Wanna Play? How to Be Playful – And Why It’s SO Good For You

Wanna Play? How to Be Playful. And Why It's SO Good For You

We humans are meant to play – for so many reasons. Playfulness has been associated with academic success, a greater capacity to cope with stress, innovative performance at work, and well-being – and that’s all backed by research. (Don’t you love it when science backs up what we already kind of know!) The problem is that too often we forget how to be playful. 

Recent research has added to the list of playful positives, finding that playfulness is one of the ‘must-haves’ that men and women look for when it comes to looking for a long term partner. Friendliness, intelligence and a sense of humour are also up there. 

When it comes to long term relationships, those who are laid-back, creative and easy to have fun with are more likely to set our hearts racing – or beating – or whatever it is that excited hearts do best. 

Anthropologist Garry Chick, from Pennsylvania State University has explained playfulness in an evolutionary context.  He suggests that for women, it represents low aggression and means that a potential mate would be less likely to hurt their offspring. For men, playfulness in a woman may signal her vitality and fertility. (No mention of what happens to that loved up feeling when one wipes the floor with the other at a ‘playful’ game of Scrabble – or whatever.)

Research from Zurich University found that out of a list of 16 characteristics that people tend to look for in a potential mate, women and men largely agreed on the order of importance. There were a few differences though. Women rated sense of humor higher than men did. For men, an exciting personality was more important.

For both men and women, playfulness was more important than the partner having a degree, being religious, or having good genes.

The good news is that anyone can learn to be more playful. The potential for fun is in all of us. Sometimes it might be gasping for breath beneath a pile of washing, work, stress or exhaustion – but it’s there.

So how do we get playful? Here are a few ideas:

  1. If you have a challenge on your hands, try to come at it a bit light-hearted.
  2. Try a bit of friendly, low-stakes competition.
  3. Flirt – or do anything that builds anticipation for a special day, a special night, a special surprise.
  4. Play a board game.
  5. Play a team sport.
  6. You know the things you did when you were younger to have fun? Yeah. Do them. That might be kicking a ball, painting, flying a kite, throwing on a pair of roller skates (although remember your body is a bit different to the one you were happy to bum-plant when you were 5), water fights – anything.
  7. Dance like no-one is wat- … you know how it goes.
  8. Ditto for singing.
  9. Cooking (for the fun of it, not because it’s 6pm and there are hungry mouths to feed).

Part of growing up well means not growing up completely. It means finding time to enjoy some things for the sake of having fun. Nothing that nurtures us, nourishes us, makes us laugh, lighten or connect will ever be a waste of our time. Rather, it’s quite possible one of the best uses of it.

6 Comments

Turenne

Through play, we grow… Through play, is the best way we genuinely integrate and learn positively. Play is just the most pleasant and natural way of doing, being and evolving… How do we ever come to forget? Don’t we go backwards when we don’t play anymore? Don’t we go away from our essence… our divine essence?

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Anita Cleare

I love these tips, thank you. I am absolutely rubbish at playing with my children – I find it so hard to let go of the rational and give in to imagination (No, that’s a dinosaur, it can’t go in the farm!!). But dancing…. now that’s something I am great at committing to 100%!

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Patricia Totterer

Play is the best self help! People that play seldom need therapy.
Play can accompany work, sadness, and many other challenging situations. It can be the remedy for those.
I agree with dancing! And singing….herr in the car with windows closed as I drive ..and nobody can hear 🙂

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Hey Sigmund

Hi Patricia. Play is amazing – we just have to remind ourselves how important it is sometimes. I know what you mean by singing in the car with the windows up – such great therapy isn’t it!

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One of our rituals was in the week before Christmas, we’d go shopping and each kiddo would choose a keepsake decoration for the tree. This would forever be their decoration. To make sure we’d remember who owned what (a year is a long time!) I wrote their name and year on the box. The idea is that when they leave home, they’ll have a collection of special decorations for their own tree, plump with throwbacks (‘Oh I remember when we bought this!).

Then of course there was Christmas morning. Santa would leave a note on the table and bootprints on the front path, which smelled remarkably like talcum powder. So magical the way the snow was under the boot and never melted, even in an Australian summer! But that’s the magic of Christmas, right?!

We often put so much pressure on ourselves to make Christmas magical. Rituals can make this easier. They get the special memories, you get to make the ‘magic’ without having to come up with something new and different each year.

It’s very likely that there will already be Christmas rituals happening in your family, even if you don’t realise it. Ask them what they remember most, or what they loved most about last Christmas, aside from the presents.

They might surprise you with things you’d completely forgotten about, or which at the time didn’t seem to be a biggie. It can be the simplest things. Maybe they loved the way they were allowed to have ice-cream with pancakes at breakfast last Christmas. (Ice-cream at breakfast?! Told you Christmas was magical!!). 

If it’s what they remember, and if it lights them up, let it become a ‘thing’. Maybe they loved the magic ‘neverending carrot’ sprinkles you put on the scrawny carrot you found in the vege drawer (remembering reindeer groceries can be so hard sometimes!)

You’d be surprised what they find special. It doesn’t have to be big to feel magical.

What are your Christmas rituals? Let’s share ideas in the comments.♥️
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It can feel as though the only way to strengthen them against their anxiety is to make sure they have nothing to worry about, but when their worries are real this might not happen quickly. 

Instead, we need to focus on helping them know that even though those worries are there, they will be okay. ‘Not worrying’ isn’t the antidote to anxiety, trust is. This will start with trust in you and your belief that they will be okay, and trust in your reaction if things don’t go to plan. Eventually, as they grow this will expand into trust in themselves and their own capacity to find their way through challenges to a place of hope and strength. 
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Strong steady breathing will reverse the fight or flight physiology that causes nausea, butterflies, or sick or sore tummies during anxiety. BUT telling an anxious brain to take a strong steady breath will potentially make anxiety worse unless strong steady breathing feels familiar. Practising during calm times will make it familiar. 

During anxiety we’re dealing with their amygdala, and it wants short shallow breathing to conserve oxygen. It doesn’t want strong steady breathing and will work hard to resist this. 

An anxious brain is a busy brain and it will be less able to do anything unfamiliar. A few minutes of strong steady breathing each day will set up a strong neural pathway to make strong breathing more automatic and accessible during anxiety. 

In the meantime though, you can do it for them. This is the magic of co-regulation. When you do strong steady breathing during their anxiety, it will calm your nervous system which will eventually calm theirs. You will catch their anxiety, and this will feed into their anxiety. Your strong steady breathing is the circuit breaker. They will catch your anxiety, but they will also catch your calm. Don’t worry if this takes a few minutes (and maybe a few more after that). Anxious brains are strong, powerful, beautiful brains working hard to protect. Breathe and be with. This will open the way for that distressed young nervous system to find its way home. And you don’t need to do more than that.♥️
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Needs and behaviour can get tangled up and treated as one. When you can, separate the need from the behaviour. Give voice to the need - let it find a way to breathe - and redirect the behaviour. 

The need might always be clear, especially if it’s being smothered by angry shouting words. If we stifle the behaviour without acknowledging the need, the need stays hungry. Help usher it into the light by making it clear that you’re ready to receive it. Then wait. Wait for the big behaviour to ease, for bodies to calm, and angry voices to soften - but keep the way to you open. ‘You’re a great kid and I know you know that behaviour wasn’t okay. Talk to me about what’s happening for you.’

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