Play and why it is so important to help Depression, Work and Relationships

“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” Alan W. Watts

This is the second half of my article on the recent book I read: Play: How it shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul,written by Doctor Stuart Brown

There are two further parts of the book that touched me deeply, they concerned what is non-play and its link to depression and play and relationships. The first subject I’d like to share concerns “The opposite of play is not work. The opposite of play is depression. If you check out the definition of depression:

Definition: Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depression, major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and depression may make you feel as if life isn’t worth living. More than just a bout of the blues, depression isn’t a weakness, nor is it something that you can simply “snap out” of.

You begin to realise that play is as fundamental to happiness in life as almost anything else. Play, by its very nature is joyful, fun, generally shared with others and requires interest in the activity taking place. Almost the 180 degree opposite from depression.

Where does work come into this, you might ask? After all, as adults over a third of our adult lives are spent at work of some sort.

There is a connection between work and play. Both require one key element to be present to be successful. Creativity. According to Dr Brown “Play is nature’s greatest tool for creating new neural networks and for reconciling cognitive difficulties….. When we play, dilemmas and challenges will naturally filter through the unconscious mind and work themselves out….and play at work is essential

Where companies are beginning to realise the power of play is that play is so closely connected to innovation. The speed of change and innovation in today’s business is astounding. Companies are constantly looking at new creative innovations and play is the key to innovation. As an experiment, try the following:

Try sitting in a room with a bunch of people – all silently trying to come up with a slogan for a household product. It can be any product you like. The task is to get people to sit, think, imagine and craft a slogan to sell the product. Most people will find this a complete slog, a drag, depressing even. However, get them to build a storyboard together, using cartoons, shapes, objects or even role-playing and the number of ideas, wacky slogans and group consensus on the best one will quickly emerge. And the task was made easier through play.

The final section of the book concerned relationships and play. Ok, smutty thoughts out of the way for a moment please. Without the various forms of social play, we as adults would find it very difficult to live together. As Dr Brown states… “…. play is the most important element in love” and I agree with him. Successful, long-term, mutually-agreeable, relationships are based on a number of factors:- trust, respect, interest in each other, genuine attachment, and I would say, a degree of fun and play.

In summary if you want to really understand the benefits of play; to you; to your children growing up; at work; in your social life; and in your relationships, or as the title says itself “invigorates the Soul”, then think about and encourage play in all aspects of your life.

I leave you with this thought.

“Laughter is the sound of the soul dancing. My soul probably looks like Fred Astaire.” Jarod Kintz

What does your soul look like today?

Play – What type of Play Personality are you?

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” ― Plato

I have recently finished reading a fascinating book about Play, entitled:

Play: How it shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, written by Doctor Stuart Brown and the founder of the National Institute for Play.

Children, as they grow up, play alone, with friends and in larger groups, Play to them is innocent, fun, and carefree. Then all of a sudden, normally in the early teen’s we tend to drift away from play into more adult activities. As adults, we tend to think of play as a guilty pleasure, a distraction from the real world of work, away from social responsibilities; a distraction of getting on with our lives.

The start of Chapter Two caught my imagination. He mentions talking to a bunch of engineers in Silicon Valley from Hewlett-Packard, a company I used to work for. He defines the properties of play as:

Apparently purposeless: play done for its own sake, which is why as adults so many people think of it as a waste of time….

Voluntary: You do it because you want to, not because you are forced into it

Inherent attraction: It is fun, it is not boring, you get enjoyment from it

Freedom from time: When you are doing something you really love doing, you lose track of time. You become completely engrossed in the activity.

Diminished consciousness of self: When you are playing, you forget perhaps how silly you look or act. Think about face painting with the kids. You end up looking like something has escaped from a nightmare – as the kids have painted your face – but you don’t care.

Improvisational potential: In play, there is the element of chance, you never know what is going to happen next.

Continuation desire: We want to keep doing it and when it is over, we want to keep doing it.

I love the following passage at the end of Chapter three – We are built to play.
When we stop playing, we stop developing, and when that happens, the laws of entropy take over – things fall apart. ………

Dr Brown then goes on to define Play Personalities. The definitions are described in adult terms. So what type of Play Personality are you? You might be combinations or multiple types. Are you:

The Joker – most of us will know someone who is a joker, normally at the centre of the crowd at any social gathering.

The Kinesthetic – those people who need to move to be able to think. My daughter has a very strong kinesthetic tendency, always dancing, moving about, even to the extent of having music playing, the TV on, texting on her mobile phone and doing her homework – all at the same time!

The Explorer – People who constantly seek new places, new adventures, or even new feelings, emotions or mental stimulations.

The Competitor – we all know someone who is ultra-competitive, who wants to win. Win always.

The Director – someone who wants to lead events, meetings, and loves organising. We have a friend that is so organised, every aspect of their lives is planned. Try meeting them for coffee and it is organised with precision, timing and you get the feeling that there is no impromptu moments in their lives.

The Collector – someone who collects objects, One person at work collects Star Wars figures. Another collects cars. Each one is happy, Each to their own I say.

The Artist Creator – this person loves to create; whether it is cooking, gardening, painting, writing, music, poetry, etc. I love to garden and find great pleasure in working outside to create a wonderful place to relax. I also enjoy planting seeds – normally vegetables – and watching them grow; looking after them and nurturing them. Finally, harvesting and eating the fruits of my labour. Finally,

The Storyteller – this person has a vivid imagination and can either be a writer of books or a reader of books. This is me. I have such a vivid imagination and loved nothing more than sitting down with the girls; when they were little; when it was bedtime and reading them stories, using accents and different tones to give life to the characters. I went into the primary school on more than one occasion to read to the whole of a year one year group – 80 young faces looking at you as you read them a story – wonderful.

The central question that gets posed throughout the book, is why do we play? What possible benefit is there to play?

Well, it would appear that it is one of the most effective ways to implant memories; social norms; learn new skills; connect abilities long ago learnt with new scenarios and in doing all of this, learn what works for us to deal with the world around us.

I leave you with the closing words from chapter three…….

When we stop playing, we start dying.