Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben
Today is Easter. Yay! I had planned to write a post about how my (almost) zero sugar Lent passed by and what I learned from it (you can read about why I started it here), but somehow I don’t really feel like going over those lessons right now. Perhpaps I will at a later time.
What I really want to write about is Play. Playing is something we grow up doing a lot of the time, and find we gradually do less as we get older. And yet, playing is essential to living a joyful and fulfilling life. So, first of all, what is it exactly?
To me, play is any activity that you do without any purpose other than to enjoy yourself. It can be the pretend play of children who dress up, or the crossword puzzle of an elderly person on Sunday morning. It can be the tickling between lovers (check!) or the creative collaboration between artists who just enjoy what they do. Play is open ended, not tied to any plans or schedules and, in and of itself, mostly useless.
Of course it isn’t exactly useless. In fact, there are numerous studies (here’s one on the importance of play in children and a book on the importance of play in adults) on the importance of play for both children and adults. Play is a way to release stress, work through life experiences, practice all kinds of skills and try out creative solutions. There are many good reasons to play, but of course, if you’re going to play because you’re trying to make yourself more creative, you might have a hard time being playful.
I was indoctrinated at a young age by the dogma of ‘usefulness‘. There should be a point to everything you do, whether it’s improving your house, your relationships or yourself. I inherited it from my mother, who in turn inherited it from her mother, and so on. From a certain age onwards, play was only deemed appropriate when you didn’t have anything useful left to do. Now, I’m a working mother nurturing two children on my own six days out of seven. I believe the time when there will be no more chores to be done lies somewhere in the year 2045 at the earliest. There are always useful things that can be done.
Play, for many adults, does not come as easily anymore. We’re afraid we might make a fool of ourselves, or that others will judge us for ‘wasting time’. We may believe that playing makes us less reliable, or look like we’re not hard workers. Perhaps we’ve even forgotten what it’s like to play, or have a hard time enjoying it.
A few years ago, I went through a bit of an Alan Watts-phase, and was inspired by his view on the fundamental playful nature of existence. You can watch one of his talks here, or see the video below. It encouraged me to start viewing play as an essential part of life, even form of life, again. I’ve been playing more and more again ever since, and leave the useful stuff for another time.
Today, we opened a package from the children’s grandparents who live in the U.S. In it was a beautiful puzzle, which I spent most of the day putting together. Not because I ‘needed to rest’, or because it would ‘enhance my problem-solving skills’ or ‘make me a better parent’. No, I did it just because I wanted to, and for absolutely no other reason whatsoever.