Why we should be mak­ing time for fun

RE­MEM­BER THAT OLD ‘WORK, REST AND PLAY’ SLO­GAN? MANY OF US HAVE FOR­GOT­TEN THE ‘PLAY’ PART – AND IT’S AD­VERSELY AF­FECT­ING OUR STRESS LEV­ELS, RE­LA­TION­SHIPS AND PRO­DUC­TIV­ITY SAYS TRUDIE MCCONNOCHIE

Good Health (Australia) - - Content -

If your idea of a good time is man­ag­ing to clear your in­box of un­read mes­sages or try­ing to strate­gi­cally place as many items in the dish­washer as you can, you’re def­i­nitely not hav­ing enough fun. And the strug­gle is real. Amid the seem­ingly end­less cy­cle of work, wash­ing, meal prep, fam­ily obli­ga­tions and life ad­min, most of us fail to make ‘play’ a pri­or­ity, since there are al­ways a mil­lion more ur­gent things to do. And be­sides, isn’t play­time just for kids?

Ac­cord­ing to ex­perts, that’s where we’re go­ing wrong. In fact, de­vot­ing time to an ac­tiv­ity that has no pur­pose other than pure en­joy­ment – such as do­ing a cross­word, walk­ing on the beach or splash­ing in pud­dles with the kids – might ac­tu­ally be the most pro­duc­tive thing you do all day. Not only will it sig­nif­i­cantly boost your health and hap­pi­ness, it’ll ac­tu­ally help you get more done across the board – a win-win.

“Play gives us plea­sure, and we still need this as adults,” says Mel­bourne-based psy­chol­o­gist Dr Marny Lish­man. “The more we en­gage in play and keep our­selves in the mo­ment, [the more it] helps us re­duce stress and im­proves our well­be­ing. It also helps us use our imag­i­na­tion, which in turn helps with cre­ativ­ity and pro­duc­tiv­ity.”

It seems that some­where be­neath the crush­ing pile of what we’re

sup­posed to do, we’re ne­glect­ing what we want to do, and it’s tak­ing a toll on our col­lec­tive well­be­ing. As in­flu­en­tial US play re­searcher Dr Brian Sut­ton-smith ex­plains: “The op­po­site of play isn’t work, it’s de­pres­sion.”

But if the re­cent ex­plo­sion of adult colour­ing-in books, Candy Crush and Poké­mon Go – not to men­tion the emer­gence of gim­micks such as adult play­dough – are any­thing to go by, peo­ple are start­ing to catch on to the pos­i­tive ef­fects of play for play’s sake.

Play as medicine

Founder of The Hap­pi­ness In­sti­tute Dr Tim Sharp, aka Dr Happy, is fully on board. He be­lieves if adults spent more time play­ing, it would com­pletely trans­form the way we ex­pe­ri­ence the world. “There’s no doubt that fun and play boost pos­i­tive emo­tions, such as hap­pi­ness, which then con­trib­ute to im­por­tant con­structs such as qual­ity of life and life sat­is­fac­tion,” he says. “Play is too of­ten seen as be­ing friv­o­lous and a waste of time, yet all the re­search sug­gests that it’s far more im­por­tant be­cause it con­trib­utes to psy­cho­log­i­cal and even phys­i­cal health ben­e­fits.” For Lish­man, adult play is a form of medicine. She’s iden­ti­fied an ab­sence of play as a fac­tor for many of the peo­ple she sees at her clinic. “The ma­jor­ity of my clients come in be­cause of is­sues with anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion,” she says. “They’re liv­ing in a headspace of fear and are of­ten find­ing life not en­joy­able. Many are phys­i­cally in the mo­ment, but their head is ei­ther ru­mi­nat­ing about the past or wor­ry­ing

‘Play is too of­ten seen as friv­o­lous, yet re­search sug­gests it’s im­por­tant’

about the fu­ture. Play brings peo­ple back into the mo­ment.”

It also strength­ens re­la­tion­ships. Ac­cord­ing to Dr Stu­art Brown, founder of the Na­tional In­sti­tute for Play in the US, the ba­sis of hu­man trust is es­tab­lished through play sig­nals.

Lish­man ex­plains: “I’ve of­ten pre­scribed play to cou­ples who are go­ing through dif­fi­cul­ties, ad­vis­ing them to do some­thing fun on a date night. It might be go­ing to a movie or com­edy night, or just learn­ing to do some­thing to­gether, like danc­ing. It al­lows feel-good chem­i­cals like dopamine and en­dor­phins to be re­leased, and helps peo­ple to re­con­nect.”

What is play?

Ac­cord­ing to Lish­man, play is any ac­tiv­ity done for plea­sure rather than a pur­pose.

“This is dif­fer­ent for every­one; it’s quite sub­jec­tive,” she says. “It could be any­thing from play­ing by them­selves – think sport, craft, video games or colour­ing in – through to do­ing Lego with the kids or play­ing with their part­ners.”

They’re all great ideas, but who has the time? Even Dr Happy ad­mits keep­ing play­time in his di­ary can be a chal­lenge. Play, he says, is some­thing he has to work at. Be­cause time is some­thing you tend to make rather than some­thing you hap­pen to find, Lish­man rec­om­mends sched­ul­ing in play on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, such as once a week, like you would an ap­point­ment – and com­mit­ting to it.

“Think back to your younger years and the mo­ments that you found ex­cep­tion­ally fun,” she ad­vises. “Play­ing on swings at the park? Paint­ing in art class? Gig­gling with friends? Play­ing with your fam­ily dog at the beach? Danc­ing with your girl­friends at a club? Singing your head off in the car to your favourite song? Be­ing a bit naughty with your part­ner in the bed­room? Chances are, you can prob­a­bly still do most of these things – you just for­got that you could.”

Be­cause time is some­thing you tend to make, sched­ule in reg­u­lar play like you would an ap­point­ment – and com­mit to it

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