Why We Need Play
This is Chester. He is an exuberant, curious, loving dynamo of a dog. I’ve never seen him deny a being of his affection — with the exception of my sister’s free-range chicken, but I think that was more an expression of his curious nature.
What I love most about Chester is that he is the embodiment of play. He cannot be his best dog self without daily doses of play and exercise. In fact, he’s been known to get into trouble when he’s denied either of these. Maybe that’s why I like him so much — I know I can’t be my best human self if I don’t get enough play and exercise. Too many days without it, and I’m cranky and irritable. I suspect that’s true for most of us humans.
Research points to the importance of play for not only improving human levels of happiness, but also productivity in the workplace. Innovation is born from a place of creative, imaginative wonder and experimentation. Innovation happens when the benefit of discovering something new, or doing something for the sake of continuously learning outweighs the fear of “getting it wrong.” Play unleashes both creativity and imagination, and leads to innovation. I’ve seen Chester apply immense creativity in his attempts to outwit our black lab Tazi in a game of tag.
Chester’s a smart dog. He is much more interested in collaborative, and not competitive, play. Running across the lawn isn’t about which dog gets there first, but rather what the interaction between them is in the process. In humans, when play is defined strictly as competition, our self-concept gets caught up in a negative, downward spiral of measuring our worth against others. “Compare and despair,” the saying goes. Being more like Chester is a good thing: his self-concept remains intact!
Play is also essential in forming what research calls the “collective mind” in groups. Group identity in organizations is strengthened from shared playful experiences, not from reading and memorizing company mission statements. Chester gets this, and so do kids.
Children naturally approach life from the lens of play. Think about the level of wonder, awe and fascination a child brings to new experiences. Even when we’re faced with life’s challenging moments, adopting a playful mindset helps us get through. Instead of projecting an image of how we’ll never get through this, we can lean into wonder, and be curious about the multitude of approaches we can take to face what’s in front of us.
The expression of play in adult humans is unique to each of us. Be intentional about making space for experiences that make you smile, express your creativity and bring you closer to other humans. Allow your inner Chester to guide you into spontaneous moments of wonder, awe and laughter.
Have fun — and enjoy!