It’s no secret these days that childhood play is essential for brain development, but according to experts, games for adults are just as important (and no, we’re not talking about Candy Crush).
“Play is something done for its own sake,” Dr. Stuart Brown, head of the nonprofit National Institute for Play, tells NPR. “It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”
Playing helps children learn empathy, communication, and resilience, and adults would do well to tap back into these all-important qualities, too. Playing can also be a beneficial way to unplug and destress: University of Wisconsin health psychologist Shilagh Mirgain, PhD explains that play can help boost creativity, mood, and mental acumen.
“In play we find the freedom to color outside the lines of our life,” she says. “There is a learning that comes from this unstructured time. It allows us to tap into our imagination, try different things, and not be afraid to fail along the way.”
When you were young, it’s unlikely that anyone had to tell you to take the time to play – much less how to do it – most of us are out of practice, so here are a few ideas to get the proverbial (or literal!) ball rolling.
1. Carry a deck of cards.
Riddle me this: what takes up exactly the same amount of space as your smartphone, doesn’t need to be charged, and helps you speak more to your friends rather than less? A good old-fashioned deck of cards.
Get into the habit of throwing a deck of cards in your purse or pocket, and you’ll be amazed at how often you’ll pull it out for a quick game of go fish, gin rummy, or spit. Whether you’re soaking up some rays in the park, chilling at a coffeeshop, or waiting in a long line before a concert, you can easily turn moments of downtime into moments of fun.
2. Visit an adult playground.
Playgrounds were some of our favorite places to go as kids, and the fun doesn’t need to stop just because we’re all grown up. While it’s discouraged for lone adults to venture into playgrounds designed for kids (and for good reason), tons of adult-focused playgrounds have been popping up all over the world, from jungle gyms designed to help you get fit to obstacle courses, escape games, and laser tag venues specifically created for grown-ups.
3. Throw a game night with friends.
Instead of heading out to the bar the next time you want to meet up with friends, consider throwing a game night. Pick a game or two that work well with a crowd (Pictionary, Cards Against Humanity, Taboo, your favorite board game, or good old charades are all great options), set out some healthy snacks and some drinks, and let the games begin. You may be surprised at how much more social your evening becomes.
4. Join a sports team.
Playing and working out can go hand-in-hand if you join a recreational sports team – and you’d be surprised how many of them you’ll find, particularly in major cities. If you were a high school soccer or softball star, you may want to dust off your old uniform, but you could also give something new a go, like Gaelic football, powderpuff football, or roller derby. Not only will you get a fun workout in, but you’re likely to make some friends via your new hobby.
5. Play pretend.
If you’re out of practice, it may be tough to let yourself completely descend into a world governed by the rules of make-believe, so round up your kids, nieces, nephews, and cousins, and let them be your guide (they’ll love having a grown-up who wants to be in on the fun).
To make things easier, there are two things to remember: firstly (and this should go without saying), put away your phone. Being plugged in will only serve as a distraction and keep you from being fully part of the game. Secondly, don’t be afraid of props: a dress-up box, action figures, toy cars, even just a few funny hats can help you find the inspiration you need to really get in touch with your inner child.