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Why grown-ups ought to make room for play

Play is a way of interacting with the self or others, where the process itself is the prize

Play requires active engagement.
Play requires active engagement. ( iStockphoto)

A question I consistently ask clients in therapy is, “How do you make room for play in your day-to-day life?”

Surprisingly, most adults find the question baffling and often take some time before they can think of an answer. I have found that children and teenagers, though, have a long list of activities and stories about when and how they have fun. The very conversation invigorates them and evokes joy as they share their experiences.

As adults and grown-ups, we may have given a bad name to play. We often see it as childish, unproductive, maybe even trivial. Yet our ability to build in play in daily life can go a long way in ensuring our emotional well-being. Whether it’s a child or an adult, we all need moments of play and fun as we navigate the challenges of day-to-day life. Our ability to play is linked to problem-solving and creativity. Very often, play is associated with emotions such as joy, wonder, surprise and curiosity. All these emotions add to our self-esteem and bring a sense of vitality and enthusiasm for life.

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I see play as something that’s driven without an agenda or goals to meet: a way of interacting either with the self or others, where the process is the prize itself. It can be spontaneous or planned, yet I think it has qualities of fun, curiosity, and being present. Whether in moments when I am alone or with a group, there is a feeling of connection and engagement.

There are so many moments in a day that have potential for building play: whether it’s singing while you cook, listening to music at home and suddenly breaking into a dance or a quick playful running competition with your colleague as you climb the office stairs.

Each person, however, has their own definition of what constitutes play and fun, so it would be a good idea to define the way you see it. The idea, though, is to engage with play and not get defined by one definition.

A good first step would be to ask yourself what would constitute play for you as an adult. A second step: Think of the images that come to mind when you think about it.

Play is not about activities per se, it involves an attitude of playfulness or a playful mindset. So, allow yourself to think of moments, interactions and interactions which help bring out this side of you. An attitude of playfulness, whether it’s in conversations or intimacy, allows a certain ease and brings warmth to so many situations.

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Moments of play can feel like an exercise in mindfulness where there is a sense of flow. When we lead a life where we are consistently wired and tired, play can help us feel alive, connect with ourselves, and even allow us to come back to our whole self. For me, play is a huge part of rest and recovery. Whether it’s board games, card games or even word games, they all can bring out a childlike side. A fun workout, dancing, painting, or a sport that is engaged in with a certain playfulness and doesn’t feel forced, also becomes play. Playing with clay, colours, any art-based activity, can offer a momentary break from the tendency to overthink and let you, instead, savour the moment.

Some places inherently allow for a playful mindset: think a bowling alley, a trip to the zoo, a day at the arts and craft studio. Sometimes planning a fun trip or holiday can feel like play too.

Having said that, our itch to consistently check our phones and scroll can stop us from engaging with play. For, play requires active engagement.

Maybe we all need to ask ourselves, what does it take for us to adapt a playful mindset and build room for play not just in our homes but also at work and in social interactions? It’s always a good time to integrate play in your life.

Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.

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