Discover the Social Wealth of Play

Give and take in playful connection means everyone shares in the fun – adults included.

 

Connection with others is a basic human need. Whether it’s…

the invitation to what’s about to kick off,

collaboration backwards and forwards,

the jesting in friendly competition,

or bonding activities that stick in our memory,

… social play brings valuable human connection.

 

‘You can discover more about a person in one hour of play than you can in a year of conversation.’ – Meredith Sinclair

 

I was running around Sandgate roundabout trying to keep my eyes open despite the pelting rain, to pass the baton to Spiderman. That memory stuck with me. Believe it or not, this charity event with my workmates was full of merriment. Complete with grass skirts, wigs and other crazy accessories we’d rummaged, we formed a superhero team that splish-sploshed around a relay track. I cheered Wonder Woman with her rain-smudged make-up, and my team cheered me on as I brought the baton round the next leg, complete with dripping cloak. We were tired by the end, but it made us all the more heroic. It was a day of breaking barriers to experience a different kind of freedom together.

No normal clothes.

No normal work get-together.

No taking cover in the rain.

The companionship of being ridiculous together forged friendships through shared history-making that day. It remains a memory we all smile at.

 

We Need These Skills to Play Well With Others

For some of you reading this, the idea of silliness or doing something for no good reason can feel either immature or unproductive. Our beliefs on how important fun is, come from what was modelled to us as children or how our culture sees play. They can be legitimate joy-stoppers.

Some parents are more playful than others.

Some cultures are more recreational than others.

 

Caroline Maguire, a social skills expert, devised something called the ‘Play Better Plan’ for struggling kids. In it she asks parents to reflect on their own social skills. These are some of the things kids need to see —and, of course, we need to have seen in our own parents— to successfully play with others:

  • We manage our emotions rather than let them manage us
    When we’re having a ‘big emotion’ like disappointment, we don’t expect everyone in the room to change for us. We have strategies to cope without becoming overwhelmed.
  • We can read a room
    We can tell the prevailing emotional tone in a room, and work out how to
    participate in the activity. We can adjust our energy level, tone or expectations to match the setting.
  • We can meet people halfway
    We can reciprocate with a smile, a gesture or answers to questions, and we will make the effort to step in from the sidelines when that’s needed.
  • We understand social cues and respond to them
    It’s those unwritten rules that we learn via facial expressions and body language, while being aware of our own non-verbal messages. We pay attention to these to help us ‘tune in’ to someone else’s thoughts.
  • We can see things through someone else’s eyes
    We can understand someone else’s perspective, which helps us understand their reactions to what we do and say.

Image credit: Egor Myznik from Unsplash

  • We can be flexible and adapt
    We understand that keeping a happy friendship or group is sometimes more important than being right. We accept we may not always be right, and that sometimes it’s appropriate to compromise or not to argue.
  • We can change our communication style based on our audience.
    We’ll interact differently with a five-year-old than we will with a good friend our own age. We’ll filter private and public information, and adjust what we talk about based on the interests of those around us.

If any of these social skills are challenging, playfulness may not come as easily to you. But the upside is that play, even as a grownup, is a powerful way to strengthen these skills and strengthen relationships in the process.

 

Want to build connection with others? Play will help you do that.

Whether it’s with your children, your spouse, your friends or your workmates – a bit of fun together goes a long way in bridging relationship gaps or simply forming better bonds.

 

Image credit: Vidar Nordli-Mathisen from Unsplash

  • Play invites connection
    There’s nothing like a good laugh among strangers to help break the ice in introductions. Have you noticed how the person who can make people laugh draws others in?When there’s something joyful in the midst of us, it can serve as a connection point. Like that pack of cards dealt out at the work lunch table, where Newbie is automatically included into the friendly banter.
  • Play grows your ability to empathise
    Whether it’s beach volleyball or Monopoly or a girl’s night out, having fun together means being alert to each others’ reactions.- Judging something from another’s perspective. Will they buy that property on this turn or the next?
    – Taking turns or cooperating: “Your ball!”
    – Choosing the right communication: the topics we select with our girlfriend who needs cheering up.When we’re playing well together, we’re building relationships by seeing situations through each others’ eyes.
  • Play lets you gently test relationships
    In play it’s okay to have both winners and losers. Differences can be sorted out without it all turning nasty, because it’s not about the outcome, it’s about enjoying something together. An atmosphere filled with good humour is a safe setting to explore relationship boundaries.How much teasing can that person take?
    How much physical touch is okay?
    How relaxed can I be with this group?If anyone oversteps a boundary during play, then “Sorry, I was only playing,” provides a graceful exit.

