The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day was a bit different for my family this year. Not only were we cooped up due to Covid-19, but my husband is temporarily using a wheelchair, so even despite the mild Texas weather, we couldn’t take advantage of our usual hiking trails. But we did have board games! With both of our adult children visiting, we played a lot of board games – Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, and Settlers of Catan, with a few card games also thrown in the mix. And while we played, we talked, we reminisced, we got caught up on our mutual lives, and we laughed. A lot.
Sometimes we forget how vital play is in all of our lives. We know that children learn best through play. I remember specifically choosing a preschool for my kids because they offered “play-based learning.” But as we age, we often cast playtime to the side, to make room for the more “serious” stuff of adulthood – work, relationships, volunteering. But play is also vital in our adult lives. Psychiatrist Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute of Play in Carmel, CA, defines play as an activity that “offers a sense of engagement and pleasure, takes the player out of a sense of time and place, and the experience of doing it is more important than the outcome.” It can literally be anything we enjoy – from gin rummy, to crocheting, to kayaking.
Researchers have found that pleasant, unstructured activities, especially with others, benefit us in numerous ways. Play helps relieve stress, activates our creativity, keeps us active and energetic, and improves relationships with those who share in our playtime. It could be as simple as a game of cards, playing fetch with the dog, or joining in a game of pretend with our kids or grandkids. Play triggers the release of endorphins in the body, which make us feel good and serve as a natural pain reliever. Good news for those of us suffering from aching backs and joints. Another surprising benefit of play for adults is that, like with children, it improves our ability to learn new skills and information. Studies have shown that playful and enjoyable activities stimulate our brain cortex and enhance memory.
So this year – make a resolution to play more, laugh more, enjoy more, with those you love and those you would like to know better.
It’s the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives. – Fred Rogers