Why Play is So Darn Important

On August 1, 1966, 25 year old, Charles Whitman murdered his wife and his mother. Later that day he opened fire at the University of Texas and in just 90 minutes killed 16 people and wounded more than 40. It was the largest mass murder to date in the US.  

Dr Stuart Brown was a young professor of psychiatry at Baylor University in Texas and overheard a live radio broadcast of gunshots occurring during the massacre. He was currently studying aggression and was told by his boss to begin researching why Whitman committed this heinous crime.

Brown and his team reconstructed Whitman’s life in great detail and over the course of his research, Brown became fascinated with the importance of play and the overwhelming connection of lack of play across several other young homicidal men.  They all had suppressed childhoods, histories of abuse or exposure to abuse or overbearing fathers or carers.

I remember playing as a kid. I loved playing. Most girls were baking cakes and muffin with their easy bake oven, where I was making bugs with my creepy crawler machine. I loved riding my bike and building forts out of blankets in the living room. I was a bit of a tomboy. There was never any reason for play, it just happened, because that’s what kids do.  

Frued regarded play as a way for children to work out their first cultural and psychological achievements and play helps kids express themselves.

Aristotle said, “Man is by nature a social animal … Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.”

Play is as important to our wellbeing as food, water and shelter. We’re social creatures that need connection to survive.

After Dr Brown’s research he later opened the National Institute of Play. He compares play to oxygen and says, “…it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.” This might seem surprising until you consider everything that constitutes play. Play is art, books, movies, music, comedy, flirting and daydreaming,

Play deficit can lead to minor or chronic depression and a lack of emotional flexibility. In our ever-changing world, flexibility is essential to emotional well-being. In Australia, 1 million people suffer from depression and 2.3 million from anxiety.

So, why is it that when we grow up, most of us lose our innate desire to play? Play is often perceived as petty or unproductive and with all the responsibilities we have personally and professionally there just isn’t’ any time for play.  But, there is now undeniable scientific research that supports the benefits of play in both children and adults.

What do you think are some of the benefits of play?

1.     It helps to relieve stress and releases endorphins, the body’s natural feel good hormones.

2.     It keeps you feeling young and energetic

3.     It supports relationships and connection

4.     It improves brain function

5.     It stimulates our mind and boosts our creativity

We don’t have to play every second of every day. A little bit of play goes a long way. So, how can we incorporate more play into our lives?

  • Change how you think about play
  • Say yes to things you wouldn’t often say yes to
  • Recall past memories of playing
  • Surround yourself with playful people
  • Play with kids
  • Go on holiday
  • Play board games
  • Watch films
  • Read books

Just remember, the mind is like a parachute, its works best when it’ open and when we play, our mind is open to infinite possibilities.