Play is a state of mind that is safe, inquisitive and exists in the moment. It is also a bodily state of relaxation and an uplifting and engaged emotional state. Some say play is a spiritual state of profound connection and joy. Play can be something we do by ourselves or with others, but it is also something we can watch others do. Play is often described as a time when we feel most alive, yet we often take it for granted and may completely forget about it. Play can be entirely positive, or have a negative.
Most people believe that play is unproductive, and therefore inferior to “productive” activities. Perhaps this is because we equate play with feeling –happy joyous feeling –that traditionally is seen as less important than thinking. Many of us have lists, at home and at the office, prioritizing tasks by how productive they are. When we run out of time, we cut the fun stuff and do the “productive” stuff because we may feel guilty or bad if we play hooky or goof off by playing a game of golf or chess, taking a hike in the woods or daydreaming for an hour. New research on the brain contradicts this cultural dismissal of play, by emphasizing the importance of feelings and the necessity of feeling safe and relaxed in order to think clearly and productively. Play teaches us how to manage and transform our “negative” emotions and experiences; it supercharges learning, and is a foundational factor in good mental and physical health. And, it can make work more pleasurable.
How can play trigger the flow state?
Psychiatrist and writer Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, (pronounced "chicks send me high”) studied play in Sidney, Australia and described it as a flow state that requires just the right balance of challenge and opportunity. If the game is too hard or too easy, it loses its sense of pleasure and fun. Maintaining a flow state in games with others requires all participants, regardless of age or ability, to feel challenged, but not overwhelmed. Csikszentmihalyi’s research has been undertaken and confirmed in several countries, and now reaches 250,000 surveys. In the flow state we feel:
Why is play an important part of our lives?
Humans are designed by nature to play, and have played throughout evolution. Playfulness is an inborn ability that is hardwired into our genetic code. Play is part of how humans have adapted and survived everywhere on Earth, from the tropics to the great deserts to the Arctic Circle. We want to play because it is instinctive and fundamental to our existence; it is one of the evolutionary mechanisms that enabled us to develop as a species. Playing helps us survive by connecting us to other human beings and to sources of energy and excitement within ourselves. Play is simultaneously a source of calmness and relaxation, as well as a source of stimulation for the brain and body.
Play will be important to our future. Some futurists have said that we'll need to be more inventive, creative, and flexible to handle the tasks, flow and rhythm of life in this century and beyond. A sure (and fun) way to develop these abilities is to play – with your children and grandchildren, your officemates and friends.
Why is it important to play at work?
When researchers follow pre-teen children’s attitude about play, they discovered that some children called almost everything they did “play” while others called almost everything they did “work”. Reconnecting with the children at the end of adolescence, the children who thought of everything as play were more successful and happier in school and were more content socially than the people who saw everything as “work”.
Success at work does not depend on the amount of time you work. It depends upon the quality of work, and the quality of work depends on the level of well-being of the workers. The level of well-being depends significantly on the how often they replenish themselves through play in any of its forms. Work is where we spend much of our time. That is why it is especially important for us to play during work. Without some recreation, our work suffers. Most of us have been working faster, harder, and smarter, and with diminishing free time. We first thought that working faster, harder, and smarter would handle our increased workload, but that is not the case. We still got behind and became chronically overwhelmed. When the project you're working on hits a serious glitch (as they frequently do), heading out to the basketball court with your colleagues to shoot some hoops and have a few laughs does a lot more than take your mind off the problem. If basketball isn't your cup of tea, having a model airplane contest, telling stories, or flying kites in the parking lot will also allow your relationship to the problem to shift and enable you to approach it from a new perspective. Interjecting play into the work cycle: keeps you sane and functional during times of stress; refreshes your mind and body; renews hope; triggers creativity; and increases energy.
Playing non-violent computer games can be a great way to relax and combat stress, at home and at work, by children and adults. There are many sites on the Internet with free or resonable priced non-violent computer games, such as: