It has often been said that play is “the work of children.” It is how they interact with and learn about the world. Playing with building blocks and train sets, hula hoops and skipping ropes. Splashing in mud puddles, creating masterpieces in finger paint, and running through mid-summer sprinklers. We take it for granted that this is what children do, and we foster and encourage it whenever possible. When we are young, play is the central aspect of our lives.
When we mature into adults, though, we somehow come to believe that play is peripheral to our existence. We may take time out to play pick-up hockey on weekend nights, or join a soccer league, but is almost always squeezed into those spaces that the “real business” that concerns us?-work, relationships, housekeeping, entertaining-?allows. And almost always, our adult “play” is conducted according to a strict set of prescribed rules. Or else it is undertaken as a means toward some important goal. We no longer play hockey, for instance, for the sheer fun of it. It is now also a way to “get in shape,” or “blow off steam,” or “drop a few pounds.” It is as though there is something embarrassing and unproductive about doing something “just for fun.”
It seems strange to me that “play” ?- something so universally understood and vital and important during formative years -? can be shunted off to the edges of our lives when we get older. Do we no longer believe that it is important to play for the sake of playing, to engage in joyful, pleasurable activity that has no ulterior motive or loftier purpose than to simply add to the enjoyment of our days?
I would make the claim that play is every bit as important to adults as it is to children. If we are to remain connected to life, to continue to be inspired, joyful, resilient, energized, and engaged, adults must re-learn how to exist in the bliss of the playful moment. Play, the simple of act of participating in an experience of fun, is the wellspring of our powers as human beings. If we live our lives properly, our days should be filled with play. I am in my mid-forties, but I hope to God that I will not live long enough to see a day when I’m too old and embarrassed to splash my way through a puddle, or join my daughter in painting portraits in sidewalk chalk on the sidewalk outside our house. I hope I do not outlive my ability to make snow angels, be fascinated by the sight of my frozen breath on a January morning, or pelt my husband in the back of the head with a snowball. I have learned more from engaging in those sorts of activities than any number of therapists or self help books could ever teach me. And as far as I’m concerned, that is the best way to learn.