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5 Reasons to Prioritize Play

When was the last time you played? Sadly, for most of us adults, that question is really hard to answer. The responsibilities of everyday life and the state of our world and nation weigh on us, understandably so. Play may feel frivolous or like something we have to earn only when we have finished ALL of our work and chores (which, let’s be honest, will never happen).

But here’s the thing… play time is as important for adults as it is for kids. And we need it as much as we need rest and exercise to be a healthy and happy human. Play comes with mega-benefits to the health of our mental, emotional, and social well-being. This is why we’ve made Play our word of the year for 2021. We want to commit our energy to living with a playfulness that is so easily forgotten as grown-ups and we hope you’ll join us!

women dancing together and having fun

So, first things first, what exactly counts as play? Simply put, play is time that allows for creativity and, believe it or not, fun. The best part is- there does not have to be a goal to achieve in play. We play for the experience, the process, and not the end goal. We need to let ourselves play for the laughs, for the fun, and even for the social aspect (six feet apart or six inches, depending on screen or sans-screen). The purpose of play is to enjoy yourself. Really, just watch a kid for any length of time and you will discover what it means to play.  Playing can be such a simple act, such as hula hooping, coloring, or building with legos (yes, even for us adults), or a little more advanced like playing strategy games.

Quote graphic about play by Lucia Capocchione "Play keeps us vital and alive. It gives us an enthusiasm for life that is irreplaceable. Without it, life just doesn't taste good."

Start with the Intention, End with a Habit

While you may want to set the intention to play, how the heck do we make time for play when we’re already so burnt out and busy? And how do we make it not feel like yet another self-care to-do that is added to our pile? Just like starting any new habit, the first thing is to understand the mindset around why we should set aside time to play as adults. Besides playing being inarguably fun, we need to recognize and acknowledge the immense benefits that play has on our bodies, minds, and well-being.

Relieves Stress

According to psychologists, play for adults can relieve stress at a physiological level. When you are playing and having fun, it triggers the release of endorphins in your body, a natural chemical that helps you deal with stress and pain. Play restores a sense of optimism when life feels overwhelming, and upgrades your overall mood. In essence, play fuels our emotional well-being, allowing us to believe we can manage our lives, and find enjoyment in our everyday tasks.

Women raising their hands and creating a pyramid together

Boosts Confidence 

Small successes in a game or a new activity train your brain to think, “I can do this.” And with each bite of success, you will gain a sense of anything-is-possible. Especially if a game requires strategy, effort, or teamwork, playing gives you a sense of satisfaction and mastery that will transfer to other areas of life. Earning little wins reframes your self-understanding of what you can do, and boosts your confidence outside of the game itself. 

As a matter of fact, playing as a confidence booster also leads to setting better goals for yourself. For instance, when you get a taste for small successes, especially in a low-risk setting like a game or puzzle, you naturally want to improve your skills. Developing perseverance creates a new mindset of continual improvement that transfers to other areas of your life where you start setting higher goals for yourself. You have trained your brain to associate perseverance with fun.

Two people sitting for meditation

Strengthens Our Mind and Body

Besides releasing endorphins to relieve stress, play causes your body to release a small but mighty protein called BDNF, which supports the growth of brain cells. Participating in fun activities can challenge the mind, sharpening our brain functionality, strengthening our memory, and stimulating creativity. Win-win-win, right? Not only that, but play stimulates growth in the cerebral cortex, that bigwig in the brain that takes care of no-big-things like planning, motor functions, and processing sensory information. Yeah, it’s kind of a big deal. 

If you are pursuing play that requires more physical efforts, such as flying a kite, riding a bike, or jumping on a trampoline, then you are strengthening your body, as well. It doesn’t take a lot of physical effort to strengthen the body through play, even walking back and forth to find just the right piece for some block building or crafting with your hands, does much to keep your body physically moving.

