It Pays to Play

Think back to the time the only thing you prioritized was playing with your toys. Life was so simple back then. Life was so fun!

So many of us abandoned our connection to play as we crossed the line into adulthood. Not only does that make life a lot less interesting, but now we’re paying for it — both at work and at home.

To understand why it’s hurting us not to play, we must first understand why we play. It turns out, the act of play may have been instilled within human beings for evolutionary purposes. In this Washington Post article, Boston College professor of psychology, Peter Gray, 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.” In other words, the article summarizes, “for our earliest ancestors, play wasn’t just about adding fun to their lives, it may have been a way of keeping the peace, which was critical for survival.”

Stripped to its fundamental purpose, we play to live. Why, then, do we stop playing once we grow up?

Dr. Stuart Brown, author of the book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, has a TED Talk with nearly two million views. In it, he says that play is more than just having fun. He surmises that if you consistently set aside time for play, you’ll have a better and more empowered life.

By playing! 

It makes sense if you think about it. Play is an integral part of children’s development, so we’d never deprive children of it. But adults need to continue developing, too, and incorporating playtime into your life is one way to continue to grow.

Play is not only important for your personal life; it can contribute greatly to your work life, too. Here, the Association for Psychological Science cites findings suggesting that “play at work can benefit whole organizations by creating a friendlier work atmosphere, higher employee commitment to work, more flexible organization-wide decision making, and increased organizational creativity.”

Play looks different for everyone. For some, it’s playing with new ideas. For others, it’s engaging in fantasy football. Others still find play in LEGOs or physical activities. At Studio/E, we do a few different things at our office to incorporate play, one of our favorites being small bursts of exercise. Like most people, we need a nudge to do this, so we use Studio/E member Jenny Evan’s deck of cards boasting 35 different office-friendly exercises. When we’re ready for a burst one of us draws a card, reads the instructions for the exercise indicated on the card, then we all spend a minute jumping rope or lunging or doing knee jumps.

For more structured, planful play, we do quarterly off-sites. Most recently we took a team outing to an indoor climbing gym, where we all let our guards down and tried our hand at something different. Some of us were beginners, others had climbed before, but we were all able to find alignment in one another’s goals and support each other along the way. A cool thing happens when a team focuses on an outcome unrelated to work. The conversations that grow out of climbing walls together look a lot different than the ones we have in the office. It’s when we’re doing something different and laughing together that we really get to know one another. So later, when deadlines loom or we have a program to execute, we know how to better interact with each other.

The Studio/E Team: Kolina, Andy, Tom, Lori, Nate, Lauren, Tawnee, Stiles

In making the case for play last summer (can you tell we’re passionate about this?), we mentioned it is a great way to learn who someone truly is because it encourages a sincere state of child-like pleasure. We went on to say that we are the children within us, and so when we play, our true selves emerge. Additionally, playing together serves as a good reminder that we are not our titles — we are human beings with personalities and passions, which is of no small importance.

Whether you incorporate it into the workday or at home, we suggest finding time to play. If coming up with ways to play isn’t your superpower, here are 15 ideas to start:

  1. Draw, color, or doodle. Adult coloring books are popular for a reason.
  2. Go to a baseball game.
  3. Do exercise bursts (card deck not necessary).
  4. Do a puzzle.
  5. Play with a puppy.
  6. Go for a leisurely walk or bike ride.
  7. Play a card game (card deck necessary).
  8. Run around in the rain.
  9. Read a non-work-related book.
  10. Throw a ball around.
  11. Play with children.
  12. Go rock climbing.
  13. Swim.
  14. Play mini-golf.
  15. Visit a museum.

As Dr. Stuart Brown says, how we play is as unique to an individual as a fingerprint. It really doesn’t matter how you play or how much time you spend doing it; what matters is that you do it. Here’s the push you might not have known you needed to get out and play.

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We make space for play whenever we can. Join us sometime. 

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