Admit it. You”ve sent countless texts and e-mails this week organizing myriad playdates and other fun for your kids. What have you done for yourself in the fun department lately? It’s time to ask yourself the question Ms. Janet Jackson asked back in the 1980s: “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” Janet may have been talking to some deadbeat dude, but she was spot on when she sang, “Used to go to dinner almost every night, dancing ’til I thought I”d lose my breath.”
For you, maybe it’s dancing or maybe it’s something else. As parents, we devote so much time to making everyone else happy, we forget about the things that delight and uplift us. It’s time to put some play back into our lives and more smiles on our own faces.
The Importance of Adult Play
For years, researchers have been exploring the importance of play, and many agree that play is just as vital for adults as it is for children. “Play [for adults] can be seen as unproductive or energy wasted, but in reality, play (however you define it) is the key to connection, health, happiness and increased productivity,” according to Shayna Brody Whitehouse, a licensed psychologist in Boulder County.
Stuart Brown, a physician in California, heads up the National Institute for Play, a social research laboratory dedicated to uplifting relevance of play. Brown’s book, Play, notes that play is all around us and can take the form of art, cooking, reading, movies, music, flirting, comedy and daydreaming. The possibilities are endless—it only matters what makes you smile. So, how do we find our play again:
- Give yourself permission. Whitehouse advises that if you catch yourself claiming a lack of time, remind yourself that play will actually increase your work output and relationship satisfaction. “Our internal happiness and our ability to complete work-related tasks increases when we take time for ourselves or engage in an activity that means a lot to us,” Whitehouse says. Julie Smith, a licensed family and marriage therapist in Lafayette suggests that you ask yourself, “How can I play today?” each day. Smith says that this helps ‘shift your thoughts of play being frivolous in your schedule to being essential to your well being.”
- Rediscover what brings you joy. Smith advises thinking back to your favorite childhood activities and toys. Did you love solving puzzles? Get a Rubik’s Cube. Love to draw? Keep a sketchpad handy. “Play doesn’t have to and shouldn’t be another commitment that leaves you overwhelmed; it can be moments of happiness and fun woven into your day,” says Smith.Martine Conway, a mother of three and active volunteer in Boulder, embodies this notion perfectly as she tries to find time each week to set off on her bike and feel the wind in her hair. She notes that this means riding with no helmet, but it reminds her of how she felt when she learned to ride a bike as a child. Conway loves the sense of nostalgia and freedom it brings her.
- Try something new. Maybe there’s something that you”ve always wanted to try, but haven’t. Katie Parkinson, a working mom of two young children in Boulder who’s also in graduate school, knew she needed an outlet to keep herself centered and smiling. She had an interest in beekeeping, so she took a class, hired a mentor and now has a thriving hive in her backyard. “It completely removes me from my daily life and focuses the entirety of my attention on something that is dramatically different from most of my life,” Parkinson says. If bees aren’t your thing, consider Thai cooking, singing, hip-hop dance, playing the banjo, learning a language or writing poetry. Who cares if you’re not a natural, as long as you enjoy doing it
- Play with the kids. When we play with our children, “we enjoy together time, strengthen our bonds and allow a freedom of expression between family members. This expression adds to the feeling of unconditional love and connection,” says Whitehouse. Build a fort with your kids and watch movies and munch popcorn inside it. Join them in a game of tag. Pull out some paintbrushes and get messy. Basically, anything capricious will have an enriching impact on everyone.
- Look around you. Bust out that copy of Neruda’s poems you”ve had lying around since college and read it. Whether it’s his sultry reflections on love or his odes to things like artichokes and socks, there’s something in there to make you smile. Or, take another cue from Conway who sometimes hangs out in neighborhood coffee shops and talks with the regulars. “It’s spontaneous socializing, which I love. If no one is there, I sit and read for a while, blissfully alone and uninterrupted,” she says. And who couldn’t use more blissful alone and uninterrupted time.