Are You Doing This One Thing Critical To Your Health?
A year or two ago, I noticed myself getting really unhappy even though my daily routine was filled with things I enjoyed. I would go to work, come home, sit in my favorite cafe for the afternoon, drink an espresso and read a good book, before spending the night engaged in hobbies and some other leisurely pursuits.
But I wasn’t feeling content. I felt happy, but I didn’t feel relaxed, like I was enjoying life. Something felt like it was stressing me out.
So I started doing some research, I mean I was packing my days to the brim with activities – seizing the day, making every moment count – so why wasn’t I happy, and why was I feeling so stressed?
And that’s when I stumbled on this longevity-boosting, stress-busting, happiness-inducing activity.
The One Secret Children Have All Figured Out.
Children do two things a lot more often than adults.
First, they smile and laugh a lot more. Second, they play all day. Everything is play to them, even when it’s not to everyone else.
And you know, it got me pretty interested – there is an insane amount of research showing that play (you know, having fun? remember that?) actually changes your brain, your health, and your life.
An interesting piece in the NYTimes charted some interesting health problems resulting from lack of play in children:
…we can see that there is a direct line between play deficiencies and some frightening public health and social trends: tragic statistics for obesity, 4.5 million children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), an increase in childhood depression and classroom behavioral problems involving violence, and an inability to interact well with peers.
Mr. Brown continues, and talks about the surprising effects that lack of play has on adults:
Play-deprived adults are often rigid, humorless, inflexible and closed to trying out new options. Playfulness enhances the capacity to innovate, adapt and master changing circumstances. It is not just an escape. It can help us integrate and reconcile difficult or contradictory circumstances. And, often, it can show us a way out of our problems… Many people have had the experience of coming back from vacation brimming with new ideas for work. The benefits of play come not from “rest” for the brain, as if play is just a time-out from life. Play is an active process that reshapes our rigid views of the world.
So play isn’t just passively sitting and watching TV, and interestingly enough, passive leisure activities like TV watching or web surfing are linked to lower levels of happiness and higher levels of depression, like Dr. Csikczentmihalyi talks about in his theory of flow and life satisfaction.
Play on marital happiness.
In USA today a psychologist brought up an interesting correlation:
“The more you invest in fun and friendship and being there for your partner, the happier the relationship will get over time,” says Howard Markman, a psychologist who co-directs the university’s Center for Marital and Family Studies.
“The correlation between fun and marital happiness is high, and significant.”
Play on learning.
Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, who is a professer of Psychology at Temple University and author of a best-selling book “Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How children really learn and why they need to play more and memorize less” talks in her book about how play enhances children’s natural ability to learn, and their cognitive, social and even emotional growth.
She then goes on to argue that play-based learning environments (versus the standard classroom with memorization) are much, much more effective tools for learning (duhhh, do you know any kid that likes school?).
Play on health and seniors in nursing homes.
Some nursing homes have been implementing these incredibly creative programs where they have children interact with seniors, or just the seniors watch the kids play in a kindergarten or daycare that is surrounded by clear glass so that the seniors can observe the kids.
One elderly woman, whose children had died in car accidents said:
“I would really be lost if it weren’t for this program. These kids have filled a void in me.”
Or how about this:
“A resident told me one day, ‘Something to live for, that’s what the children gave to us,” Rooks said. “Kindergarteners have a magic medicine we can’t buy.”
You could argue day and night about what is keeping some of these seniors alive, but I think it’s one magical gift that children have that we all need more of: Play.
Dr. Ken Ginsburg, pediatrician and child development researcher at a Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, added in guidelines in an American medical journal in 2011:
“Play is essential to the social, emotional, cognitive, and physical well-being of children beginning in early childhood.”
We also know that play improves language development, emotional development, creativity, and helps speed recovery from disease.
And in one study done on 7-9 year olds, play therapy “significantly reduced the symptoms of ADHD.”
That’s a lot of benefits just from having fun and enjoying life.
… Pretty Weird Huh?
So all this time, even though I was using my time to the fullest and was enjoying what I was doing, I was engaging in too much “on” time.
I didn’t have enough of the unstructured times in the day where my only purpose was to have fun, smile, and enjoy life. And chances are, neither do you. As I look around me now, I see mostly exhausted looking people that take life entirely too seriously, and you can only imagine the impact it has on their health and sanity.
(Oh wait, 25% of women and 15% are on antidepressants at some point. That’s right.)
So Here’s What I Want You To do Today For Your Health
If you find yourself taking life way too seriously, like you’re unhappy, stressed, tired, and generally not excited for life… play.
Just set aside 30 minutes today, and tell yourself that you’re going to do whatever the heck you want that sounds as fun as possible. Pick the coolest thing imaginable that you can do with the next 30 minutes. Pick something ideally unstructured – that requires creativity, freedom, thinking, and just room for your brain to work.
Whether that means sitting in a cafe with a good book, playing a game with your kids, having a guy’s or girl’s night, enjoying a great conversation, or just going out to a movie in the middle of the week – go do it.
Just play more.
Your life just may depend on it.