What is Play?

And why is it important for a meaningful life?


When we think about play, it isn't unusual for our minds to picture children. However, playing for life is a critical element that helps us deal with stress, and enhances the overall life experience. As children, we have time to play and imaginations that encourage it. We aren't concerned with the responsibilities that come with adult life, and our outlook is unbridled and far-reaching. We can be anything we want to be.

For many, as we transition to adulthood, it's the responsibilities that take over, and play becomes something we must leave behind. Oddly, as we have more control over our life path, the very thing we enjoy the most, the state of play, is what we choose to abandon. However for those that find the balance, life can be an amazing adventure where fun is not only a great part of life, but a catalyst for success in other areas.

Play is easy to recognize in children and animals but for adults, play is as unique to an individual as a fingerprint and could mean attending a football game, engaging in mud runs, swimming, rock climbing, hiking, or riding a bike. "What all play has in common," says psychiatrist Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play in Carmel Valley, Calif., "is that it offers a sense of engagement and pleasure, takes the player out of a sense of time and place, and the experience of doing it it more important than the outcome." Although some people may appear more playful than others, Brown says that we are all wired by evolution to play. To identify the kind of play that would be most meaningful, he suggests thinking back to the play we enjoyed as a child and trying to connect that to adult life. For example, a person who was very active as a child may enjoy recreational sports as an adult.

As creators and designers of recreation areas, we have the power to build catalysts to adult play, and create multigenerational spaces that attract people of all ages to engage in playful behavior, and to help people understand that when building a play and recreation space, age must not be a limiting factor in the overall design.

To read more of Dr. Brown's insight on play, visit here.

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