I’m sure you’ve been around someone who has scoffed at the sight of another adult playfully being “immature” or “goofing around” and, if you’re like me, you too may have felt strange. I love to see it, play is an integral part of being a human and I say the more we play, the better off as individuals and as a culture we will be. Science is now catching up with this sentiment.

The importance of play for children is well documented, there’s a plethora of studies you can find and it seems merely intuitive that play is good for kids, so why not adults? Researchers are now turning their attention to the possible benefits. What they’re finding is that play isn’t just about goofing off; it can also be an important means of reducing stress and contributing to overall well-being. We all subjectively experience this, the stress peeling off as we let go of the inner dialogue and lean into the moment. The joy we feel as we laugh with our friends and loved ones, or the pleasure we get when we just let our hair down.

Play also seems to be an evolutionary adaptation.

Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College, says, “Play primarily evolved to teach children all kinds of skills, and its extension into adulthood may have helped to build cooperation and sharing among hunter-gathers beyond the level that would naturally exist in a dominance-seeking species.” This suggests that it wasn’t just about adding fun to our lives, it may have been a way of keeping the peace, which was critical for survival.

What about finding a partner and building relationships?

Being a playful adult may, or I would say, almost certainly makes us more attractive to the opposite sex, according to a study from Pennsylvania State University. Researchers there asked 250 students to rate 16 characteristics that they might look for in a long-term mate. “Sense of humour” came in first among the males and second among the females, “fun-loving” came in third for both, and being “playful” placed fourth for women and fifth for men. This shouts out as if play is imperative for building and maintaining successful relationships.

What does this mean for our culture at large?

Well, I would say, it means we should try and encourage more of it, less shaming the “immature” ones and more embracing play in all of its many shades. Let’s encourage more dancing, laughing and being silly. More letting go of our fears and less clinging to the identity that claims to have itself “all together”. No one has it all together. There’s an endless amount of opportunities for the serious stuff and it seems to me a finite amount of opportunities for true play with the ones we love, so let’s seek them out. Find play, make time for it, embrace it where you can and most of all, enjoy it when it comes your way.

Until next time.

M L Wood ❤

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