Emotional Competency

Explore the Logic of Passion

Enjoyable Activity

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.

DefinitionsPhuket Sunset Dance

  1. Pleasure without apparent purpose
  2. Activity for amusement or recreation

Related Terms

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 anyone. 


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 innovation.

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 trust is established through play signals.

Play is:

  • done for its own sake; it has no apparent purpose or goal.
  • voluntary; you choose to play simply because you want to. We play spontaneously.
  • 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 pretenses.
  • 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, play:

  • 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, anxious, hurt, distrustful, abusive, or distressed, you are not playing.


  • “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.” ~ Stuart Brown
  • “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, by  Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden

Why play is vital—no matter your age, May 2008 TED talk by Stuart Brown.

Five dangerous things for kids, March 2007 TED talk by Gever Tulley

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica 

The National Institute for PlayUnlocking the human potential through play at all stages of life.

Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life, by Todd Kashdan  

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