I just returned from a great weekend of learning. In my quest to continually improve the learning experience for our students at Modern Music School, I attended the annual Neurobiology Conference “Play, Creativity, Mindfulness & Neuroscience in Psychotherapy” at UCLA.
The title of the conference immediately caught my attention because we strive to make our music lessons fun. And what could be more fun than play? I’ve always believed that if you’re not having fun, you’re not learning. So the prospect of learning how other experts incorporate playfulness into their fields of work got me very excited.
But what made me even more excited was the opportunity to learn more about the importance of play for adults. Because play doesn’t have to end with childhood, adults need recess too.
Stuart Brown, Founder and President of The National Institute for Play and speaker at UCLA this weekend, has spent decades studying the power of play in everyone from prisoners to business people, and artists to Nobel Prize winners.
He’s interviewed thousands of people cataloging their relationship with play. What he found was a strong correlation between happiness and success, and playful activity. He also found that play in adults builds community, keeps the mind sharp and helps couples thrive in their relationships. A lack of play on the other hand was just as important as other factors in predicting criminal behavior in adults.
Throughout our lives, play is essential to the development of our social skills, adaptability, intelligence, creativity, ability to problem-solve and more. In fact, play is even more crucial. Brown’s research reaffirms what Brian Sutton-Smith (another theorist of the benefits of play), has said before: “The opposite of play is not work, it is depression.”
Without the added joy inherent in play, its stress relieving qualities, and its potential for spontaneous laughter, excitement, creativity and authentic connection – life becomes dull very quickly.
In his book Play, Brown compares play to oxygen. He writes, “…it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.”
What he means by that becomes clear when you consider everything that constitutes play. Play is art, books, movies, comedy, flirting and daydreaming, writes Dr. Brown (and of course music, I might add).
What exactly is play?
When asked what play is, Brown says “play is something done for its own sake.” He explains, “it’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”
Play is the gateway to vitality. By its nature it is uniquely and intrinsically rewarding. It generates optimism, seeks out novelty, makes perseverance fun, leads to mastery, gives the immune system a bounce, fosters empathy and promotes a sense of belonging and community (from The National Institute for Play website).
So why should you make time for play?
We live incredibly hectic lives – our work and responsibilities can overwhelm us. Busy is the new black – at least that’s what you’d think if you listen to the people around you. It even feels as though we experience societal pressure to be ‘busy’. But a suffocating schedule doesn’t allow for a lot of fun. Unfortunately along the path to adulthood, we stopped reserving time for fun and play. And when we do find the time, we call it ‘downtime’, parking in front of the Blu-ray player, the tablet or the laptop and letting our minds check out. When did the trend towards all work, no play become the norm?
It’s never too late to incorporate more play into your adult life. Every once in a while, forget about your commitments and get playful. Just enjoy some organized chaos and stop focusing on the outcome – let go, enjoy yourself! Play can take so many forms, whether you’re sharing laughs with friends, enjoying a backyard pick-up game of football, helping your kids build their halloween costumes, trying a new recipe in the kitchen with a spouse and improvising as you go. When you give yourself permission to experience joyful abandon through play, you’ll be setting yourself up to reap the benefits throughout life. Think of playing as paying into the bank of well being.
The next time you’re too grown-up to be having fun, or you’re just too busy, keep in mind there are few things more important to your health and happiness than a frequent dose of play!
I do it all the time. There’s nothing that I enjoy more than riding my mountain bike with a group of friends.
In fact, I’ve been sitting at this laptop long enough and think I’ll call my biking buddies to go for a ride in the Los Angeles Mountains now. If the above wasn’t reason enough, we all know the saying because it’s true – I don’t want to be a “dull boy,” and neither do you! So work a little less and play a little more.