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Why Play Is The Missing Ingredient In Your Wellness Practice

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates
mbg Contributor By Rosalind Cummings-Yeates
mbg Contributor
Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a writer specializing in travel and lifestyle topics. She holds bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from Illinois State University and Roosevelt University as well as certification as a Reiki II practitioner. Her credits include USA Today, Yoga Journal, London Telegraph, AAA Traveler, Brides, Miami Herald, Midwest Living, Modern Woman, Thrillist, The Takeout, Orbitz and The Rough Guide to Women Travel.
There Are 8 "Play Personalities" — Here's Which One You Have
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I fumbled with my fingers, trying to separate them into different configurations and laughing at my clumsiness. I stood in an auditorium filled with wellness and social change experts from all over the globe, and it buzzed with the shrieks and chuckles of adults lost in play. 

"Playfulness is our best ally," said Wellington Nogueira, as he guided us through the exercise. A professional clown, actor, and social entrepreneur, Nogueira was one of 60 speakers featured during the first annual Global Wellbeing Summit for Social Change.

Held in Bilbao, Spain, the summit focused on combining collective wellness practices with social change, but I was there to learn to play. Specifically, I wanted to find out why play is an instrumental, but seriously underrated, component of well-being. 

Healthy reasons to play every day.

The importance of play for children's developmental and educational growth is well understood—but what about for adults?

"Play in adult life is self-knowledge in a nontraditional way," explained Nogueira. "It's a better way to accept our fears and limitations because it teaches us vulnerability and to laugh at ourselves." 

A native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Nogueira founded Doutores da Alegria (Doctors of Joy) in 1991. The organization revolutionized health care in Brazil by introducing joy to pediatric care and focusing on both psychological and physical needs. Realizing the transformative nature of joy prompted Nogueira to take the practice of play to as many spaces as possible.

"Science is finally starting to prove to us that playfulness in every aspect of our lives is healthy," he said at the conference. Indeed, several studies now illustrate this point. 

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Helps ease everyday stress & foster a positive mood*

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The 2013 study, "The Playful Advantage: How Playfulness Enhances Coping With Stress," found that playful individuals reported lower levels of perceived stress than their less playful peers. There is even a National Institute of Play, a nonprofit that supplies resources on how to incorporate play into daily life for overall wellness. According to the institute, play has also been shown to brighten mood and strengthen social and emotional skills.

So, the question is, how do we embrace play after a lifetime of being told that it's "kid's stuff" and "not serious"?

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The 8 "play personalities" and how to use them to have more fun.

There are plenty of ways to emphasize the importance of play in your life. As psychotherapist Heidi Pidcoke, MFT, who also facilitated a session at the Wellbeing Summit, explained to me, "Play is a huge part of who we are as humans. Our creativity is intrinsically linked to play. The opposite is feeling trapped and shut down."

For help identifying new ways to play, we can look toward the National Institute of Play's eight different "play personalities" said to determine the types of play that we most enjoy:

  1. The collector, who loves amassing things or experiences
  2. The competitor, who enjoys competitive games
  3. The creator/artist, who finds joy in making things
  4. The director, who is thrilled with planning events
  5. The explorer, who is driven to explore physically or mentally
  6. The joker, who loves clowning and making people laugh
  7. The kinesthete, who is happiest when moving
  8. The storyteller, who thrives when working with their imagination

The type of play you love the most can often be traced to your childhood, but it's whatever makes your heart sing today. Nogueira loves to play the New York Times spelling bee, for example, and Pidcoke enjoys playing pickleball.

Keep in mind that "playing" can encompass everything from participating in recreational sports to acting in a theater production to tossing around new ideas. "If it brings pleasure and connection," Pidcoke emphasized, "it will benefit you."

It doesn't have to be a specific organized action, either. To quickly engage your sense of play, Nogueira is a fan of turning everything you have to do into a game. He recommends the book Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse as a great reference to help get the hang of it.

"Play around with perception and the way you see things. Let go of fear and try new things... Enjoy the playfulness of life. When you breathe and focus, don't call it meditation. Call it something else and play with it and the possibilities," Nogueira recommended.

"We have to look at how we can change our mindset so that we can turn everything into play," added Pidcoke. "Anything that feels lighthearted and not serious can be play. Putting on music and dancing while you clean is play. Listening to audiobooks during a long commute is play. Play enlivens us; it helps us feel present and happy."

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3 ways to play in your life daily:

  1. Do something fun every day. Ride a bike, dance, do a puzzle, play a card game. As long as you have fun doing it, do it.
  2. Recapture your childhood. Did you love to hopscotch? Play dodgeball? Color? Try out that activity as an adult and see what happens. (I was appalled when I discovered I couldn't hula hoop the way I did as a child... Now I have a professional hoop in my favorite colors that I can spin around my waist expertly. It took six months to relearn, but it's fun!)
  3. Act silly. Tell dad jokes. Make faces at the kid looking out the window. Do a horrible interpretation of a TikTok dance. Let go of ego, and freely express your silly side. 

The takeaway.

Play isn't just for kids. Research is showing that it can be a valuable wellness practice for us adults, too. So don't be afraid to bust into song or make a funny face today. If anyone asks, you're doing it for the sake of your health.

 

 

 

calm+
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(18)
calm+

calm+

Helps ease everyday stress & foster a positive mood*

calm+

calm+

Helps ease everyday stress & foster a positive mood*

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(18)
calm+

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