In years past, I've scrolled through Facebook to see dozens of friends aiming for a slimmer waist, more sales, or upgraded relationships. There is nothing wrong with achieving a better physique or having more successful professional and personal relationships, but it misses a bigger need.
There isn't a shortage of people who have all of these things, but there are few who truly know how to play. Now, I know what you're thinking: "Play? Who has time for play? Do I look 10 years old to you?" And that is certainly a common approach. It isn't unique and it is certainly not helpful.
But the scientific reality (and common sense) shows that incorporating more play into your life not only enhances enjoyment and happiness, but it also makes you more successful and able in everything that you do. It is the balance you need to achieve professional goals, the attitude you need to attract the right partner, and if there is one thing you must do in 2016, it is add more play to your life.
Play Is Not Just for Children
As the human brain develops, playing with others is integral for understanding social cues and implementing problem solving skills. Both males and females learn much about their environment, others, and how to interact with the outside world through the games they enjoy at a young age.
Brain scans show play is one of the most mentally stimulating ways for children to learn and it helps to build neurological connections necessary for adequate social skills later in life. To think that this process suddenly ends at 10 or 15 or even 25 isn't taking a scientific approach. Instead, we are often tricked into believing play can no longer help us when social constructs (such as achievement in professional life) start to weigh us down.
The truth is, some of the most successful people in the world are the most stressed, anxious, and in need of play. Charlie Hoehn, a successful writer and marketer who worked with Tim Ferriss, even wrote an entire book entitled "Play It Away," where he relates his personal story about burnout and panic attacks solved through simple play. He wrote: "Somehow I managed to suck the joy out of every single aspect of my existence. I was so intensely critical of life that I blocked my ability to enjoy it," and he is not alone.
Millions of people struggle with the same problems that Charlie Hoehn did and no matter how old, there is only one solution: play.
Adding More Play in Your Life
Stanford professor Dr. Stuart Brown wrote: "A lack of play should be treated like malnutrition: it's a health risk to your body and mind." For most people, play is seen as a luxury they cannot afford. Modern responsibilities don't "allow" them to engage in play, but that only shows a lack of priorities. Here are a few simple ways you can add more play into your life.
Play with your partners -- Sometimes it is easier to play when your relationship or dating partner is involved. Not only is it a great way to trust and appreciate each other, but you can also develop social bonds that become stronger. A chemical called oxytocin is released when you physically play and interact with other humans. A side bonus is that you can build sexual tension and attraction with your partner through certain playful activities.
Find an old love for play -- When you were a kid there are probably sports or other activities that you really loved, but have since quit. There is no need to find a competitive league, but play some pick up with friends and get back into a flow state that helps you leave the office.
Dance and move your body -- The biggest advantage of play is freeing your body from the constraints that a desk job might have on you. Sometimes the best way to do this is to dance your heart out so you can avoid burnout. It might seem odd to dance a lot in order to feel less like you are tired, but playful dancing adds energy to your tank rather than detracts from it.
Local groups that play -- If all else fails, just find a local group that encourages some type of play. There is the Recess Project in Austin, Texas and certainly there are leagues for sports and playful activities across the nation. Find something on Facebook that suits your taste (search for an AcroYoga or bowling or any other community) and start engaging when you can.
When you can totally remove yourself from the rigid day to day existence and enjoy yourself, it will be easy to see why play should be incorporated into your life. But you have to prioritize it above what society has told you about playful activities. It is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health this year and a few laughs could save your life.