Recently, I was at a conference where the speaker started out by asking participants: “Are you fun to live with?” Her question was met with shock, then self-conscious laughter as she explained that if you do not value the importance of play and having fun in your life, you will most likely not be fun to live with. That sure got my attention!

Modern society tends to dismiss play for adults. Play is perceived as unproductive, a waste of time or a guilty indulgence. As adults, we’re supposed to be serious. And with responsibilities that pile on year by year, many of us may feel as if there’s simply no time to play.

Yet, play is just as pivotal for adults as it is for kids.

In English, the word “play” represents the opposite of “work.” But this definition is misleading. As psychiatrist Stuart Brown puts it: “The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.” Dr. Brown began studying the role of play in brain development, after discovering the impact of no play on the brain development of homicidal young men. He has found that play of any kind is essential to brain development.

Play is not just essential for kids; it is an important source of relaxation and stimulation for adults as well. Playing with your partner, friends, co-workers, pets, and children fuels your imagination, creativity, problem-solving abilities, and emotional well-being.

Simply put, play brings joy.

Adult play is a time to forget about responsibilities and get social in an unstructured, creative way. When you play, you focus on an actual experience, not on accomplishing a goal. There doesn’t need to be any point to the activity beyond having fun and enjoying yourself. Play could be simply goofing off with friends, sharing jokes with a coworker, throwing a Frisbee with your kids, playing fetch with a dog or going for a bike ride.

The benefits of play

By giving yourself permission to play with the joyful abandon of childhood, you can reap oodles of health benefits throughout life. Here are just a few:

Play refreshes you. When you take a break from mentally challenging tasks to play for a few minutes, you release built-up tension and allow your brain circuitry to find balance. These brief diversions refresh your mind and body, renew your focus and prevent burnout. It can also help you to view problems in new ways, so you can find optimal solutions.

Relieve stress. Play is fun and triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.

Improve brain function. Playing chess, completing puzzles, or pursuing other fun activities that challenge the brain can improve brain function and help prevent memory problems. The social interaction of playing with family and friends can also help ward off stress and depression.

Keep you feeling young and energetic. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Playing can boost your energy and vitality and even improve your resistance to disease.

Play is good for your heart. Physical play is a great way to trick yourself into becoming more active—a habit your heart will thank you for. Just walking the dog burns 230 calories per hour, and a leisurely bike ride burns over 420.

Stimulate your mind and boost creativity. You learn a new task better when it’s fun and you are in a relaxed and playful mood. Play also stimulates your imagination, helping you adapt and problem solve.

Heal emotional wounds. If an emotionally upset individual plays with a partner who feel more stable, it can help replace negative beliefs and behaviors with positive assumptions and actions.

Improve relationships and your connection to others. Sharing laughter and fun fosters empathy, compassion, trust and intimacy with others. Play doesn’t have to be a specific activity; it can also be a state of mind. Developing a playful nature can help you loosen up in stressful situations, break the ice with strangers, make new friends, and form new business relationships.

Develop and improve social skills. During childhood play, kids learn about verbal communication, body language, boundaries, cooperation, and teamwork. As adults, you continue to refine these skills through play and playful communication.

Improve cooperation with others. Play is a powerful catalyst for positive socialization. Through play, people learn how to work together, follow mutually agreed upon rules, and socialize in groups. Adults can use play to break down barriers and improve relationships with others.

Still thinking you are too busy to play? Given all these benefits, perhaps it is time to rephrase that old excuse and say that you are too busy NOT to play!

You don’t just deserve to play; your body, mind and emotions need the benefits of play.

To make sure that you find time to play more, just schedule it. Perhaps now would be a good time to schedule that much needed vacation. You will be better for doing it!

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©Copyright Ada Porat. For more information, visit This article may be freely distributed in whole or in part, provided there is no charge for it and this notice is attached.