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The Value of Play

The Value of Play

by Aubrey Gainey

Work Hard, Play Harder. We have all heard that motto from time to time, maybe in a meme we saw on Facebook or from a friend describing their weekend festivities. This simple saying can emerge as a justification for a recent vacation to Vegas or serve as an excuse to play golf for the third time this week. Are there any actual benefits from this life mantra? Is it actually healthy to work hard, but play harder? As a counselor in training, I explored this notion of play and the benefits adults can acquire from this simple, yet easily forgotten behavior.
As a counselor education student, I am studying and learning about play therapy (in particular for children aged 3-12). Research has shown that play therapy has helped children overcome obstacles, cope with trauma, and grasp stressful life challenges through the use of play. Although it may seem very simple, there is an art and science to this type of therapy. Young children cannot verbally discuss their concerns, so they are able to express their emotions through the act of play. Unstructured play gives children a sense of control in their lives and provides them an outlet to express themselves. As Friedrich Froebel once said, "Children's play is not mere sport. It is full of meaning and import."
So how do we play as adults? Is it forbidden once we are no longer children? What does it look like in adulthood? Sometimes we get so caught up in our lives that we forget to have fun on a daily basis. We go to work, then come home tired, and find ourselves doing obligatory activities like laundry and dishes. Why should playing only be every now and then? Who said it should only be for kids?

Here are some ways you can incorporate play into your daily life:

1) Play through your long lost hobbies...
When was the last time you did an activity that you really enjoyed and that you would consider play? I know that forcing myself to go to the gym is not one of them, but riding my bike on a beautiful day around a lake? Bingo! I used to love to ride my bike as a child and somewhere on the path to adulthood, this fun hobby got lost. Think back to things in life that you truly enjoyed doing. It doesn't matter if you were "good" at it, just that you genuinely loved the process. Try to remember what activities brought you a feeling of happiness and contentment. Pick up that paint brush again and start painting. Turn on your favorite music and start dancing. Grab your basketball and head to a nearby court. Try not to judge yourself, just accept and enjoy this moment.

2) Play with your pets...

Try playing Frisbee or throwing a ball with your dog. Not only will your pet be thankful for this, but you will also get exercise without realizing it. Playing a simple game of throw and catch can also create a sense of mindfulness. Throughout the day, our mind is in a million places at once and focusing on one activity can decrease stress by allowing us to stay in the present moment. The simple act of petting your dog/cat can act as a relaxation technique and reduce that tension from all of the stressors in life.

3) Play with your kids...

Playing with your child helps build a strong connection and a healthy parent/child relationship. Instead of just watching your kids play, join them. Even though sitting on the park bench may seem like the adult thing to do, playing with your kids can be beneficial in many ways. Not only will you burn more calories moving around than sitting, playing is fun! Push your child on the swing set and then swing yourself. Kick around a ball with your kid, and then play a game of Simon Says.
Don't have children? Take your nieces or little cousins to the park. I'm sure your relatives won't mind the free babysitting. Another great bonus: laughter is guaranteed! It will bring you right back to childhood.

4) Play for exercise...

We all know the benefits of exercise and at some point have bought a membership to the gym. Does going to the gym have to be the only way adults get fit? No! Playing can be a great way to stay active and will help you feel more energetic, happier, and more alive. Instead of going out to dinner or sitting on the couch with friends or loved ones, do a fun activity together. Not only are you connecting to others, but you are also doing physical activities that will reduce your stress and get you healthy. Take a walk in a park with a friend or go jogging with your partner. Join an adult kickball team or sign up for a salsa dance class with a buddy. Make exercise fun again so that you will enjoy incorporating it into your life. It doesn't have to be torture when you think of it as play.

5) Play for wellness...

Play can serve as an easy, fun, and cost effective stress reducer. Although the act of play can be very simple, it is often abandoned once we leave childhood. William Glasser, an American psychiatrist, said that fun is an essential part of our basic human needs. Notice that he didn't say want but need. Even as adults, we need to include fun into our lives in order to make us feel balanced and healthy. How do we have fun? Play!
Don't underestimate the power of play, because not only can it help you stay balanced, it can make you happier and less stressed. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "It is a happy talent to know how to play." Just because we have been on the planet longer, does not mean that play is restricted from our lives. Play can be a valuable asset to add to your life, no matter what your age. When's the last time you played?

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