The Power of Play: Why Humans Need More Fun (and Less Screen Time)

power of playLike a lot of adults nowadays, the power of play is lost on me.

My idea of downtime is a couch, an engrossing memoir and something tasty to nibble on.

I can be playful, sure, but I don’t really play. I’m not into board games (much to Sporty’s dismay), I don’t see the point of puzzles and the allure of quiz night escapes me.

Okay, now even I don’t want to hang out with me.

While researching ways to cope with anxiety (I’m prone to being a worrywart) I came across this quote.

The opposite of play is not work — it is depression. —Dr. Stuart Brown


Why Play? (What’s the Big Deal?)

The founder and president of the National Institute For Play, Dr. Brown has spent a career studying play. According to him, the ability to play is critical not only to being happy, but also to sustaining social relationships and being a creative, innovative person…

Dr. Brown (aka my new fave guru) also claims that motion is perhaps the most basic form of play. He says, “One of the quickest ways to jumpstart play is to do something physical.”

I enjoy exercising (running, hiking, Pilates, yoga, cycling, etc.), but I’ve never equated it with play. Until now. 

Researching the power of play led me down a rather interesting internet rabbit hole. I learned that there’s actual science behind play. I found a company that believes families who play together stay together. And I discovered a new term: analogue social media.

All of this got me thinking (again) about how important it is for humans of all ages to get away from our devices and spend time interacting with one another in fun ways. We need to be less about productivity and more about recharging.

Counterintuitive, I know.

With technology being as accessible as it is, digital minimalism is more important than ever. I’m not suggesting we hop a time machine back to the eighties (let’s leave sleeping shoulder pads lie), but there’s definitely something to be said for indulging in a little old school analogue fun.

The Power of Play (There’s Science Behind It)

We know that playing is super beneficial for children. It’s an essential part of development, contributing to their cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being. 

But did you know that the power of play has been scientifically proven to benefit grownups as well? Unfortunately, humans seem to play less and less the older we get. 

As HelpGuide so rightly points out, “Just because we’re adults, that doesn’t mean we have to make life all about work.”

Some of the benefits of play for adults include lower stress levels, improved brain function and better relationships. Play has also been proven to stimulate the mind and boost activity. All things we can do with more of, right?

If you’re keen to learn more, Dr. Brown has put together a ton of research on play. It’s super interesting and well worth a rabbit hole dive.

Zupapa: Encouraging Families to Play Together

Play is also a great opportunity for parents and kids to fully engage with one another. Sadly, despite the obvious benefits derived from play for both young and old, time for free play is, for some children anyway, a lot less than it used to be.

With so much pressure on parents to raise future stars, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important for kids right now: spending more quality time together as a family. (Something these minimalist family bloggers get big time.)

We humans are glued to our devices. For adults, this is largely work-related, though we are inclined to scroll mindlessly for scrolling’s sake. Having access to technology from a much younger age, children are just as attached to their screens. Perhaps even more so.

Enter Zupapa. Since the early 2000s they’ve been encouraging families to play together, enjoy more quality time as a unit and most importantly, strengthen the familial bond.

How? By making a vast array of super fun equipment, from trampolines, dome climbers and tree swings to paddle boards, gymnastics bars, baseball nets and more.

Research has linked parent-child playtime to the development of specific skills such as creativity, working memory, gross motor skills, cognitive flexibility, regulation of emotions, and group leadership skills.

Zupapa is in the business of manufacturing recreational sports and leisure activities, but their bottom line is more nuanced than that.

What drives these guys to get up in the morning is knowing that they’re helping kids grow up healthy both physically and mentally. They’re also playing a role in getting adults be more active.

As bottom lines go, theirs is pretty awesome.

The power of play is highlighted in everything they sell. Along with the fun factor, their products are packed with health benefits for the entire family.

trampolining - the power of playTrampolining boosts fitness, improves co-ordination and posture and helps with motor skills. It can also give kids something positive to do to help them calm down after a stressful incident.

For adults, it’s a way to exercise without placing excess pressure on the joints and feet. Plus, it reduces fat and increases muscle to fat ratio. Which, let’s be honest, we all want more of.

zupapa paddle boardPaddle boards increase core strength and stamina and improve balance. Children —because they’re often too little to paddle board alone— can benefit from interacting in a group. They learn to work together as a team to avoid capsizing and they get to hone the art of negotation, since not everyone can paddle at once.

