• BLOG
  • Insights

The lost art of play and its health benefits

What images spring to mind when you think of the world ‘playful’? Perhaps, you imagine two children giggling while making faces at each other, or a mother and daughter pretending to soar through space to some magical, distant planet. But, did you ever consider how play may relate to health in adulthood?

René Proyer, a researcher of playfulness, describes it as framing or reframing “everyday situations in such a way that they experience them as entertaining, intellectually stimulating or personally interesting”. Breaking it down further, Proyer and colleagues found four types of playfulness:

  • Other-directed: people use play in social situations with others. High scorers use play to ease tension and cheer up others.
  • Light-hearted:  people use play as part of their spontaneous, carefree outlook. High scorers prefer improvisation rather than preparation.
  • Intellectual-Creative: people enjoy playing with ideas. High scorers like to consider problems and craft new solutions.
  • Whimsical: people enjoy breaking ranks. High scorers are amused by oddities and have a preference for extraordinary things or people.

In our younger years, this state is a default mode of existence.  Free from the burden of adult responsibilities, our playful side is easily accessible, but importantly, it’s also encouraged. Once we hit adulthood, however, we’re labelled ‘immature’ for expressing our inner playfulness, and a gulf grows between us and this aspect of our identity. It’s a slow process until one day, the connection to something that served us so well as a child is severed.

But research suggests we should be proud of and nurture our playfulness. Indeed, contrary to our assumptions, playfulness signals a preference for complexity, rather than simplicity, as well as unusual activities, objects, topics and individuals. 

It’s not surprising then that a playful attitude provides a different perspective of the world, thereby helping us cope in the face of adversity. So, when we’re dealt a rocky hand with rising household bills, intense client negotiations, or health issues, for example, play is a powerful antidote that plants joy in our day. 

In addition, Proyer et al.’s (2018) study found that Other-directed and Intellectual-Creative play are associated with greater mental health, and playfulness generally is associated with physical health. 

The best thing about play is that it doesn’t require any skills or preparation, whether it’s spinning your chair after you’ve read this, or sending a colleague a GIF! Once we reawaken that muscle, which has been dormant since childhood for many, we’ll tap into the many health benefits that play can bring.  

Date: 9th June 2023

Word count: 417