“What do most Nobel Laureates, innovative entrepreneurs, artists and performers, well-adjusted children, happy couples and families, and the most successfully adapted mammals have in common? They play enthusiastically throughout their lives,” says Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play.
Ironically, Brown began his involvement in the benefits of play when he, along with several scientists, studied Texas Tower mass murderer Charles Whitman. The end of the study concluded that Whitman suffered from severe play deprivation throughout his life, which led him to be more vulnerable to the tragedy that he perpetrated. Brown believes that his findings have “unfortunately” stood the test of time in regards to similar mass murderers.
The study of biological, social and physical sciences is helping to unlock the transforming power of play. “Nothing lights up the brain like play,” Brown says.
Research explains how play shapes our brains, creates competence and stabilizes our emotions. Regular play creates trust — the basis for a healthy life that includes intimacy, caring, creativity, healthy socialization and so much more.
Watch children stomping their feet in a muddy puddle of water or laughing uncontrollably, often where signs are posted to “Be Quiet.” When’s the last time you laughed so hard tears ran down your face or your stomach muscles ached for hours?
Somewhere along the way to “growing up” we exchange play for work and seriousness can become a chronic habit. Not good. Just look at the overall benefits of the power of play:
» Connects us to others and strengthens our sense of community.
» Fosters creativity, innovation, adaptability and learning.
» It’s an antidote to loneliness, isolation, anxiety and depression.
» Teaches us perseverance.
» Makes us happy and joyous.
» Heals resentments, disagreements and emotional wounds.
» Improves the quality of our relationships.
How about playing at work? It’s all in your attitude. I once worked for two brothers — one was a stuffed shirt and the other fun and crazy. Guess who I gave my best to? Playfulness inspires trust and loyalty. Just look at the amazing benefits of playing at work:
» Keeps you functional when under stress.
» Refreshes your mind and body.
» Encourages teamwork.
» Helps you see problems in new ways.
» Triggers creativity and innovation.
» Increases energy and prevents burnout.
Play is natural for humans and animals both domesticated and wild. Brown tells how a hungry 1,200-pound polar bear approaching two tethered Husky dogs overcame his natural predatory urge when he was met by one Husky who greeted him in a crouched bow, wagging his tail high in the air. Sensing an invitation to play, for the next 20 minutes the bear and the dog engage in the dance of play.
In the parent-child relationship, recognizing a signal of an invitation to play is critical, as well as entering it at the level of the child — without preconceived notions as to what it should look like.
Five-year-old Johnny doesn’t want to throw the basketball, he wants to pounce it, roll on it and kick it. Dad has a fit and his annoyance is transferred to Johnny. Within seconds Johnny’s spirited playful adventure is over. It wouldn’t have been if Dad could have sided with his child and joined him in his unique stream of play. Studies out of the University of Washington indicate that parents spending 15 minutes a day in this state of play with their child can substantially decrease many behavioral problems.
Play — it’s more than a delightful pastime. It’s an effective tool that brings out the best in us, revealing our true natures. It is a powerful force for healing stress, depression and general grumpiness. And as the 1,200-pound polar bear taught us, it can magically tame our less than desirable unyielding lower nature.
Now what are you waiting for? Go play!