When I see a successful business person, I rarely think, "Wow, they must play a lot." I doubt I'm alone, but there is more research coming out that shows just how impactful play can be for the human brain. By studying mammals and human behavior (both in modern society and hunter-gatherers), it is possible to better understand why humans play and how it helps us.
Integrating those lessons into our daily life can not only make us feel better, but it will also make us more successful. While business success may not be defined by the amount of playtime you get as an adult, it will certainly help to improve your chances of success in the long run.
Your Brain on Play
Much has been said about different methods of improving brain health, such as nootropics, eating a healthy diet, and many others. Instead of feeling the need to take supplements to improve your brain, perhaps it is healthier to do something we already know well -- play.
1. Play can help increase creativity -- A study at Michigan State University found that children who grew up to create successful businesses or generate patents were exposed to eight times more art, crafts, and play as children. The study concluded that the children who played the most were more likely to become successful entrepreneurs and scientists.
Other studies confirm the same phenomenon for video games, among other activities, which have long been villainized by parents and society alike.
2. Play can help reduce stress and anxiety -- This is probably the easiest one to believe because play is associated with fun. When you are stressed, consider how much good quality work you actually get done. Usually it isn't very much! That's why people take vacations and reset themselves; stress takes its toll on productivity. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, physical play reduces stress.
For people that use smart drug supplements to improve their brain health, most products only work because they are reducing your anxiety and allowing you to remember or learn better.
3. Play connects with others -- Imagine a situation where you are inside and on the computer without much social contact with others. It isn't hard to imagine because a sizable portion of the western world spends their life this way every day. By engaging in play, you can interact and connect with other humans in ways that we were meant to do.
Taking turns, playing by the rules, and other social constructs often come from connecting with other children at a young age. It is what helps us to be the social creatures that we are.
4. Play is fun -- Let's face it, one of the best reasons to play is because it is fun. We have evolved for tens of thousands of years to play. There are countless ways to add more play to your life, but you'll find that just about anything becomes play when you have the right state of mind. After all, play is more of a state of mind than something you have to physically compartmentalize.
Think about a time when you were young and playing. See how fondly you relish those memories if you take a second to go back and take stock. In most cases, you'll find that some of the happiest moments of your life were playing a sport, with friends, or a game of some sort.
That's because play is an important part of the human experience. As play researcher and psychiatrist Stuart Brown says in his book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, "A lack of play should be treated like malnutrition: it's a health risk to your body and mind."
No matter what role you have, adding play can help increase your chances of success and your ability to do creative and productive work. Even if you love the work that you do, it's fun to get away from it and have an objective-free space to unwind and reset yourself.