 

21 Playful Ways to Build Your Relationships

 

Invite Fun as a VIP

 

With your family:

  • Make a family playlist together of fun things everyone would like to do. Include big adventures and small things that are easy and inexpensive. Doesn’t matter if you don’t get through the list, it’s just fun to have ideas that keep you stimulated.
  • Go on adventures together. Geocaching is a free and fun way to get out and about discovering and giving away ‘treasures’. Create scavenger hunts in your backyard or neighbourhood.
  • Go on a picnic with a difference. With younger kids, have a teddy bears’ picnic. For older kids, give them a REAL camera with lenses and shutters, and get them to take nature shots.

With your friends:

Image credit: NeONBRAND

  • Organise sport – volleyball, ice-skating, table tennis, cricket, badminton. I’ve recently discovered the inclusive fun of disc golf – like putt-putt, but with frisbees.
  • Have a retro-games night – play all the games your grandparents would have played, and ensure it’s a ‘devices off’ night. Mahjong, gin rummy, backgammon, Cribbage, Bingo. And you’re away.

With your partner:

  • Surprise them with a picnic dinner in the park or by the sea. Or you could both go on an organised mystery picnic.
  • Hire a personal chef for a few hours and have them teach you how to create a favourite dish. Then have a date night in when the chef leaves.

 

Break the Rules

 

With your family:

  • Who says you can’t beat your kids at their own games? Surprise them by getting good at their favourite video games, have nerf gun wars. Alternately do craft or baking or dress-up with them, or go bike-riding with them.
  • Restaurants can happen at home. Create a mock restaurant where the kids do the meal and serve it to the grownups.

 

With your friends:

  • Go somewhere the scout group would go – kayaking or rock climbing or archery or whitewater rafting. Without kids.
  • Go on all the rides at a theme park – without kids. Release your inner mojo at a trampoline park, let off steam at a go-cart track, scream down the slides of an inflatable park on water.
  • Don’t just watch a movie together. Dress up for themed movie nights based on a chosen movie – sleeping bags and firepit for campout movies, bling for glitz and glamour movies, or a colour based on the movie.

With your partner:

  • Get scared together. Do the Storey Bridge tour or go to the top of the highest building. Venture into a haunted house. Watch a scary movie.
  • You know that thing you’ve always wanted your partner to do with you but you’re not sure they’ll agree? Surprise each other on secret goofball dates.
  • Break your mould and do something utterly different together – a Segway tour, sing in a pub choir, go on an overnight hike, or try line dancing.

 

Don’t Overthink It

With your family:

  • Pick out some mystery items at the supermarket and get creative together on what to do with them.
  • Your kids love it when you can act their age. Have a full conversation with them in an alien language or go ape with them in the local playground.

Image credit: Rudy Anderson from Pixabay

With your friends:

  • Do something spontaneous. Call friends up on a whim (Ironically, it might help if you prep your friends for a spontaneous adventure ‘sometime’). Let friends in the group take turns introducing the group to ‘my favourite thing’.

 

With your partner:

  • Play in the dirt. An outside project that requires getting sweaty, dirty and tangled up together may require a hot shower afterwards.
  • Cook something together that you can’t even pronounce. Here’s an easy cocktail to get you going: Caipirinha with Cahaca https://www.thespruceeats.com/caipirinha-recipe-759290
  • Paint a huge canvas together.

 

Over to You

What relationships would you like to build or strengthen?

What fun could you use to build that connection?

You could be that fun person who makes friends and draws others in – if you get good at play. Consider this your permission to play.

