Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder.” As we get older this statement may seem too ring true more often, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

With children, research has shown that play has a significant impact on physical, cognitive, emotional, and social health. Why would it be different for us adults? How do we bring this mental health boosting attitude back into our lives?

John Kelly, a Sociologist once said,

“Adults need to play. We are working creatures, we are bonding creatures, and we are playing creatures.”

Martin Seligman, past president of the American Psychological Association and author of Authentic Happiness, says that the three pillars of mental health are love, work, and play. In a blog post, Therese Borchard interviewed fellow blogger John McManamy to bring up the value of play in relation to our mental health.

When we were all kids, play seemed to come so easy, but as our lives started to become busier and “more serious” it started to move lower down on the totem pole of “important” things to do and soon even off the list. He also notes that when adults engage in play nowadays, we may do it with ulterior motives to meet or network with a person which alters the true nature of play.

5 Comments to
You Want to Be Happy? Bring this Essential Ingredient Back into Life

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  1. When working with individuals struggling with depression and/or anxiety, I have frequently discovered that the concept of ‘play’ for the sake of wonderment and joy does not exist. Play, if it happens at all, is equated with games and sports. In further exploration with these clients, I’ve learned that many grew up with family dynamics that did not encourage play for it’s own sake. Their parents strongly reinforced the idea that there has to be a structure and a goal (as exists with games & sports). Day-dreaming, which is engaging the imagination, was often viewed by their parents as ‘a waste of time’.

    This suppression of unstructured play & day-dreaming may in itself be at the root of their deep unhappiness as adults. These individuals have little or no recall of being able to play freely, just for the sheer joy of it. As therapists, It’s not simply a matter of encouraging them to play as they once did in childhood; they were not even allowed these experiences when they were children. They need to be encouraged to do something that in fact is foreign to them.

    With these clients, I encourage them to purposely choose to explore non-goal oriented play. For instance, go outside & blow bubbles, watching them blow away in a gentle breeze. Or to fly a kite at the beach or park. Or to lay out a large roll of paper and finger paints, and experiment with mixing colours and shapes without thought of creating any particular image. All of these activities are healing by virtue of the fact that they engage the person’s mind and spirit in true play, and open up the possibility of genuine wonderment and joy.

    • Thats really interesting. I have absolutely no motivation to play games: it seems like it takes energy for no good reason so I always find an excuse not to get involved. From 19 to 23 I was highly driven, always trying to improve in some way (well intellectually at least, since I believed myself socially hopeless). My depression became severe by 23 (a decade ago) and over a certain period I was completely incapacitated. Now, unless my time is structured, like I am at work and being monitored, I sometimes lose the drive to do anything at all. I can just lie around with my pet for hours. Don’t know if that is good or bad.

  2. Such an important part of our lives yet I so infrequently do this. Your post inspired me to do something fun today. Not sure what yet but that is the beauty of it! And it’s important to write it down to cement those playful memories, to anchor us to the gratitude within play. We could all use a little play in our day!

  3. I think it is good to have some friends younger than you. Sometimes it is just good to cross the street and wave your arms like a monkey and grunt. My younger friends call this “letting the freak out.”

  4. I agree with Elisha. It is important to bring back play into our lives, especially us adults. Play has that capacity to open up ourselves to greater fun and relaxation which we often forget because of our responsibilities and tasks. It is true that we should be responsible but we can do that while also incorporating play in our lives. So grab a ball and run today…

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