By Kim Saffran
You’ve probably heard it at one time or another, maybe when you were a kid, “Go play!” In simple terms, play offers us an emotional experience associated with an activity, whether one is moving, perhaps with abandon, or connecting to something freely, expressing one’s self — discovering. There is also an expectation that the experience will provide a measure of happiness. And, it does. However, somewhere along the line, as grown-ups, we seem to have lost our desire for and to play. Maybe it’s time for a little rediscovery.
For now, though, let’s unpack some of the impressive and enduring benefits.
Play can showcase creativity and a desire to learn through a medium connecting to our inner, playful and inquisitive selves. Play allows us to connect with others and to more clearly appreciate our affinity and desire for inclusion. Additionally, play is about emotional embrace and release and, as I have gathered from my own experience, it’s the release of our emotions that helps to better understand and manage them.
As with many other things in life, experience educates us and the additional insight and evidence of who we become through our creative outlets emphasizes the importance of expressing ourselves more positively and confidently, both in tone and delivery. This can have a direct effect on those who exist within our inner circle and who we inevitably touch as a result of our experiences.
Play is expressive. It is associated with improved brain function. It provides a clear understanding of how we relate — to an activity, our environment and to others, both cooperatively and competitively, play energizes us. It is a proven stress-buster. Play boosts happiness, fulfillment and grants us a closer glimpse into our most unique selves. This is something for which I have firsthand knowledge.
For me, once autumn rolls around, I turn giddy. The colors of the season quietly take my breath away. The crisp, coolness in the air (and low humidity — but that’s more for “good hair”) finds me in a joyful place seldom experienced at other times of the year and I am simply in awe. Autumn that just sparks and speaks to my soul and being out in nature finds me elated and lighthearted; wide open to the world and there is not much I don’t breathe in. I wait in anticipation, capturing the most lovely and moving images that will adorn the walls of my home. This, to me, is play. Noteworthy is that there are other types of play, too.
The following is just one example:
Many years ago, I had introduced a community program emphasizing play for grown-ups. Actually, it was called, “Recess.” The goal and design was to get people to come out to play, the very thing mentioned at the top of this article. This was not easy, however. People, grown-ups in particular, are too busy. It is also fair to say that not everyone has the time for play, what with family, work and home responsibilities. Needless to say, I was wading into unknown territory-but I was determined. I knew that play was good. Plus, having many years of teaching and coaching at my back, I felt pretty confident in my abilities. I would simply have to make it fun – more fun than what I had known it to be. And, I would have to sell it.
The details of how I made it happen are undeniable — but needn’t be mentioned here. The results, however, are a different story. That’s the heart of the story.
After a tremendous amount of time and effort, people, busy people, starting walking into class. They found joyful reminders of a time long past. They found beach balls and balloons and themselves quietly spying on others who were smiling, too. It was as if they just couldn’t help it. There’s something about an environment without expectations that frees us to become a part of it, to relish in a time that has stood still, but which hold dear memories — as though it were yesterday. Sometimes, all that is needed is a little time to take it all in.
The equipment was colorful. It was buoyant, lightweight and tactile. It was a change; as much of our attention is on the intangibles, the thoughts and management of our lives and those around us. This was different. This was an opportunity to hold something and, in turn, accept and embrace its hold on us. This was rediscovery.
Happy humans were playing, just like they had when they were kids. There were many fabulous memories — but one, in particular, stands out. A 60-something woman, never grasping the skill of hula-hooping as a younger person, looked intently at the hoop for a moment and then slowly, somewhat dejectedly, started to walk away. This was when I sprung into action. I said with a smile, “Let’s give it a shot.”
She was reticent but probably thought quietly to herself that this was why she was here; to try and to exist in a place that was safe, supportive and which championed the person, rather than the outcome. Plus, it might have been the only way to get me to finally go away. As mentioned, I was determined. Reluctantly, she agreed. After a brief tutorial, explaining the fine art of the revolution and gentle reminders to try again and that sometimes some additional effort is required, she got it around once, then again, then the huge, beaming smile on her face said it all, “I got it! Oh my goodness! I’m hula-hooping!” She was elated! Seeing the astonished look on her face and sharing in the exuberant energy she was exuding, I was elated, too.
That’s the thing about play. It has the ability to create more joyful beings; embracing the beliefs that we can, in fact, learn and grow and happily share our knowledge and achievements. But this is so much more than a hula hoop or a beach ball. This is more a metaphor for life. By allowing ourselves the opportunity to step into the unknown, we illustrate courage, whether we are to stare down mild challenges or greater ones. And, it is in doing so that we add our own very unique contribution to the ripple effect — extending our reach to positively touch others and, in the process, continue to become those super, fine versions of ourselves — always becoming.
There’s a lot to be said for play!
Kim Saffran is a health educator and program manager. A nature lover and continual learner, she seeks to help empower others live their best lives.