“The playing adult steps sideward into another reality; the playing child advances forward to new stages of mastery.”– Erik H. Erikson

When’s the last time you had a play date? Yes, you read that right. When is the last time you just forgot about work – about all the stresses in your life – and laughed until your gut was sore, for no particular reason?

Play is not just for children. According to the National Institute for Play (NIFP), it can dramatically transform our personal health, our relationships, the education we provide our children, and the capacity of our corporations to innovate. But who has time? What with all the rushing off to work and back home again, taking care of the kids or other family members, attending meetings, paying bills … well, you get the picture.

I’m here to tell you that it’s time to make play a priority. You need it. We all need it, and here’s why.

Benefits of Play

Play is the gateway to vitality, as NIFP explains. By its nature, play is uniquely and intrinsically rewarding. But what is it, exactly? Most experts agree that the main three ingredients present in play are: it’s voluntary (no one is making you do it); it’s flexible (it can be manipulated or changed); and it’s fun or enjoyable!

And if that wasn’t enough, I have some more good news. Play:

  • makes people feel optimistic, and can lead to mastery of skills and talents.
  • generates optimism and makes perseverance fun.
  • promotes a sense of belonging and community.
  • enhances relationships.
  • refreshes long-term, adult-adult relationships.

In addition, some of the hallmarks of play’s refreshing, oxygenating action are:

  • humor
  • the enjoyment of novelty
  • the capacity to share a lighthearted sense of the world’s ironies
  • the enjoyment of mutual storytelling
  • the capacity to openly divulge imagination and fantasies.

In addition, when we communicate or interact in playful ways, we also create a climate that makes it easier to connect with others on a deeper level, which fosters more rewarding relationships.

Fresh Ideas for Play

You’d think it’d be easy to go out and play, right? I mean … how hard is it to find things that are voluntary, flexible and fun or enjoyable? Some of you probably already have a laundry list of things to do that meet these criteria. But some of you might be panicked, thinking, “You mean I’m supposed to just go out and do something unstructured? Without rules or deadlines … something I don’t have to do?”

It’s okay. I’m here to help. Here are some ideas for play dates … with or without other people:

  • Buy some of those popular adult coloring books and let your imagination run wild.
  • Go bowling or try some other new sport, but don’t worry about scores or technique.
  • Enroll in a continuing education class that “just sounds fun.”
  • Enlist friends and go check out a new restaurant or get tickets to a comedy club.
  • Join a dance class.
  • Attend a swanky fundraiser or other community event.
  • Volunteer with an organization you feel passionate about.
  • Explore a new trail or visit a local park.
  • Go camping – whether you know what you’re doing or not.
  • Paint or draw a picture, and don’t worry about your skill level.
  • Host a board game night.
  • Organize a flag football game or an elaborate tailgate party.

How do you play?

Do you take time out of your busy schedule to just have fun? If so, what are your favorite activities? If not, what’s stopping you? Please share your thoughts below.


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