I was born serious. My mother says I came out of the womb telling the doctor what to do. I love to read, research, and study while others play, shop and socialize. As a child, my hobby was organizing the kitchen junk drawer or the cabinet with all the refrigerator dishes and their mismatched lids. This was so much fun. Today, my idea of fun is a deep, thoughtful conversation that tends to make other’s head’s hurt. 

Imagine my panic when I discovered wholehearted, healthy, high-functioning people spend a big portion of their time playing — off-roading, paddle boarding, card games, board games, yard games. Even though I’m serious, I do love a good game. Of course, I’m in it to win it. It’s all about the competition which makes it . . . serious again! 

Play is Vital

Apparently, “Play shapes our brain, helps us foster empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups, and is the core of creativity and innovation.”  At least that’s what the vast research and latest advances in biology, psychology, and neurology tell us according to Dr. Stuart Brown. This sounds really important which prompts me to commit to more intentional playing. Really, I’m going to play — just give me a minute to study it. 

Dr. Stuart Brown lists seven properties of play. I mean, if you are a serious person looking to be more playful, you must first start with a list. Right? The first thing on his list completely shuts me down. Forget it. I can’t “do” play — I’m out. 

Play is Purposeless

Play is purposeless, meaning its of no practical value. This is what the research is telling us. It doesn’t earn money, status, gain any advantage or help others. I can’t even . . . What does purposeless play even look like? I’m a very practical person. I don’t know how to engage in something with no practical value. 

Then I remembered, I raised two sons. I’ve played. I definitely know how! I played with my sons every day. When I reflect on our daily playtime, I was always teaching them something. Lego building taught creative thinking, problem solving and perseverance. During art projects, I was teaching complimentary colors and imagination. When we played outside, I taught resourcefulness and ingenuity. All that teaching is great but I had no idea we could simply play with no purpose. Sorry, guys, go out and play with absolutely no purpose. And let me add, it’s good for you!

How will I ever Figure out How to Play

Having made the commitment to play more and discovering it needs to be purposeless, I’m at a loss. My best idea is to start playing with children, not teaching them. They have this whole purposeless play thing down. I put on sunglasses, wrapped a scarf around my neck, and picked up my fancy purse, turned to the living room and said, “Bye!” Then my 2 year-old playmate and I ran down the hall giggling with no purpose. I sifted through the sand in the sandbox moving it from one container to another, again with my 2-year old playmate, for no reason. And we smiled, laughed, explored, and enjoyed. I found playing full of laughter, movement, and silliness. Don’t tell anyone, but I found a great deal of practical value in play!

An interesting phenomena happens when you are fully engulfed in play, you are no longer concerned about what other’s think. The hijacking thoughts that take you to unhelpful places are silent when we are lost in the activity of play. That could be why Dr. Stuart Brown clearly states, “The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.” 

It’s time to get out and play!

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