June 14, 2018

One of the first things that goes out the window when we ascend from adolescence to adulthood: play.

There's no more recess, no more galavanting through sprinklers—no more anything that isn't a means to an #adulting end. We start to believe that play is no longer appropriate—and we cast it aside as a frivolous waste of time. We're all responsibilities or bust.

Research suggests, however, that play is essential to our well-being, creativity, and health.

Here, five reasons why:

1. It Gets Our Brains Outside of the Box

Fredrikson, Ph.D., of the University of Chapel Hill—North Carolina and author of Positivity, found that positive emotions increase our cognitive resources by expanding our visual attention as well as our social resources by improving our ability to connect with others.

In other words: Play may be a way of getting literally “unstuck.” Taking a break and engaging in a totally frivolous act of fun can help loosen our tension and worries and help us think of different ways to engage with a challenging situation.

Play may be a way of getting literally “unstuck.”

2. It Boosts Our Creativity

Mark Beeman, Ph.D., at Northwestern University found that people have an easier time solving a puzzle after watching a short comedy clip. A potential reason why: Having fun, perhaps by easing tension, may be facilitating neuronal connections helpful for greater mental flexibility and creativity.

In another brain imaging study, Dr. Beeman found that activation of pleasure centers in the brain predicted successful puzzle-solving. These findings suggesting that well-being helps us think more creatively and could potentially help us resolve challenging situations.

3. Laughter FTW

Laughter is a natural outcome of play. Preliminary studies suggest that, in addition to being enjoyable and relieving feelings of stress and tension, laughter can also improve physical health. It has been linked to decreased stress and inflammation in the body and may improve vascular health.

4. It Helps Us Get Present

One of the reasons play may be so fun is that it brings us into the present moment, which is the only place where we can feel happiness.

When we lose ourselves in play, we can enter a state of Flow, a concept proposed by research psychologist, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi—author of the book Flow. Flow occurs when we are completely immersed in an activity—the state of being one hundred percent in the present moment, and it is a state of great pleasure.

About 50 percent of the time, we aren’t in the present moment, according to a study of 5,000 people by Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University. Our minds tend to wander and the researchers found that “a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”

No matter what we’re actually doing, pleasant or unpleasant, we are happiest when our mind is in the present moment. When our mind is in the past, it usually dwells on negative emotions such as anger or regret. When it is in the future, anxiety and fear arise.

We are happiest when our mind is in the present moment.

Play makes you present, and both research and ancient wisdom say that’s the only place you can be truly happy.

5. It Connects Us

Social connectedness is a fundamental need for human beings. Play—the ability to laugh and let go, to inhabit the present, and to be immersed in mirth and lightness of being—can be an ultimate act of love and belongingness.

When we can laugh and joke, we are remembering our joint humanity, our mutual desire for happiness and love, and our fundamental interconnectedness.

This article originally appeared on EmmaSeppala.com


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