Welcome to the September installment of our year-long essay series that explores topics to help us all experience a more mindful, present, and connected life. This month, Assistant Operations Manager Lindsay Herring encourages us to add more play to our lives.
Neoteny is a word I was serendipitously introduced to as I brainstormed topics for this blog. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, neoteny is the retention of immature characteristics in adulthood. The term was used in a Ted Talk I was half listening to as I worked on something decidedly grownup. In his talk, “Play is more than just fun,” Dr. Stuart Brown, Head of the National Institute for Play, discusses the importance of play in our development as children, and the inevitable tendency to no longer play as adults.
Intrigued, I did a Google search on the topic and stumbled upon a weeklong NPR Ed series that featured the article, “Play Doesn’t End with Childhood: Why Adults Need Recess Too,” by Sami Yenigun. The important takeaway from the talk and article is that a play-deprived brain cannot develop normally. The role of play in our lives effects our ability to relate to others and is imperative for cognitive development.
What do we learn from play?
As children, play teaches us negotiation, problem solving, and critical thinking skills. We learn how to communicate with each other, empathize, and control our emotions. Play teaches us to roll with the punches.
For adults, play is important because it builds community, keeps the mind sharp, and is a way for us to keep the ones we care about close. It cultivates inspiration and creativity, and helps build and retain strong relationships. “The absence of play,” says Dr. Stuart Brown, “is depression.”
So why don’t adults play?
If play is so important for our health, happiness, and cognitive development, then why do adults make it a low priority, if at all?
For me, I simply forget. I get caught up in being a grownup making sure I check off all the boxes on my to-do list: workout, make dinner, do laundry, and pay bills. It doesn’t even occur to me to do something simply for the sake of enjoyment.
Then an opportunity for a happy-hour pops up and am I’m shocked to discover so much time has passed since I last saw my friends. I spend so much time checking boxes that I am too “busy” to spend time cultivating my relationships. But when I think about it, I have never left a social gathering with friends thinking, “I would have rather been … [insert item from to-do list here].” It’s amazing the feeling I have after parting ways with friends. An activity I thought was just a frivolous item on my to-do list winds up leaving me energized.
Play can be anything that is done simply for enjoyment. I love riding my bike, walking the dogs, being in nature, anything that gets me outside and interacting with friends, family, and loved ones. As an added bonus, these activities usually leave me with fond memories that bring joy well after the activity has ended.
It’s interesting that these things I thought were extra “to-do” items give me the energy and clear headedness needed to tackle complex tasks at home and work.
Play and its role in creating community
Engaging in activities that bring joy to an individual tend to have a ripple effect on communities. Happiness and light-heartedness are contagious. People want to surround themselves with individuals who embody these qualities. Friendships naturally form among strangers through these positive interactions, and a sense of responsibility and reciprocity to each other develops.
It’s a lot easier to diffuse tension, tackle differences, and overcome problems with the friend that lives across the street than it is the stranger. Now that there is scientific evidence to support our need for play, what are you going to do first? Whatever you do, do it soon and do it often!
Other articles in this series
January: Welcome to a Bright New Year
February: Passion & Possibility
March: Curiosity & Creativity
April: Turn Your Passion into Action
May: Words of Wisdom
June: Always There
July: Pass the Ketchup, Please
August: The Moment of Truth
September: Being an Adult is Overrated
October: Why we Fall in Love with Autumn in Arizona
November: Practicing Gratitude
December: ‘Tis the Season for Magic
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