Fuels Innovation

Have you ever experienced a moment when you were playing charades or storytelling or painting and came up with a new way or idea while playing? When we play, we enter a state of relaxation and stimulation. In this state, play encourages creativity, enhances problem-solving skills, and fosters our imagination. In cases where the activity involves imaginative play, we seek novelty as we are naturally built to make, create, and innovate. 

Quote graphic on play by Isabel Behncke "Play is foundational for bonding relationships and fostering's all about the generation of diversity- diversity of interactions, diversity of behaviors, diversity of connections."

Improves Your Connections with Others

Playing with friends and family cultivates empathy and builds a sense of community. Laughing and building shared experiences together does a lot to foster trust and compassion. Connecting with others through play is similar to traveling with a partner or group; there is a feeling of intimacy that exceeds other types of social interactions. Play is how we can connect to others on a playful level- having fun and laughing together. And believe it or not, play enhances your communication skills and gives you a chance to develop a playful nature that alleviates new social interactions like making new friends, networking at work, or getting acquainted with a stranger.

Quote graphic on play by Nicole Buerkens, PhD. " the mind freedom to explore and word through uncomfortable feelings and experiences, and can also serve as a beneficial distraction."
Play for Your Well-Being

As you can see, play is powerful. Planting these benefits as the foundation of your intention, prioritizing play in your life, reminds you why you are setting aside time to play. Yes, it is possible to create a new habit that isn’t just another to-do on your list. In due time, you will notice how much you look forward to your “play time”, whatever you choose to do for play. You will find yourself prioritizing play easily as your body, mind, and soul benefit from the stress relief, creativity boost, and all the number of positive effects of play.

Different people playing, one cutting with scissors, one pursuing photography, and one in wheelchair painting

So, what kind of play can you try? Here’s a list of ways to bring play and fun back into your life:

  • Learn a new craft. There are a plethora of crafts such as embroidery, stamping, or paper collage. Crafting is a fantastic way to get those small wins and gain a deep sense of satisfaction from making with your hands
  • Get out those adult coloring books. Coloring books came and went and now let’s bring them back! This is a simple way to get lost in the meditative motion of coloring.
  • Play card games. Do you know there are game stores that host nights solely dedicated to just playing games? Now with youtube, it’s easy to look up new card games using just a deck of cards or dig out your old pack of UNO or Skip-Bo cards.
  • Sing karaoke. Find your favorite sing-along songs on YouTube, perhaps a Whitney Houston or Bon Jovi classic, and give your lungs a workout with some friends.
  • Learn from the Play Masters. Spend some time hanging out with a kid and follow their lead.
Three women standing hand-in-hand with arms raised

About Joone

I used to think about play as a reward - something I would earn only after I finished all of my tasks and projects. After reading more about burnout, I realize that's the wrong way to frame it. Play (and rest) are essential to our ability to function as humans, and are critical to fueling the work I want to do both with Joone and in our community. So I'm committed to prioritizing play this year, especially when I feel like I don't have the time. 

If you want more play in your life, check out our craft kits. Our kits make it easy to have a fun creative experience, no matter your skill level or the amount of time you have on hand. Each kit features fresh, modern designs and comes with all the instructions, inspiration and supplies you need, delivered directly to your door.

What’s more, every Joone kit is designed in partnership with an amazing artist who receives 10% of their kit sales, so you directly support a group of talented craftspeople with each purchase.

More Reading:

Emma Loewe, We Think 2021 Should Be The Year We All Play Like Kids Again & This Psychologist Agrees, mindbodygreen, January 4, 2021.

Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Jennifer Shubin, The Benefits of Play for Adults, HelpGuide, October 2020.

Thomas Hendricks PhD., The Promise of Play, Psychology Today, May 21, 2019.

Thomas Hendricks PhD., Are We Having Fun Yet?, Psychology Today, October 23, 2019.

Sami Yenigun, Play Doesn’t End With Childhood: Why Adults Need Recess Too, NPR Ed, August 6, 2014.

Stuart Brown, Play is More Than Just Fun, Ted Talk, May 2008.

Michael Forman, The Importance of Play in Adulthood, Wanderlust.

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