Because it’s an outdoors activity, paddle boarding has the added benefit of upping your vitamin D levels. With summer in full swing, it’s the perfect play activity for the whole family to enjoy.

Zupapa tree swingEven the humble tree swing, which looks to be an all fun activity, comes with health benefits.

Among other things, it fine-tunes motor skills and physical dexterity by helping children enhance the their grip strength, depth perception, and hand/eye coordination.

And when Dad’s the one doing the pushing, it can give him a bit of a workout as well. There’s also the one-on-one quality time to factor in, which never goes amiss in family dynamics.

What’s Your Play Personality?

Stuart Brown says that as we grow older our preferences for certain types of play become more distinct. Some things we really enjoy, others not so much. What he came to realise after years of observing people is that there are eight play personality types.

We’re all dominant in one of them, but like astrological signs or Ayurveda doshas, most of us, says Brown, are a mix of the eight categories.

  1. The Joker — makes people laugh, plays practical jokes.
  2. The Kinesthete — loves to move, dance, swim, play sports. << Me
  3. The Explorer — goes to new places, meets new people, seeks out new experiences (physically or mentally). << Sporty
  4. The Competitor — loves all forms of competition, has fun keeping score.
  5. The Director — enjoys planning and executing events and experiences, like throwing parties, organizing outings, and leading. << Also Sporty
  6. The Collector — loves the thrill of collecting, whether objects or experiences.
  7. The Artist/Creator — finds joy in making things, fixing things, decorating, working with his or her hands. << Also me
  8. The Storyteller — loves to use imagination to create and absorb stories, in novels, movies, plays, performances.

By identifying our play personality, it becomes easier to ensure we incorporate play into our everyday lives. 

When people know their core truths and live in accord with what I call their “play personality,” the result is always a life of incredible power and grace. —Stuart Brown

Join Analogue Social Media (No Device Needed)

You know how much I love Cal Newport (thanks to him I quit social media), so if he suggests joining analogue social media, well, I’m all in. I was all in anyway, so I guess I’m just more all in.

Enough with the fan girl stuff.

What exactly is analogue social media? More importantly, can we use it to further boost the power of play? 

Analog social media describes organizations, activities and traditions that require you to interact with interesting people and encounter interesting things in the real world. —Cal Newport

Since the focus is on encountering interesting people and things in the real world (i.e. not online), I’d suggest that taking your social life offline can only benefit your experience of play.

Cal offers these examples:

  • Join a local political group that meets regularly to organize on issues relevant to your local community, or serve as a volunteer on the election campaign of a local politician you know and like.
  • Join a social fitness group, like a running club, or local CrossFit box.
  • Become a museum or theater member and attend openings.
  • Go to at least one author talk per month at a local bookstore.
  • Create a book club, or poker group, or gaming club.
  • Join a committee at your church/temple/mosque.
  • Establish a weekly brunch or happy hour with your close friends.

These types of activities tend to provide significantly more value in your life than their digital counterparts. Indeed, tools like online social media are probably best understood as weak online simulacrums of the analog encounters that we know deep down we need to thrive as humans. —Cal Newport

While the above examples aren’t all play-specific activities, the fact that you’re away from your screen and engaging with people in real life is still an excellent start. More to the point, they have nothing to do with work and nowadays I think we can all do with a little less work.

Work doesn’t work without play. —Shonda Rhimes

If you’re interested, Cal has additional thoughts on analogue social media that are worth checking out. His conversation with Rich Roll on digital minimalism is also super illuminating.

I’m happy to say the power of play is no longer lost on me. What about you? Are you ready to give play a chance? 

I’ll leave you with one final thought on the subject of play. 

The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he’s always doing both. —James Michener / Lawrence Pearsall Jacks

According to Quote Investigator, this quote is wrongly attributed to James Michener and L.P. Jacks is in fact the author. Optimize guru Brian (where I came across the quote) credits Mr Michener, so I figured I’d play both sides to the middle and credit both. Ha!

Here’s optimizing the power of play.

Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash