When I was going through radiation treatment for breast cancer, my best friend called me every day and we would play a virtual game of 100,000 Pyramid. It may sound silly, but it gave me the opportunity to transport myself out of my otherwise grim situation to a happy place. The portal to that happy place was laughter. Just because we’re adults, doesn’t mean we have to make life all about work.
Play can benefit our relationships, our job, and our mood. I know that I showed up better to everyone in my life because of it. Research shows that playing has many benefits. Play empowers people to be flexible thinkers, creative, young-at-heart and free-spirited. It provides an opportunity for pure enjoyment and doesn’t need structure. It is free-flowing fun that unleashes our imagination.
Play can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. The word endorphin comes from putting together the words “endogenous,” meaning from within the body, and “morphine,” which is an opiate pain reliever. In other words, play can help with pain relief. I know it did for me.
Play stimulates our minds and boosts our creativity. Young children often learn best when they are playing, and this principle can be applied to adults as well. We tend to learn a new task better when we are relaxed, and play promotes that feeling. It can stimulate our imagination, which helps us adapt and improve our problem-solving skills because it implies no risk of failure.
It should be no surprise that it can also improve our personal relationships. Sharing laughter and fun can foster empathy, compassion, trust, and intimacy with others. It can also help to loosen up stressful situations, break the ice with strangers and form new business relationships. Play and laughter perform an essential role in building strong, healthy relationships by bringing people closer together, creating a positive bond, and resolving conflict and disagreements. In new relationships, play and humor can be an effective tool not just for attracting the other person but also for overcoming any awkwardness or embarrassment that arises during the dating and getting-to-know-you process. In longer-term relationships, play can keep your connection exciting, fresh and vibrant, while also deepening intimacy.
Playing at work has shown to improve productivity, provide higher job satisfaction, result in greater workplace morale, and even decrease employee turnover. Some organizations offer art or yoga classes, games such as foosball or ping pong, or encourage recess like breaks to let employees let off steam. Tech companies like Google have been capitalizing on play for years now.
So, how do we play more? Keep in mind, what feels like play to you may not to the next person. The definition of play connotes voluntariness and vulnerability, it should feel relaxed and not forced. For instance, I love board games, but my husband does not. However, we both like to cook, so that becomes our way of playing.
Ideas for incorporating more play into your life:
- Host a regular game night with friends and family
- Try out a new recipe
- Take time to go to the park or beach to fly a kite or throw a frisbee
- Play with your kids or grandkids. No age is too young or too old.
- Play with your pet. They make very willing playmates.
- Coloring or painting. Buy or print adult coloring books or visit your local craft store to purchase some canvas to paint on. Get creative.
- Consider adding games to work environments if possible or allow time for employees to engage in playful banter.
- Crossword puzzles or online game apps.
How often should we play? Ideally every day. While it will differ from person to person, the idea is to have a playful frame of mind. So, managers if you are listening, I think it is time for a ping pong table at the office!
5 reasons you need to play more – psychology Today. (n.d.). Retrieved March 11, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/feeling-it/201301/5-reasons-you-need-play-more
Barbara Broggelwirth MS, RDN, CDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist who works with Bariatric and Medical Weight Management patients to help them achieve their health and weight loss goals.