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
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