What are the psychological benefits of play in adulthood? Why do adults need to play despite their duties and responsibilities?
As the cliché says, all work and no play makes Jack and Jill dull adults. Since play is not directly connected to the success of both breadwinners and social or career climbers, it often takes a backseat. It is crucial to determine the role of play in today’s world of repetitive stressors and countless responsibilities. Because it is personal and is viewed differently by each individual, play is hard to define especially if not experienced. Since play is a liberated and deliberate activity done for its personal venture and satisfaction, the two words that best define play are voluntariness and amusement.
Play is something chosen to do by individuals when they have no obligations or responsibilities. In this thesis, play is viewed not only as an activity or action but also as a state of mind or mind set. The term play in this work is used to define not only the activities but also the mindset that it implies. It is important that adults engage in play. Over the course of a person’s life, as the person transitions from birth through childhood and into adulthood, the topic of play is ever present. It is a general fact that as a person ages the amount of time he or she spends playing decreases. This occurrence is described through the Eriksonian lens of human development.
Play is less emphasized in adolescence than in childhood. While the emphasis shifts away from play in young adulthood, play continues to provide opportunities for completion of the Eriksonian stage of developing intimacy (Provost, 1990). However, this does not detract from another general fact, that play is a biosocial necessity or a necessity throughout a person’s life (Blatner & Blatner, 1997). This reinforces the idea that engagement in play over the lifespan is an important part of human development.
In fact, play from early childhood shapes the social, cognitive, and motor experiences of a person and subsequently affects his or her development into adulthood. For example, group play sets children up for successful interactions in future academic or workplace environments. On the other hand, finger painting develops fine motor skills that will play a critical role in the development of innate interests that may guide a person through school and into a career suitable to his or her interests. However, as people age, their engagement in play decreases by replacing such experiences with work, stressful obligations, and other responsibilities that are not necessarily conducive to play (Provost, 1990).
It seems that as a person passes into young adulthood and onward, it is important that he or she continues to play. This is related to the need of adults for self-expression, relaxation, catharsis of frustrations and anxieties, release of surplus energy (Bischof, 1969) rather than merely developing the social, motor, and cognitive skills of adults. Expounding on myriad benefits of play in adulthood, Brown (2009) believes that it is an exaggeration to claim that play can save one’s life but play is the basis of all art, games, books, sports, movies, fashion, fun, and wonder, or the basis of the perceived civilization. As the vital essence of life, play is what makes life lively (Brown, 2009). Thus, people should continue to play into and through adulthood.
As the lack of play dulls a person, an overall lack of play dulls a society (Terr, 1999). To take play to the extreme, a murder’s childhood experiences, namely the lack of play, were correlated to an increased tendency toward violent behavior (Brown, 2009). Closer to the middle of the spectrum, play can free an adult from the pressures of everyday life: a hike, movie, or board game can improve someone’s attitude toward life for many days after the play activity. It is a question how many adults are privy to the benefits of play. While the definition of play varies from person to person, most experts have shied away from defining play. No matter how defined, play is a benefit to the process of human development based on conventional wisdom.
Bischof, Ledford (1969). Adult Psychology. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc.
Blatner, A, & Blatner, A (1997). The Art of Play. New York, NY: Brunner/Mazel
Brown, S. (2009) Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the
Soul. New York, NY: Penguin Group
Provost, J (1990). Work, Play, and Type. Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black
Terr, L . (1999). Beyond Love and Work. New York, NY: Touchstone