Finding time to play, even as an adult, was never an extra. Science shows being more playful throughout your life makes you not only happier but, surprisingly, also better at your work.
"Research has found evidence that play at work is linked with less fatigue, boredom, stress, and burnout in individual workers. Play is also positively associated with job satisfaction, sense of competence, and creativity," the Association for Psychological Science blog has reported.
Which means play is always important for adults. It's even more important in the middle of the nightmare of colliding crises that is 2020.
Why you should be more playful in tough times
Wait, you might object. My business is flailing, my kids are at home, and my stress levels have been sky high since March. Who in the world has the time or energy to goof around right now?
Which is fair enough. Juggling professional and family responsibilities is hellishly difficult for many right now. But, as The Guardian recently explained, the stresses of the pandemic are actually a reason you need to be more determined to fit play into your day. That's because play is one of the most powerful ways to boost your resilience in difficult times.
"Silliness can be self-protective; a way of eluding an 'unprecedented' challenge instead of caving into it," Elle Hunt recently wrote in the U.K. paper. "To play is to bend limits rather than rally against them and maybe, in doing so, find unexpected room to move. It is in essence freedom, if only illusory -- and there can be relief in that, too."
Play is also a powerful way to liven up a monotonous situation, which is clearly handy in a world of rolling lockdowns.
Finally, in tense times, play can also "function as an approach to problem-solving, managing relationships, presenting information, or even conflict negotiation," Hunt continues, citing the example of one psychologist who coaxed her toddler to eat her lunch by agreeing to sit under the table for the meal rather than at it. In my house, rigging up a mock "campsite" next to my 5-year-old's bed and letting her sleep there for weeks helped us all get through lockdown.
Play not only relieves stress, it also helps us see the world in a new light, revealing possibilities and reminding us that as difficult as the current moment may be, there is always scope to improve the situation.
How to play more
All of which adds up to a simple conclusion: You'll deal better with serious times if you let yourself be silly a little more often. But play doesn't come easily to everyone. Hunt notes that some psychologists believe playfulness is a hardwired personality trait much like extroversion.
But even if you're not naturally a goofball, according to The New York Times' Kristin Wong there are ways to add more play to your day. In a recent article she offers a roundup of useful advice, including:
Know your play type. Some people like to play with others, some prefer solitary play. Some like karaoke, some find it a nightmare. Not everyone enjoys the same things, and that's fine. Don't force yourself to play in ways that don't make you smile. If you're not sure of your play type, ask yourself: What kind of play did I like as a kid? Can I find a grownup equivalent to try?
Don't post it. "Social media can inspire people to do things for the purpose of sharing, as the platforms themselves encourage external validation. Since play is supposed to be intrinsically motivated, you might have more fun keeping it to yourself," says Wong.
Don't wait for playtime. Most of our lives are too busy to set aside a big block of time for adult recess. But that doesn't mean you can't slip moments of play into your day. "It could be dancing in the kitchen while you cook dinner or reading something that makes you laugh while you're in the grocery line. Belting out a song during your drive home," Wong offers.
Check out the complete article for much more advice on how to sneak more play into your day.