The Howells Group Blog

Play Will Help You Thrive

By Karen Howells

“Play” for me on Sunday was gardening in the PNW rain - under our patio sun umbrella! What’s “play” for you?

“Play” for me on Sunday was gardening in the PNW rain – under our patio sun umbrella! What’s “play” for you?

Why play? With your inbox full and your to-do list multiplying, applying the counterintuitive act of playing more can be your best productivity hack. I’ll never forget one conversation on our first trip to Italy. After introductions and some small talk, our new friend paused and said, May I ask you both a question… Why is it that Americans work all the time?!” His tilted head and facial expressions revealed a genuine curiosity, and I’m sure our response as a couple revealed a lot about us and our famed (or infamous) American work culture. Now, twenty years later, our new Italian friend would likely hear different responses from younger Americans, but the ethos of working long & hard to succeed is still deeply embedded. Though numerous studies confirm that rest and play is essential to productivity and creativity, many adults (including me!) secretly wonder, “Is it really that crucial to play when I have so much to do?” The answer is a resounding “YES!” In fact, especially when you have so much to do! Whatever word you’d personally use to describe “FUN” are key to living well and promoting health. Choosing restorative activities resulting in smiling, laughing or relaxing are essential to go beyond just “stayin’ alive.”

But why is play so beneficial for adults? Here’s the short list from Peter Gray, research professor of psychology at Boston College, sharing some great observations in his TED talk:  

  • Offers a positive antidote for stress. Play triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals and these promote an overall sense of wellbeing and can actually temporarily relieve pain. 
  • Improves brain function. Playing games that challenge the brain – such as chess, puzzles or cards – can help prevent memory problems and improve brain function; even warding off depression.
  • Stimulates your mind and boosts activity. It makes you more productive and helps foster cooperation and connection within a family and work colleagues. It’s a classic “win-win” – good healthy play helps everyone and everything!
  • Improves your relationships. Laughing alone lightens the mood and boosts perspective. Having fun with others often fosters empathy and compassion. Trust and intimacy, both non romantic and romantic, are cultivated by play and can even break the ice with strangers!

Dr. Gray asserts that play is, by definition, “creative and innovative acts that provide an outlet where we experience joy, learn to get along with peers, practice empathy and transcend our self focus, while improving our health.” It’s a gateway to vitality and generates optimism, offers novelty and makes perseverance fun. Play is a powerful tool to create community. So take a walk with a friend or neighbor. Go to the playground and swing. Play something with a ball that includes running and other people. Playing for just 20 minutes offers refreshed mental and emotional energy – something we all need more of in today’s world! 


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