TAKING THE TIME TO PLAY
is needed by all adults
PREVIOUS: Play Experts (#2)
QUOTE: Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard. ~ Gen. Colin Powell
PLAYING: “Most importantly, the activity should not have an obvious function in the context in which it is observed—meaning that it has, essentially, no clear goal.” Scientific American
Animals and Humans
Jacob L. Moreno 1889-1974), the father of the role play therapy known as psychodrama, wished to be remembered as the doctor who brought laughter into psychiatry. He felt that people who are happy in their lives tend to play a variety of roles that allow for rest, relief and rejuvenation, which increases spontaneity and creativity. If “the un-examined life is not worth living” (Socrates), then “the un-lived life is not worth examining!” (Zerka Moreno, psychodramatist)
• People become more successful adults when they had the freedom to play when growing up. Through play we learn to: Analyze, Evaluate, form and substantiate Opinions, Hypothesize, Question, Predict & Persist through adversity. Play allows children to practice social interactions, build skills and explore interests – information adults can draw on for the rest of life.
• An extraordinary number of species – from squid to lizards to humans – engage in play. Why? “Welcome to Your Child’s Brain…”by Dr. S. Wang & Dr. S. Aamodt, 2011, tells us that play activates our brain’s reward circuitry but not its negative stress response so it encourages attention & action. Their studies are based on observing animals at play & identifying similarities to humans.
• Play is widespread among all non- human animals, beyond the familiar cases of mammals and birds, to vertebrates and even invertebrates. Play helps all species learn adaptive behaviors that increase their chances of survival, & performs two important functions:
— it allows both animals and humans a safe way to release aggressions
— it provides practice learning adult behaviors
How can we be sure that an animal is playing? The criteria are:
1. It resembles a serious behavior, such as hunting or escaping, but is done by a young animal, or is awkward, exaggerated, or modified.
2. It has no immediate survival purpose – it’s voluntary & seems to be done for its own sake (pleasure)
3. It’s usually seen when an animal is not under stress or doesn’t have something more ‘important’ to do – like eating, sleeping or mating
TRUE STORY, via Stuart Brown, pres. of the Nat. Institute for Play:
Way up North, in a frozen wasteland of snow and ice, a polar bear stalks a line of sled dogs. The bear picks out the last in the line, and begins a predatory stalk towards her. Onlooking breeders and trappers watch in horror as death slinks towards one of their prized sled dogs, and no one has a gun to defend her. The doomed dog turns to meet her maker, and bows down before the bear.
• But this is no bow of submission; for she raises her rear high in the air, face smiling, tail wagging in a “play bow.” The bear rears up on hind legs and pauses for a minute in slight confusion, and then bows down and begins to play with her. They enjoy a raucous romp in the snow, tumbling, nipping, yelping, and chasing, before the bear finally gets exhausted and leaves. The bear comes back every day for two weeks to see the dog. WHY? Simply to play!
Play, creativity, and flow – Psychiatrist and writer Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in searching for the things which contribute to a life worth living, has studied play extensively & was the first person to coin the concept of “flow state”, which is like being “in the zone”.
He describes PLAY as a flow state that requires just the right balance of challenge and opportunity. If the game is too hard or too easy it loses its sense of pleasure and fun. Maintaining a flow state in games with others requires all participants, regardless of age or ability, to feel challenged but not overwhelmed.”
• Having at least one activity we do regularly just for fun is important for our ‘happiness quotient’: it can sharpen a variety of skills, express our creativity, or just blow off steam (relieve physical, emotional & mental tensions). When we get really engrossed in an activity we enjoy, it puts our brain in that near-meditative state, which benefits body, mind and soul. Sometimes the best way to learn a complicated subject is to play with it.
A little play can help solve big problems, & physical play delays mental decline in old age. When we get it right, other areas of our lives go better.
FLOW STATE provides:
Clarity – Great inner sharpness & a built-in understanding about things
Confidence – You don’t feel anxious or bored, & have an built-in sense that the activity is do-able & your skills are up to the task
Delight – A sense of bliss and positive detachment from everyday reality
Involvement – Complete focus and concentration, either due to innate curiosity or good training
Motivation – Intrinsic understanding about what needs to be done and a desire to keep the momentum of play going
Serenity – A sense of peace and an absence of worries about oneself
Timeliness – Thorough focus on the present and a lack of attention to the passing of time
NEXT: Adult Play Benefits (Part 1)