And please tell me about it.

  • What group activities bring you the most joy?
  • What new playful activity are you going to try?
  • Do you have a photo or idea to share?

 

Inspiring References:

How Play Lights up Your Brain

 

Give yourself a break from performance pressures by adopting a playful mindset. Let fun sharpen your mind and memory.

 

Image by Clay Banks from Unsplash

As kids we told stories, created games, and went on adventures in our backyards – just for the fun of it. Our brains lit up and grew as we played. As adults, the need to achieve in so many areas of life mean many of us have forgotten how to do something ‘just for the fun of it’. Remembering our playful selves not only activates our creative brain, but helps us respond more flexibly and work smarter, leaving more time for… fun.

 

 

Artist: Allison Adams. See more of her Groundbreaking Girls collection here.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg had to be a very serious person, right? As the first woman to become an associate justice of the US Supreme Court she was feisty. When it came to justice, according to one of her clerks, she was pretty scary. Yet, with her recent passing, her life is warmly remembered for her care, wisdom and advocacy. She says play helped her.

She said she owes her success in law school to her daughter, Jane. After going to a full day of classes, she would return home to her 14-month-old daughter just as the nanny left at 4pm. This was Ruth’s play time, until Jane fell asleep. It was their pleasure time together. After this break, Ruth could continue with the books again.

So I felt each part of my life gave me respite from the other. And I wasn’t so overwhelmed thinking that my whole world was the law school. I think I had a better balance, better sense of proportions of what matters.

 

 

A Time to Remember

When you think about how much of your day as a grown-up is taken up with To Do lists, goals and tasks, it comes as no surprise that in our performance-based culture we’re losing the knack for creating and imagining. Things like:

Exploring a pathway without knowing where it’s going.

Wondering about something as we turn it over in our hands.

Daydreaming about our dreams coming true.

 

Image by Sarah Richter from Pixabay

Carl Jung, the founder of analytic psychology, once looked for a way to retrieve his childhood creativity. He said of himself,
The small boy is still around, and possesses a creative life which I lack. But how can I make my way to it?” His solution was to go back to the play activities he’d enjoyed as a child.

Modern-day play expert, Dr Stuart Brown, says the same thing. He encourages adults to go back as far as we can to our clearest, most joyful, playful image that we have, and build from the emotion of that. He speaks of lives transformed by unlocking passions and inner drives from these happy memories.

 

So How Will Play Sharpen Up Your Brain?

Rediscovering play not only reintroduces a sense of wonder and revelry into our lives—it’s significantly good for our brains too.

 

  • Play Activates Your Brain All Over

By its nature, play promotes curiosity and exploration. Very often it involves doing something with your hands. As soon as your hands reach out and begin manipulating something in 3D, the cerebellum is fired up, which sends impulses to your frontal lobe, where your executive skillskick in. When this happens, you’re developing your working memory.

 

Image by Dominik Scythe from Unsplash

The simple acts of mixing cookie dough, tinkering inside the bonnet of a car, or playing the piano are physiologically tuning up your brain. The neurological processes involved are making you a better problem solver.

 

  • If it was Fun, You’re More Likely to Remember It

Adult learning is more likely to stick when it’s something enjoyable, like trying out a new hobby or exploring a new place.

When last did you fun-learn? A time you

laughed

moved

heard stories or

did ‘hands on’ stuff

… on a course or in a meeting or at training. Compare how much you remember of that to how much you remember of the last news bulletin you watched. The playfulness in fun-learning stimulates your contextual memory, which is your recall of an event.

  • Play Triggers Creativity and Innovation

Dr Brown advises that rather than slotting play appointments into our schedules, we should aim for a state of play to be infused into all that we do – work, home, family, wherever. Engaging in play through our bodies, through objects, and with other people will enrich our lives by changing the way we think.

Workplaces are catching onto this. Neuroscience now backs the advantages of playfulness for increasing productivity and innovation. More employees are being allowed out to play during a working day. Whether a snatch of table tennis, a group relaxation session or an afternoon social, playful employees are less likely to become overwhelmed by work. Studies find playful workers to be happier, more satisfied at work and more likely to come to work.

