Embrace play as an adult

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Play is something that many people believe is a childhood pastime, but given the many benefits of playing, it’s something you should embrace as often as possible as an adult. Kirsten Miliken in Playdhd explains why we stop playing: “As adults we believe we have to be taken seriously to be successful. But research shows that, like kids, adults benefit enormously from playing – in all aspects of their lives and relationships.”

Lloyd P. Rieber suggests “the word “play” can invoke so many misconceptions” and “There is also a sense of risk attached to suggesting an adult is at play. Work is respectable, play is not.” Other misconceptions he describes include that play is easy and that playing doesn’t contribute towards learning.

But life doesn’t need to be serious all the time and making art is just one of the ways you can play more regularly. Miliken writes “By definition, play is ‘purposely, all-consuming, and fun.’ Research with both humans and animals also demonstrates that play is a biological drive as crucial to our health as sleep or nutrition. Play is critical to healthy physical, mental, social, and psychological development.” She talks of research in the field showing the following benefits of play:

  • Builds ability to solve problems, negotiate rules, and resolve conflicts
  • Develops confidence, flexible minds that are open to new possibilities
  • Develops creativity, resilience, independence, and leadership
  • Reduces stress
  • Helps grown strong, healthy bodies

That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits. The bottom line is that play can add a lot of joy and meaning to your life, if you allow yourself permission to spend time playing and making your own art is a wonderful way to get started.

“Playfulness can help us do our jobs better and find more innovative solutions to problems. Play can help us be more adaptive, collaborative, spontaneous, and joyful.” — Kirsten Miliken

Productivity and play

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Creativity is fuelled by a sense of play but as adults, do we have to give up play in order to “grow up?” Productivity and play can be viewed as polar opposites on an imaginary ‘success’ scale. At one end there’s productivity which provides an outward marker of how ‘successful’ you are by ticking off goals and getting stuff done. At the other is play, with many people seeing as being a kids-only activity and a silly and frivolous use of time. But with so much research pointing to play being a vital component in a fulfilling personal life, as well as in business, it would be silly to ignore the benefits.

Brené Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection says “If we want to live a Wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play, and about letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth.” In Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist explains how, “Productivity became my idol, the thing I loved and valued above all else. We all have these complicated tangles of belief, identity and narrative. And one of the earliest stories I told about myself is that my ability to get it done is what kept me around… The world that made sense to me was a world of earning and proofing and I was getting it out just like everyone around me, frantically trying to prove my worth.”

Being seen as productive is so highly valued because of the myth that ticking boxes – i.e. on a daily basis via a to-do list – somehow relates to worthiness and self-value. The more you achieve, the more valuable you are perceived as being to others and therefore the more loveable and attractive you become. Productivity becomes a quantifiable measure of your ‘success’ in life’s uncertain chaos.

Kirsten Miliken in Playdhd suggests “As an adult there is a stigma about play. We’re trained to take things seriously, work hard and not ‘goof off.’… it is likely that you were ever encouraged to play to meet your potential, much less to have fun in an effort to be more creative, happy, energetic, and productive.” The idea that play can actually help you to achieve more, as well as being a vital tool for living a good life is an exciting one. “Play is a biological drive as crucial to our health as sleep or nutrition. Some of the key descriptions about play according to Miliken is that its purposeless (it’s done for the fun of it), voluntary, you loose track of time whilst engaging in play and your self-conscious is diminished (you don’t censor or judge yourself while playing).

Spending time playing “just because” may be the best thing you could do to improve the quality of your daily life. With creativity being fuelled by play and playing around with new ideas, play is one of the best tools you have available right now.

“It’s about playing. It’s like being innocent enough to just play without an outcome in mind.” – Sofia Munson, painter