Health + wellbeing

The importance of playing

- November 16, 2011 2 MIN READ

Do you think being busy equals being important? Do you think time spent “productively” is the only time worth spending? If so, you’re not alone. If you feel like something’s missing, you’re also not alone. Here we discuss the importance of playing.

Earlier this week, at 10 am, I turned off my computer and headed to the gym. As I was driving there I felt guilty about wasting time. Work was on the quiet side – shouldn’t I be spending my time relentlessly setting business goals? Shouldn’t I be pushing through – making calls, doing stuff… succeeding?

And the previous day I’d spent two hours reading a book. Reading! A book! What kind of entrepreneur do I think I am? How am I ever going to have a healthy, thriving business with that kind of attitude?

Then I remembered – it’s not others’ ideas of “success” that matter. It’s mine. And my definition of a successful business is one that lets me do what I love, pays the bills comfortably AND gives me the flexibility to exercise, read, or spend a day standing on my head if I damn well want to.

But still there was a missing element. And that element was play. Purposeless, undirected, fun, messing around and playing. I’d stopped doing it!

What about you?

Stuart Brown, a researcher who founded the National Institute for Play in the USA (sounds fun!) thinks that play is as essential as sleep, and that the opposite of play isn’t work – it’s depression. Researcher Brené Brown (no relation, as far as I know) discovered that playing is an essential component of what she calls “wholehearted living”.  She suggests that to enjoy playing, we need to let go of our shame at not spending time doing something that is “worthwhile”, or not getting “the work” perfect before letting ourselves have the reward of play. Being human is enough of a reason to play.

Want more articles like this? Check out the work-life-balance section.

Need more?

Could working less and playing more actually help your business? The researchers think that “work doesn’t work without play”. It’s certainly a challenging idea in our society – although perhaps less so for some soloists who’ve already decided to opt out of the “work harder to get more stuff” game. Could it be that prioritising the importance of playing will help us renew, regenerate, tap into our creativity and joy in ways that we’ve just plain forgotten? And that doing that will actually expand our success?

Playdate time

I started looking at options for fitting in more play time around my work. For example, I’ve committed to making sure that when I’m playing with my young daughter, I’m present. Really playing, and not just hurrying things along so I can move to the next task. But perhaps I’m still missing the point. I need to allow more play time into my work, as well as a whole lot more around it.

In a world of messages to be goal-directed, focused, driven – how do we let go of that and play? Or am I mad? What are your thoughts on the importance of playing?