The Key To Health & Happiness Is Something You've Probably Taught Yourself NOT To Do

Photo: Studio Firma

Remember recess? When the bell would ring, and you would put down whatever you were doing, whatever you were working on, to go outside and play? You would come together with your peers to create new ideas, to role-play, to try new things and to be adventurous.

You would feel fearless as you jumped off that jungle gym, you'd feel playful as you chased your friend around the playground, and you'd feel creative as you invented new situations to play out.

Recess was a pivotal part of growing up—not just because it was fun, but because it allowed us to release physical and mental energy. We were able to move, to get out of our heads and into our bodies, and to come together in a community.

Plus, studies have shown that child’s play helps build a better brain than conventional learning alone. "The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain," says Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. "And without play experience, those neurons aren't changed," he says.

We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing. —George Bernard Shaw

When did playtime become a waste of time? As we grew older, we were above play, somehow. It was reserved for children. We were too serious for it now.

But why did we stop playing just for the sake of playing?

As we became adults, we piled on layer after layer of stories about who we were. We became the student, we became the employee, the manager, the boss. We became the parent, the one with responsibilities, the one with obligations. We became busy. We became tired. We became doers.

And as we continued becoming, we lost more and more of our selves—our true selves. The self that used to swing from the jungle gym, or come up with fantastical stories for our stuffed animals to play out. The self that was creative, that considered herself or himself an artist. The self that had huge dreams, huge visions, and knew that anything was possible.

Photo: Guille Faingold

We became more isolated, more contained. We lost that fun, playful connection we had with those around us. Life became more routine, more streamlined, more dull. We stopped playing so we could fit into a box we didn’t even realize we were creating.

Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. ―C.S. Lewis

If we want to tap into our best selves, to live expressed, to feel free, to feel more connected to our peers around us, then we need to start playing again.

Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, says that if we as adults don't play, there are serious consequences. "What you begin to see when there's major play deprivation in an otherwise competent adult is that they're not much fun to be around," he says. "You begin to see that the perseverance and joy in work is lessened and that life is much more laborious.”

Play helps us maintain our social well-being. It’s how we connect. It’s how we release. It’s how we keep life from becoming too heavy.

There are many different ways to bring play back into your life. Here are a few quick and easy tips:

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1. Play with a child.

If you have a kid or a friend's kid you can play with, decide to play with them full-out. Mirror their awe and wonder and total immersion in play and see what that feels like.

2. Remember what you used to love.

What did you love to do when you were a kid? What did playtime consist of for you? Was it jumping on beanbags, playing Monopoly, putting on shows, creating costumes? Free-write about your play history and pick one of these ways to play today!

3. Play a game.

Literally grab your favorite game and some friends and get to it.

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4. Go back to camp.

Camp isn't just for kids. Check out Soul Camp’s upcoming day camps and overnight camps. If you want a camp experience that's part camping, part music festival, check out Welcome Campers, a music festival/camping weekend in Massachusetts.

Recess is not just for students. Camp is not just for kids. Playtime is not just for children. It’s for you, and your health and happiness depend on it.

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