 

11 Playful Ways to Stimulate Your Synapses

 

Invite Fun as a VIP

 

Image by SplitShire on Pixabay

  • Write a limerick about someone you know and send it to them.
  • Print a heap of your favourite phone photos and get family members or housemates to do the same. Pile the pics in a bowl on a coffee table for people to pull out at random. Each will have a story to tell.
  • Try a new hobby. Learn to play your favourite song on a guitar or knit your first scarf.
  • Eat a fruit or vegetable that you’ve never tried before.

 

Break the rules

  • Who says you have to speak normally? Next time you’re at a restaurant only talk with an accent to the wait staff.
  • Dream crazy dreams. Pretend you have no limitations. Create an inspiration board full of pictures and words portraying your heart’s greatest desires, and display it somewhere you’ll see it often. You never know…
  • Who said you’re not dance video material? Make a dance video with a friend to your favourite tune and roll on the floor laughing as you watch it. This father and daughter get the vibe.

Don’t Overthink It

  • Play along with a child, completely following their lead. Don’t make any suggestions, just do exactly what they do or what you’re told. If they seem stuck on what to do with you, ask a question, starting with “I’m wondering …?” And ending with, “What do you think?”
    See how Tom Hanks answers kids’ questions, with a good dose of ‘tomfoolery’.
  • Up-cycle something. Transform a favourite old T-shirt into a bag, or paint a piece of jewellery. Explore thrift stores, garage sales or your own cupboards for something that needs a new lease on life. Imagine, create and play. Add things, chop things, twist, paint or glue. Doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work out – find glee in the process. Check out these up-cycled clothes for ideas.
  • Take a bus or train to a town or city you’ve never visited. Just go to the station and get on the next one that pulls in. See if you can find the most fun thing to do in that place.
    OR If you’re not quite that brave, check your local ‘What’s On’ and pick an activity to attend.
  • You know that thing you’ve always wanted to do, but never been brave enough to do? Rollercoaster rides, fly in a wind tunnel, touch a snake or paint with oils, for example. Grab some people you trust, let your hair down and gambol in new experiences.

 

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Over to You

You now have a neuroscientific excuse to play. It’s good for your brain.

Take a trip down memory lane to remember your favourite play activities

Take a play break and light up your brain.

Australians, we have a long weekend to take our brains for a play spin.

Let’s play!

And please tell me about it.

  • What’s your earliest happy childhood play memory?
  • How do you play in your workplace?
  • Do you have a photo or idea to share?

Inspirational References:

How Your Home Can Become a Fun Place.

 

Say yes to pops of playfulness, starting where you live.

 

Imagine you could enter your home and have it embrace you with joy regardless of the day you’re having. Playfulness begins when you’re relaxed, secure and can just be yourself. When your home is a place of gleeful inspirations, you’ve made a good start in relearning the wonder of play. And it’s more important than you might think— it’s essential to your wellbeing. Read on to start giving yourself permission to play.

 

We all played as kids, so we’ve got the know-how. Even if, as adults, we’ve gotten a little rusty, the need to play is wired into our brains and we never outgrow it. It’s a built-in safeguard to ensure life never gets too deadly serious, because that’s… well—deadly. Serious. Responsibility, with it’s ever-increasing importance as we grow up, can tend to boss around our spontaneous, freely expressive, carefree selves.

Maybe that’s where your requests for this topic came from, my curious friends? Maybe it’s because you want more fun in your life? You want to reconnect with your inner child who knows just how to spin around with dizzying delight, be enthralled by new discoveries and frolic with anyone who cares to do so for no good reason. Good news! Anyone can power up their PLAY-ability again with a few simple strategies. This blog series will show you how.

So let’s begin, shall we?

