Have you played today?

“Health begins where we live, learn, work and play.”

That statement came out of a recent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation commission on building a healthier America. It means that all of the social environments in which we spend time help determine our overall health outcomes.

Play (def.): to occupy oneself in amusement, sport, or other recreation.

But how much do adults play? Is having fun the lowest priority item on your to-do list when obligations at work and at home have to be met? The truth is that, like exercise, we will never have enough extra time for play until we make the time for it and schedule it in our day.

There’s a good case to be made for playing – doing something that’s fun just for the sake of having fun, in a noncompetitive and unpressured way. It helps us regain some of the unqualified joy and spontaneity we had as children, and, possibly, to experience what Buddhists refer to as “beginner’s mind”. Beginner’s mind means looking at something without the lens of prior knowledge, experience, or, especially, judgment. It means simply experiencing something as it is, in the moment, instead of how we want or expect it to be.

Beginner’s mind can more easily be accessed if we regularly try new “play” activities. Being a little bit adventurous, perhaps even taking a risk (whether it is physical, social or psychological) could create an opportunity for a beginner’s mind experience.  A few years ago, I decided that birthdays are a good time of year to try something new. That’s a bit challenging with a birthday at Thanksgiving time, but it was easier on my sister’s summertime birthday, when we tried a 7-mile hike on the Appalachian Trail. We challenged ourselves, took a wrong turn or two, laughed a lot and thought about nothing else for those few hours.

While it’s pretty widely recognized that play is important for children’s development, we sometimes forget that adults have a need for play too. Any type of play, whether it is something we’ve always enjoyed or something new, can give us perspective on other areas of our lives. It can foster creative thinking and problem-solving. Play can stimulate and refresh both brain and body.  Playing with other people helps us make and nurture social connections. Play teaches us to be flexible and cooperative, and to work as a team.

In some workplaces, play is integrated into the workday. Google is probably the most famous for supplying games such as Foosball, ping pong and volleyball on site. At Zappos, one of the company’s core values is to “create fun and a little weirdness”. Other companies provide climbing walls, swimming pools and monthly parties. Some would say that these perks are designed to keep people working longer hours. That may be true, but at least they have the opportunity to take a play break.

What are your ideas for fun at work or at home? Have you played today?

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