Skipping, jumping, dancing, singing, fiddling, exploring, imagining, pretending,
fantasizing, joking, doodling, visiting, and just
goofing off. This is fun, this is play, this is OK.
- Pleasure without apparent purpose
- Activity for amusement or recreation
Synonyms for play include: caper, dalliance, delight, diversion, foolery,
frolic, fun, gambol, game, gaming, happiness, humor, jest, joking, lark, match,
pastime, pleasure, prank, recreation, relaxation, romp, sport, sportiveness, and
teasing. As we use it here it does not include any activities or behaviors that harm or exploit
Although it appears purposeless, play has important long-term benefits. Play
promotes brain development, creative thinking, and problem solving. Play
is an important catalyst for learning; it prepares us to deal effectively with
new or unexpected situations. Experimenting with socialization as we play
teaches us the rules and limits of acceptable and unacceptable social behavior
through a wide variety of experiences in a relatively safe environment. Play
increases emotional competency; it allows us to simulate a broad range of new
experiences easily and safely as we learn from them quickly. Play helps us learn
how the world works and how we can interact with it as we test the system in a
variety of ways. Through play we learn the difference between acceptable and
unacceptable risk taking. The rapid trial and error of play increases our creativity and
Play can suspend or displace predatory behavior and
overcome even a substantial differential in power. Signals of playful intent are
widely recognized. Stuart Brown states that the basis of human
established through play signals.
- done for its own sake; it has no apparent purpose or goal.
- voluntary; you choose to play simply because you want to. We play
- inherently attractive; play is its own reward, you are
intrinsically motivated to play
simply because it is fun, exciting, and not boring.
- mentally engaging; attention is totally focused on the play activity.
This has two rather pleasant consequences. You become unaware of time passing; you are set free from time and enjoy the
experience of flow. Also you are not self-conscious; you become unaware of yourself and are free from any
- spontaneous and improvisational; no preparation or planning is
needed. Chance ideas, objects, or events, are readily incorporated. Play is
exploration and discovery.
- alluring and seductive; it is something we want to continue doing.
Play often incorporates anticipation, curiosity, surprise, pleasure, and a
new understanding that can lead to a new strength and a new level of play.
Play is OK
Play can provide many benefits, even within our work lives. For example,
- provides a sense of competence, connection, and purpose that increases
our involvement, commitment to, and enjoyment of our work. Incorporating a
sense of play into our work provides
intrinsic motivation for the work.
- increases our creativity as we play with crazy new ideas, follow
hunches, and indulge fantasies,
- increases skills mastery through experimentation, exploration,
serendipity, involvement, attention, persistence, and practice.
- is important for strengthening our personal relationships, and
sustaining emotional intimacy.
Allow yourself the pure joy of play without feeling frivolous, embarrassed,
or superficial. Integrate play into work so that you enjoy your work and
increase your overall effectiveness.
The Boundaries of Play
If we are careless or cruel play can sometimes degenerate into destructive activities:
- if the allure of play, video games, or gambling for example becomes
obsessive or addictive it is no longer play.
- If the activity becomes sadistic or cruel, it is not play.
- If someone is domineering, aggressive, or violent they are not playing.
People sincerely care about the others they are playing with. Not all
purposeless activities are play. Play is not:
- Harmful to anyone or anything,
- Avoiding, neglecting, or escaping your responsibilities,
- Taken so seriously that the fun disappears,
- A substitute for facing the demands of the real world.
Play is fun for all. If you are fearful,
distrustful, abusive, or distressed, you are not
- “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play that in a year
of conversation.” ~ Plato
- “Boys need to learn about risk.” ~ Conn Iggulden
- “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” ~ Aristotle
- “The opposite of play is not work, it is depression.” ~
- “If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with
anything original.” ~ Ken Robinson
- “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new
discoveries is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That's funny...’” ~ Isaac Asimov
- “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that
you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” ~ Todd Kashdan
- “Play is curiosity and joy in a blender.” ~ Todd Kashdan
Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul,
by Stuart Brown, M.D. and Christopher Vaughan
The Dangerous Book for Boys,
Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden
Why play is vital—no matter your age, May 2008 TED talk by
Five dangerous things for kids, March 2007 TED talk by Gever
The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything,
by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica
The National Institute
the human potential through play at all stages of life.
Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life,
by Todd Kashdan