The first step is easy. It starts in the comfort of your own home. Why? Here are 3 good reasons:

  1. Home is a sanctuary.
    To play with joyful abandon, we need to feel safe. The merriment inside us will only peek out when there’s trust and acceptance in the atmosphere. Where better than our home to find this space?
  2. Home is where we can be our most authentic self with others. 
    When we’re relaxed, the setting is ready for shared bursts of playfulness with others in the house whether family or housemates. With humour in the house, deeper connections are made.
  3. Home is a place of expression.
    You know what it’s like. That moment when you walk into someone’s house and instantly have a fuller picture of who they are. Maybe you’re amazed by what takes pride of place on their cabinet, or you can just feel the atmosphere of calm or chaos or sport or family.
    Our personalities leak out in our home. When we dot the happy parts of ourselves around our homes, playfulness is not far behind.

 

Now, for those of you with perfectionist qualities, with a place for everything and everything in its place, a gentle word. The need for orderliness could wrestle your fun-seeking longings. If that’s you, you might need to make a few little concessions as the cogs of rediscovering playfulness are oiled, because play, by nature, is unpredictable and creativity may just get a little messy.

 

What are the most playful spots or things around your house?


My husband and I are not great decor or maintenance people, so things in our house can become a little tired. But there is one spot that continues to bring me joy and is often a conversation piece. It’s a wall with three paintings. We painted this wall a textured charcoal, to showcase three bold paintings in brushstrokes of red, yellow, blue and green. They pop on that wall. But more than that, they bring back memories of our adventures in Hong Kong—of perusing a market of strange delectables, of buying our very first real paintings from the artist herself, and of going for a swim in the warm South China Sea.

‘To miss out on play is to miss the harvest of a well-lived life,’ says play author, Dr Stuart Brown. Professors Sergio and Vivien Pellis take the neuroscience perspective and suggest that play ‘may be a process underlying lives worth living’.

 

If play gets this much credit, then surely it deserves to be given more room in our lives?

 

9 Easy Ways to Play at Home

Invite Fun as a VIP 

 

Break the Rules

  • Instead of a table cloth, spread butcher paper on the dining table and draw or write away.  Write questions at each person’s place setting, or make up a collaborative silly poem, or collect the best things about every day over a week, or rubber stamp it all over. Keep it as a work of art and use it for your next dinner party.
  • Who said you can’t draw on walls? Doodle on the bath tiles with bath crayons during a bubble bath. Use liquid chalk to write inspirational quotes on the window above the kitchen sink or leave a joke on the mirror.
  • Wall colour doesn’t have to come from expensive art pieces. Add fun wall stickers to a dull wall to liven it up. Here are a few fun ones: 
    – Birds on wires
    – 80s party confetti
    – Tall daisies

  • Why sleep inside? Many of you have already done this during pandemic lockdowns – have a campout in the back yard, complete with fire pit and s’mores.

 

Don’t Overthink It

  • Put together a dance playlist of your favourites. Whether you’re at foot-tapping level, or up to wiggling and jiggling, or right up there in full booty-shaking, hands-in-the-air dancing, just enjoy music for the sake of it. Whether on your own or with others around, have a bit of fun while washing the dishes or folding the laundry. Or just any time.
  • You know how card games tend to live in cupboards, only to make an occasional entrance? How about leaving a few out around the house, for when the whim hits. You might find it connecting people at unexpected times.

 

The good news is that it’s not hard to make your house a PLAYhouse.

Is your home a safe place? You’re already halfway there. Can you think of 5 things in your house that spark joy? You’re already striding forward.

Can’t think of 5 things? Don’t worry. Start building a list or just be on the lookout from now for things that make you bubble.

From now on, give yourself permission to play… in your home.

Go on! Escape your functional mind for a moment and have some fun.

 

And please tell me about it.

  • What are your favourite places or pieces in your house?
  • What ideas do you want to try?
  • Do you have an idea or a photo to share?

 

Inspirational References: 

  • I love this book by Meredith Sinclair: Well-Played: The Ultimate Guide to Awakening Your Family’s Playful Spirit. A number of my ideas for these blogs have come from her insights.
  • Dr Stuart Brown’s quote is from his book, ‘Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.’
  • The Pellis & Pellis quote is from their book, ‘The Playful Brain: Venturing to the Limits of Neuroscience.’