I just got home from a weeklong vacation on the Oregon coast with my family. It’s an amazing week in many ways – we all get to be together, we are away from home and work and all the distractions and stresses that can accompany day to day life, we are surrounded by some spectacular scenery, and we eat delicious food allll day long.
And probably the best thing about this vacation? We basically spend the entire week playing at the beach. I’m not exaggerating. Each day we drive to one of our favorite beaches, and the whole clan of us loads up like pack mules (think backpacks, tote bags, this and that slung over shoulders, surfboards rested on heads, etc). It’s quite the sight (and yes we get some strange looks). If you didn’t know any better, it would look like we were planning on moving in.
For the next several hours, we simply play and enjoy ourselves. We toss a frisbee for a while, then transition to a game of Kubb (if you like games and don’t know this one – look it up, it’s a great one). We finally get around to putting on our wetsuits and heading out to play in the waves, boogie boarding, surfing, and paddle boarding. After getting out of the water, we’ll dry off by playing another fun beach game (Slammo is this year’s new family favorite) before packing up and hauling back to the car. And this isn’t even taking into account the after-dinner games of things like Jungle Speed or cards or a charades-type game we call Salad Bowl.
Suffice it to say that we Clarks know how to play, and how to play hard.
Every year, I have the most amazing time on this trip. I am full of energy, have a smile on my face, and fall into bed each night worn out but oh so fulfilled.
I believe a large part of why this trip feels so fulfilling each year is that we all get the chance to just play and have fun and be ridiculous together.
I always leave each year wondering, "Why don't we play like this more often?"
Why don’t we play anymore?
When we were kids, if we weren’t eating or sleeping, our whole world revolved around playing. Whether it was playing with blocks or playing hide-and-seek, play was pretty endless at that time in our lives. And there was no particular reason or desired outcome other than to be happy. To have fun. But the older we get, the less we think about just playing for the sake of playing.
As adults, we tend to get serious about things. Our jobs, our families, and even our hobbies and social life. We become consumed with our daily life and all the logistics that come along with it, and we start to forget about one of the simplest things that make us happy – having fun. In fact, most of us forget what it feels like to just have fun, to simply play.
And yes, I get that those other things – paying the bills, getting healthy meals on the table for your family, keeping the house clean, going on a run, whatever the “musts” are in your life – are important. They are part of life and something we can’t ignore. But who says we have to forget about having fun, too? Who says that we can’t take care of business and play?
The benefits of play for adults include everything from boosting your mood to improving your muscle tone. And when it can be so much fun, why not make it a more regular part of your life?
6 benefits of play for adults
There are many reasons you might want to change up your routine to include a little more old-fashioned playtime:
1. You get active in the best way possible. What better way to get your physical activity in than to be having fun while doing it? At the end of each day on this family ocean trip, I am physically exhausted. I don’t ever use my body like I do on this vacation. But none of it feels like work, and all of it feels good. Whether I am hopping up on the surfboard (which wears me out quicker than I’d like to admit), chasing after a ball in our new favorite game Slammo, or even just acting out a clue in a late-night game of charades, I’m using my whole body to move, and to move naturally. No prescribed workout, no times, no distances. Just good old physical fun.
2. You laugh. A lot. Playing games and having fun inevitably results in laughter. There’s just no getting around it. You know how they say that laughter is good for the soul? Turns out, it’s actually really good for your body and brain, too. It affects various systems in the body, leading to physiological effects like decreased stress hormones, exercised muscles, improved breathing, stimulated circulation, and enhanced mental function (1,2). Not bad, huh?
3. You connect with those around you. We all need social time of some sort to be fulfilled. I find that playing together is one of the best ways to connect with the people you love. You work together. You have fun together. You laugh. You challenge each other and you rely on each other.
4. You are in the present moment. When you play, time seems to stand still – you find yourself entirely focused on the present moment. You aren’t thinking about the work thing you have next week or what you are going to eat later or the thing you have to figure out with your partner at home. It’s just the ball in the air, the wave coming at you, or the next clue in charades. Mindfulness doesn’t get much easier than that.
5. You let go of stress. When you are in the present moment, laughing, getting active, and connecting with your friends or family, your body can’t help but to release stress. Play is a fool-proof option for stress reduction, whether you are dealing with a major crisis at work or simple day-to-day stressors.
6. You lighten up. Sometimes, all we need is to stop being so serious. Unless you’ve got an uber competitive streak, you probably can’t help but be a lighter, happier, less serious version of yourself while you play.
So how often do you truly play, just for the sake of playing? What's your favorite option? Is it kickball or board games or frisbee or something entirely unique to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below :)