• Blog
  • by: Stuart Brown, MD. National Institute for Play
  • November 28, 2018

The Science of Play: Enjoying a Fulfilling Life by Retaining our Ability and Right to Play

My observations of adults who embrace fully their inherent play nature are that it assures a better quality of life, decreases stress, connects them better with their particular communities, keeps them optimistic in a very changing, challenging and demanding world, fosters empathy, and thus makes sense to include it for us all. As a physician, I have come to see it from many years of exploring it scientifically that play is a PUBLIC HEALTH NECESSITY from birth to death. But sadly, for the majority of adults, this sense of its loss as compared to when they were kids is pervasive, and play is not considered a hallmark of adulthood.

Perhaps a second look at our “neotenous” natures will remind us that we are designed by nature as a species-specific, ingrained, embedded instinct to play ALL OF OUR LIVES. Our lifelong brain plasticity is primed by playfulness. Yes, the preferred patterns of play change as we pass through the various stages of our lifecycle, but getting fully engaged from within our own intrinsically motivated selves is what play provides, and the benefits for individual health requires the presence of playfulness.

We each have our own “play personalities.”  Most of us, with a little prompting, can find the trigger for the spontaneous play we enjoyed in childhood. Embedded in our nature is this capacity to lighten up our adult lives. If you can get over feeling silly, and realize its ok, you are on the way to experiencing the lightness of being we all need. We are built to play, and built by play-for all of our lives.

So now I am an old man in his 80’s, and I play differently than when I was 10. But when two dogs on the local Carmel California beach begin a raucous romp and include me in their compelling play signaling, it somehow miraculously forces me to gleefully join in. I get caught up into it, and when I regain my wind, up comes that remembered state of chasing my friends on the playground in elementary school recess, and for a few ecstatic moments I am “lost” in this nature-instilled state of play. They chase me and I chase them. The play nature that is mine and part of being human gets kindled, and its payoffs are bounteous, as they are for all of us.

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