What if I told you there was a way you could increase your optimism, find more gratitude, experience more joy and exuberance? Not to mention develop greater mastery of skills and pursue ambitions more easily?
Play has the potential to do all these things and yet it is often the first thing to go when we are pushed for time.
We have evolved to play - all mammals and some reptiles play. Far from being a frivolous pursuit, getting in the way of our survival, it is in fact essential to our social and emotional wellbeing. The work of Stuart Brown suggests that a lack of play can have detrimental psychological, emotional and physical health consequences.
Play is a state of being that Jaak Panksepp identified as one of seven emotional/motivational circuits that is shared by all social mammals. It is something that cannot be imposed on us and must be engaged in for its own sake - but it is something we spontaneously engage in when conditions are right.
Children particularly need to play and will do so when they feel safely connected to others. It is though play that they can explore their capabilities and boundaries, look at their lives and the world around them. When we can step back from the stress of being in the world, we can see things differently and imagine other possibilities.
Play is intrinsically therapeutic. Donald Winnicott said that "psychotherapy has to do with two people playing together". Play therapy is a natural extension of this, being based on developing a context where children feel safe enough to play and explore. It offers social, physical, exploratory and object driven play so that children can choose the most apt play medium.
When times are hard, when we are under scrutiny, when we are driven by particular outcomes and targets, we risk denying ourselves play. In our education system and our working lives, the apparently aimless pursuit of play seems to be a waste of time. This is a short-sighted view, which risks our future. Play and creativity are bound together and we are sorely in need of novelty, possibilities and hope for the future.
If you would like to find out more about how you can use play to increase wellbeing and engagement, then do get in touch (fill in the box on the right).
Stuart Brown (2010) Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul
Donald Winnicott (1971) Playing and Reality
Theresa Kestly (2014) The Interpersonal Neurobiology of Play