As summer finally rolls around, it is a great opportunity to talk about what we’ve all missed out on during the busy year. That’s right, we’ve all been spending so much time trying to advance our careers, academics, or whatever you were doing during the year, but no matter what you were doing, you were busy. Too busy to have five minutes to yourself, too busy to hang out with old friends or maybe you didn’t have time to make as many new friends as you would’ve hoped. The biggest thing we’ve all missed out on, though, is play.
We often find time to go to the gym, go out to a nice restaurant, see a movie, but what we rarely find spare time to do is play. Obviously everyone’s definition of play is different, but for me the most general and inclusive definition I can think of is do something that you enjoy doing (not related to your career) for an extended period of time, and possibly do it with friends.
If you enjoy swinging from the highest tree branch you can climb up to, go for it. If playing board games with your friends or family is your thing, do it. Any activity that helps you relax, wind down and just have fun is something you should set aside time to do as much as possible. Dr. Stuart Brown said, “If its purpose is more important than the act of doing it, it’s probably not play.” Here are some tips to ensuring you get all that play time in your busy life:
1. Take Advantage of Extended Periods of Free Time
This applies more to students who are in school from August to May. Now that you are home on summer break, take the opportunity to take a yoga class, join the local flower picking club, literally anything you enjoy that you can occupy some of your free time with will do.
Programming in some specific, fun activities into your hectic schedule is just the first step. I promise you that if you actually sit down and look at your week and weekend, there is 30 minutes here and there that can be spent at the park with your kids, or learning to play piano. But let’s take it a step further. If you are currently living a life full of stress and it doesn’t seem like you’re getting any play day-in and day-out, you need to rethink where your life is going.
3. Don’t Forget About the Adults!
Brown makes a great point in a 2008 TED Talk. He compares a picture of the cover of The New Times Magazine of a painting portraying “play” from hundreds of years ago. There are kids, adults, even elderly people all doing different things that look like fun. One is spinning a hoop, one is reading, the other jumping, and others are conversing. The point he made was that at that time it was not “childish” to play and have fun as an adult and children and adults would often play together. Why is it now considered “unprofessional” and “immature” if an adult gets up and jumps into a pile of leaves? I say do it. Jump up and down and flail your arms if you’re having a bad day. You’ll probably feel at least a little bit better.
Play time is crucial to maintaining low levels of stress, and since we Westerners tend to do a great job of stressing ourselves out all the time, a little play here and there is great for our health and wellbeing. Imagine a life without play for second. Brown says that the opposite of play is not work, but depression. A life without movies, fantasy, laughter, etc. is a life of depression. Unfortunately, as we grow older into our adult lives, we’ve lost the art of play. Thankfully many of us are reminded to play when we have kids of our own, but to me that is not enough. We need to start enjoying life more instead of simply going through the motions. In 20 years, how much will it really matter that you stressed yourself out to the end of your wits that one day at work?