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:
- If you have a challenge on your hands, try to come at it a bit light-hearted.
- Try a bit of friendly, low-stakes competition.
- Flirt – or do anything that builds anticipation for a special day, a special night, a special surprise.
- Play a board game.
- Play a team sport.
- 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.
- Dance like no-one is wat- … you know how it goes.
- Ditto for singing.
- 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.