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The Benefits of Play

a group of friends playing frisbee on the beach
Reclaiming the art of play might be an antidote to a life bogged down by busy schedules and adult-sized problems.

I recently went to an indoor waterpark with my family. As I raced down a tunnel in a bright yellow inner tube with a breeze on my face, I felt free and happy in a way I rarely experience. Perhaps the joy I felt connects to fun childhood experiences. Maybe I just love being in the water and the occasional thrill of a fast ride. Whatever the reason for the happy feelings, I realized I was engaging in something that’s often missing from my life: play.

In recent years, I’ve often read about the benefits of play for adults. One article notes:

“Play can add joy to life, relieve stress, supercharge learning, and connect you to others and the world around you. Play can also make work more productive and pleasurable.”

A few years ago, I was doing a health reset and one of the instructions was to spend at least 30 minutes each day doing something that felt like play: ride a bike, play fetch with the dog, throw a frisbee with friends, get on the court for a game of pickleball, or paint on a canvas. The nutritionist pointed out that daily recreation was a key ingredient to overall health and well-being.

Bring back playtime

As a young adult, I was part of a comedy improv troupe. We met once a week to practice our skits and techniques, and typically performed several shows each month. When we were together, laughs and general silliness abounded. Beyond the laughs, we were also doing life together, which built camaraderie. I recently received a message from one of the founding members:

“I need to give you a forever thank you for laying the foundation for the group. It will forever be a highlight of my life. The friendships, the experiences, the growth and so many great memories.”

When I helped to start that troupe, I had no idea the impact it would have on my friends and me. As I’ve gotten older, life has become busy (and sometimes heavy) and it’s tempting to focus on work and other responsibilities, leaving play (zoning out in front of the TV or computer doesn’t count) out of the mix.  Here are three steps to reclaiming playtime as an adult:

Identify what leisure activities brought you joy in the past. If you haven’t played in a while, think back to the fun activities of your youth. Swimming. Tennis. Biking. Art. Jumping on the trampoline. A friend recently told me she has started riding her bike several times a week for the sheer joy of it. It reminds her of the long, blissful bike rides she took as a kid. Someone else I know signed up to use the rock wall at a local climbing gym. Still another got a pass to the ice rink, getting on the ice to relive the fun of her Canadian childhood.

Use play as an opportunity for community. When I was in my 20s, I vividly remembered how much I loved participating in community theater as a teenager. I couldn’t find places to audition that fit my schedule, so I gathered a group of friends from church, and we taught ourselves comedy improv. Play is a wonderful way to connect with others. The aforementioned article continues:

“Sharing laughter and fun can foster empathy, compassion, trust, and intimacy with others. Play doesn’t have to include a specific activity; it can also be a state of mind. Developing a playful nature can help you loosen up in stressful situations, break the ice with strangers, make new friends, and form new business relationships.”

Add play to your schedule. In a busy, demanding world, play isn’t likely to happen unless you incorporate it into your schedule. Sign up for the dance class. Schedule the golf game. Audition for the play. Put the bike ride on your calendar. When you prioritize play in your schedule, it becomes a regular rhythm of your life.

Play is good medicine

The rejuvenating effects of play are proven. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” I’ve had a few crushing experiences over the past few years. Maybe you have too. Play can be the good medicine that lifts sick and weary emotions.

I’m no longer a child, but as I raced down the tube ride, splashed in the wave pool and stood under a giant bucket dumping gallons of water over my head, my heart was light. Adding play to your life will reap physical, emotional and social benefits. Plus, when people ask, “What do you like to do for fun?” you’ll have a good answer.

Copyright 2024 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved. 

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About the Author

Suzanne Gosselin
Suzanne Hadley Gosselin

Suzanne Hadley Gosselin is a freelance writer and editor. She graduated from Multnomah University with a degree in journalism and biblical theology. She lives in California with her husband, Kevin, and her four young children: Josiah, Sadie, Amelia and Jackson. When she’s not hanging out with her kids, Suzanne loves a good cup of coffee, conversation with friends, musical theater and a trip to the beautiful California coast.

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