, forms of play were important because it was a way for children to practice being an adult.
Importantly, the characteristics of play have more to do with motivation and mental attitude than with the actual behavior. For example, one person may be at the computer at work but another at the computer at play. A person may be drawing something at work, while another may be drawing at play. It depends on the reason for what they are doing and their attitude towards it.
Play is not a black and white endeavor. It may be blended with other motives and attitudes. In children it may be 100% play much of the time, while it adults it tends to be a certain degree of play mixed with adult responsibilities.
Some Characteristics of Play
Play is an expression of freedom and is actively conducted for its own sake. This makes it joyful and liberating. You are not going to play at something you do not enjoy. If you start to dislike it — you have the freedom to quit.
According to Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn, the alert but unstressed condition of the playful mind is precisely the condition that has been shown repeatedly, in many psychological experiments, to be ideal for creativity and the learning of new skills.
Anything that is done to reduce the person’s concern with outcome (goals) and to increase the person’s enjoyment of the task for its own sake—that is, anything that increases playfulness makes it a vehicle for relaxation. This aspect of the unstressed mind leads to enhanced creativity.
Benefits of Play
Humans need play to function — it gives people a common ground and bonds us together. Play gives the brain time to relax — similar to a good sleep. It allows us to unwind and disconnect from the pressure and stresses of life.
Importantly, play, like sufficient sleep, can help improve productivity and creativity. When in the middle of a stressful deadline, it is important to take time off — it revitalizes your brain and increases creativity and productivity.
In 1993, Professor K. Anders Ericsson et al studied elite performers such as, musicians, athletes, actors and chess players. In each of these fields, Dr. Ericsson found that the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes. They begin in the morning, take a break between sessions, and rarely work for more than four and a half hours in any given day. They learn not to over-practice.
Psychobiologist Ernst Rossi, in his book The 20 Minute Break also champions the practice of breaks during the working day. Others have found the rhythm of optimal performance to be in 90 – 120 minute cycles. This is similar to the rhythm of REM sleep.
The more rapidly and deeply one can quiet the mind and relax the body — the more restored one can feel and the more productive one can be. This ability to withdraw from what is going on around you is a critical aspect of play and the health benefits it can offer.
According to organization psychologist Sabine Sonnentag at the University of Konstanz, Germany, people who disengage from thinking about their work during the evening are routinely happier and more refreshed the next day. Those 16 hour work days should be a thing of the past. It’s important to disconnect from a task, change gears and do something enjoyable (play) especially in the evenings.
Interestingly, some companies are taking this research and dedicating space to a “renewal” room where employees can nap, meditate or relax. They provide another room — a lounge where workers can relax and socialize and snack on healthy food. These “renewal” breaks are encouraged throughout the day as well as other perks like making sure they do not work at their desk at lunch, and give workers the ability to work from home several days a week. The idea is that “renewal” brings greater productivity at the hours spent at work. (source)
This is a company I would like to work for!
More vacations are similarly beneficial. In 2006, the accounting firm Ernst & Young did an internal study of its employees and found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings from supervisors (on a scale of one to five) improved by 8 percent. Frequent vacationers were also significantly less likely to leave the firm. (source)
How To Integrate Play into Your Life
There are no rules for play — which is the point. It should be something you enjoy doing, that will make you focus on the game and not anything else happening in your life.
Play is whatever you love to do from playing catch (aerobie, frisbee, ball), playing a musical instrument, seeing a movie, show or comedy, building something with your hands, doing something creative, enjoying nature, etc. Try to meet with a group of like minded people to “play together” on a regular basis.
Just have fun and don’t worry about how you perform or look. You need to do this on a regular basis to get the benefits. Try to have fun wherever you go and to make others laugh.
This is all about the quality of life and that translates to your happiness and your health! I’m as guilty as the next person for working too many hours without a break. I’ve now realized just how bad that is for my health and I have made resolutions to take more breaks and to stop working by a certain hour. I’m going to follow the 90 minute rule as outlined above.
I also made a commitment to devote more time to play. What about you? What will you be doing? Leave a comment an let me know!