There is nothing I love more than hearing my kids laugh. Really laugh. Uncontrollable laughter that can only come when they're having fun and just living in the moment; absolutely carefree. I'm fortunate that I hear this quite a lot from Liam and Caitlyn, despite one being a teenager and the other not far off it.
As I ready myself for the year ahead, my task recently was to clear out the garage. Not something I'm well known for doing, and as I pottered about, Caitlyn buzzed around outside on her scooter, then began playing with a small basket ball. I stopped, walked outside and we began tossing the ball to each other. This turned into bounce passes, and then finally I began scooping the ball up in one hand then in the same motion slamming it down into the ground drawing fits of laughter from Caitlyn. This continued for a while, with smiles and laughter from both of us, before Caitlyn jumped on her scooter, and I returned to the tidying.
Something was different. I was happier. And more productive.
There is plenty of research that confirms the benefits of adult play, and Dr Stuart Brown M.D.'s work is nothing short of fascinating. Trained in general medicine, clinical research and psychiatry, Brown first recognised the importance of play by discovering its absence in the life stories of mass murderers. Deprivation of play hinders development of the brain, and Brown states "the opposite of play is not work - it is depression".
As the founder of the National Institute for Play, Brown uses evidentiary science to demonstrate that "Play + Science = Transformation".
His studies of animals as analogues to humans, shows we exhibit and pick up on states of play. In other words we observe in others a playful state which not only allows us to explore the possible, but when conflict arises, can override a 'differential in power' simply by using something that is natural to us - play.
By monitoring activity in the brain when we are in a state of joyful play, the right side of our brain - the creative side - lights up, hence creativity and problem solving is improved. Because of this, many organisations, such as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, won't hire students who haven't demonstrated use of their hands to fix things as they are generally not good problem solvers.
So what is play? Dr Brown describes various forms: body play (leaping around - changing our physiology and therefore our state), object play (using your hands), curiosity and exploration, social play (enabling us to belong), rough and tumble play (prevalent in the animal world), spectator and ritual play (going to the footy), imaginative or solo play, and the internal narrative or story.
So to neoteny - the retention of immature qualities into adulthood. Of all creatures, human beings are the most neotenous, the most playful, and therefore creative and adaptable. Yet as we grow older, we suppress this natural instinct.
George Bernard Shaw said "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."
In 2017, I'm going to make time to play, to be more neotenous, and I'm going to be more aware of taking the chance to play spontaneously as this can only enhance my creativity and adaptability in changing times, and reduce depressive thoughts.
What do you do for play? What's your most joyful, playful image as far back as you can remember? How will you incorporate play into the year ahead?
Leave a comment to start a conversation and don't forget to live your dreams.