Play: Why You Need It

Have you ever watched a child play? Mesmerized by their toys or imaginary world, they have a focused, creative, fully involved almost peaceful way they move about.  They don’t even hear you when you call them for dinner…they are so fully involved in joy and imagination.  

When was the last time you were fully focused and involved in something you loved to do? Having long outgrown our days of playing with dolls or in sandboxes, as adults, we have forgotten how to play, and in that, we lost a major source of self care and joy.

So… you might be asking yourself…what exactly is play?

Play is what you love so much you lose yourself in, lose track of time, and don’t want it to end.  After play we often feel a sense of joy and feel lighter and brighter.

A few years ago I was really struggling, in all of the pressure of life, I had let the play part of me slowly slip away, until it was barely a spot on the horizon.  I thought it was selfish to play, that I didn’t deserve it, I wasn’t successful enough, and my free time should go to working on my business. I was feeling more and more depressed, like something was missing in my life. One day, on a whim, I decided to drive up the coast and visit a friend in Santa Cruz.  On the way I started listening to Brene Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability and when she started discussing play and why we need it, it clicked in my head.  I need play as part of my life and my world, we all need it.  As play researcher, Stuart Brown, puts it: “The opposite of play is not work- the opposite of play is depression.”

Here’s what I was listening to, an except from Dr. Brene Brown’s 7th Guidepost to Whole Hearted Living:

“What is play?  Play is purposeless.  Basically this means that we play for the sake of play.  We do it because it’s fun and we want to do it.

That’s where shame comes in.  In today’s culture- where our self worth is tied to our net worth, and we base our worthiness on our level of productivity- spending time doing purposeless activities is rare.  In fact for many of us it sounds like an anxiety attack waiting to happen.

Crazy-busy’ is a great armor, it’s a great way for numbing. What a lot of us do is that we stay so busy, and so out in front of our life, that the truth of how we’re feeling and what we really need can’t catch up with us.

Play can bring back excitement and newness to our lives.  It helps us deal with difficulties, provides a sense of expansiveness, promotes mastery of our craft, and is an essential part of the creative process.  Most important true play that comes from our own inner needs and desires is the only path to finding lasting joy and satisfaction in our work.  In the long run, work does not work without play.”                                       

When we aren’t doing the things that bring us joy, we start to take on a burnt out, gloomy lens of life. In order to create a better life for ourselves and those we love around us, we have to incorporate play into our self care routine.

Play means something different for each of us, for some it’s surfing that perfect wave, or hiking that tall mountain, for others it’s having a dinner party or an intimate gathering of friends, or furniture making, or gardening, painting, playing an instrument…  Like the stars in the sky, there are millions of different ways to play and incorporate it into our lives.

I was spending the night in an little apartment in Shell Beach.  I decided to do everything I could to take care of myself, I went for a walk, watched the sunset from a quiet spot on the coast, visited hot springs under a starry sky, ate sushi, and ended my night curled up reading a book.  In the morning I was surprised to find that I felt better, happier, lighter than I had in years.  Honestly, I was astounded by the difference I felt.  The next morning I walked to a little coastal coffee shop and spent a long morning of thinking, reflecting, and writing out my own play list. Creating it was both challenging and comforting.  I felt like an active participant in making my life better, I was creating space to give myself permission to engage in self care in a way that I know will make me feel nourished and joyful.

I invite you to carve out some time, sit down in a quiet place and make your own play list. Start by asking yourself, what does play mean to me? What do I love to do for play? What are my hobbies? What are things in my life that I lose myself in, time spent without purpose, that I feel joyful and light afterwards?

Here are a few ideas from my personal play list to get you started:
Reading Fiction, Traveling with No Plans, Campfires, Hiking in Quiet Places, Cooking with my Husband, Listening to Country Music, Sitting in the Shade on a Beach, Hammock Time, Restorative Yoga, Hot Springs & Baths, Intellectual ConversationGardeningWriting when InspiredGardening & SucculentsCuddling with my Cat, Being in Beautiful Places & Spaces…

Once you’ve created your own list, place it somewhere to remind yourself what nourishes you.  Congratulations, that’s a big deal and a big step in self care.

Next, reflect about how you will incorporate this newfound knowledge into your life.  Making a self care plan is good next step. You can read about making one HERE.

To take it one step further, spend time reflecting and journaling on what gets in the way of play for you.  Often, we find that it’s outdated beliefs like: “I’m not good enough to take time to enjoy myself- I didn’t work  hard enough,” or “I don’t deserve to take time out for myself.”  Outdated beliefs show up as shame and sadness.  The good news is that shame cannot live in the light, and as we begin to recognize our outdated beliefs, we can show up and do something different. Which means that we may not always feel like we deserve to play, but I invite you to do it anyway. 

When we are struggling and choose self care, it is an act of faith. It’s within that act of faith that creates space for connection with our higher selves, which often translates into joy, peace, and emotional well being. Don’t wait until you feel like playing or taking care of yourself, that moment may never come.  Instead, be curious about how you will feel afterwards.  Journal how you feel before and afterwards, do you notice a difference in your state of mind, body, and/or soul?

Thanks for being here and warm wishes,



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