Play it Again, Sam
There's nothing I enjoy more on a rainy day than curling up on the sofa and watching Casablanca. But is it play?
Play is one of those things that, much like gratitude and forgiveness, is associated with a lot of psychological benefits. Those who play more are better problem solvers, make fewer mistakes at work, show increases in happiness, peacefulness and longevity, sleep better, and are less stressed.
Play renews us and seems to balance out the energy we expend on work with something more gentle and relaxing. When at play, we set aside worries and problems. Play stimulates creativity and often brings a fresh perspective to our thinking. Like exercise, you have to make time for play. Like exercise, after you do it you often feel refreshed and energized. While you can say, we'll always have Paris, you can't rely on memories as your only source of rejuvenation, can you?
So why don't we play much? I'm sure everyone can identify the "must dos," in addition to work, that preempt time for play. The laundry, lawn, kids, cell phone and laptop are all culprits, interfering with our ability to let go and just play.
Researchers don't agree on what constitutes play, how it differs from other leisure time pursuits and what types of play are the most beneficial for us. So here's my take on it.
First, we can learn from those who play more. They tend to take more risks. Maybe that bungee jumping you've been considering is worth a try; it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. They try new things, spend time in close relationships, are intellectually curious and physically active. Play involving social and physical activity seems to produce the most benefit.
Second, the notion of flow is important in considering play. When in flow, we are acutely focused and single-mindedly engaged in an activity we love and do almost effortlessly, but not without challenge. Thus, some argue that watching TV or attending a concert (raves excluded) are not going to put us in a state of flow, and will not afford us the benefits of more active forms of play.
Even with limitations, you can still consider what energizes and renews you. If you're not in a position to be actively social, virtual communities can be fun, while keeping us engaged socially. You may be unable to engage in physical activity. Much as I hate to admit it, playing videogames is a sedentary activity that is associated with improved memory, cognition and happiness, suggesting it's a beneficial form of play.
No one's going to tell me that watching movies isn't play; alone or with company, with or without popcorn, it's definitely active for me. I am right there on the tarmac with Ilsa and Rick still trying to figure out where we went wrong. You must remember this: you've got to make the time to let go and play. Figure out what's play for you. If you don't, you'll regret it, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.
And, play it, Sam.
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