From video gaming to play wrestling, play is a topic that has intrigued me for a long time. In fact, the concept of play is an inaugural part of our leadership training, Dance Floor Theory. I’ve been curious about how we are impacted by play from childhood and beyond, but I’ve never found a well written book on the topic because, unfortunately, it’s a topic that too easily can get fluffy without any scientific proof to back up claims. But Stuart Brown’s Play book surprised me with its perfect blend of theory and practice backed by multiple layers of research. If you’re looking for a nice introduction to the topic of play and how it can be helpful in all aspects of your personal and professional life, this is it.
Of all animals, humans are the biggest players of all. We have stretched the juvenile development program to a minimum fifteen years.
Play is a state of mind, rather than an activity
People have a dominant mode of play that falls into one of eight types. I call these play personalities. The joker, the kinesthete, the explorer, the competitor, the director, the collector, the artist/creator, and the storyteller.
If we let the play drive express itself well into adulthood, as we are built to do, we find opportunities to play everywhere. The brain keeps developing, adapting, learning about the world, and finding new ways to enjoy it
When we stop playing, we stop developing, and when that happens, the laws of entropy take over and things fall apart.
When we engage in fantasy play at any age, we bend the reality of our ordinary lives, and in the process germinate new ideas and ways of being.
Without play, [research] suggests, optimal learning, normal social functioning, self-control, and other executive functions may not mature properly
Play isn’t the enemy of learning, it’s learning’s partner. Play is like fertilizer for brain growth. It’s crazy not to use it.
Authentic play comes from deep down inside us. It’s not formed or motivated solely by others. The self that emerges through play is the core, authentic self.
Neuroscientists have shown that during puberty, a whole new set of brain genes that have been silent since birth turn on, creating a flowering of new neural growth and pruning of the cortical neuronal trees at a level unmatched since our early development in the womb. As the neural tangle works itself out, kids can see the world in unique and surprising ways. Studies have demonstrated that adolescents who are shown pictures of various facial expressions will often make very odd (and wrong) inferences about the emotions the people in the picture are feeling. Because of these odd perceptions of everyday stimuli, teens in some ways are living in a different reality from the rest of us. And it doesn’t just happen during the teens. This brain growth continues well into the twenties. This is especially significant as our society extends adolescence out beyond the traditional high school years.
In mythology, the returning hero not only comes back more mature and stronger, but also brings something new that is beneficial to the community
For all of us, “entering the forest where there is no path” and discovering our own path is an essential part of the transformative experience.
So much of parenthood is just getting by, making sure the meals are balanced and the schoolwork is done, trying to teach responsibility and generosity, right and wrong. But there are times when we pass on knowledge about what really matters in life, about how to look someone in the eye and shake their hands with confidence, about how to have vision, set goals clearly, and have the discipline to attain them. As we adults tell kids these things, we sometimes get a glimpse of our own best selves and how we might live our own lives better. Part of the joy and pain of being a parent is seeing our own parents in ourselves, seeing their good parts and flaws repeated in our voices. The joys and pains also come from seeing ourselves in our kids.
The opposite of play is not work—the opposite of play is depression.
The quality that work and play have in common is creativity.
Play is nature’s greatest tool for creating new neural networks and for reconciling cognitive difficulties. The abilities to make new patterns, find the unusual among the common, and spark curiosity and alert observation are all fostered by being in a state of play. When we play, dilemmas and challenges will naturally filter through the unconscious mind and work themselves out. It is not at all uncommon for people to come back not only reenergized, but also with fresh ideas for work.
When brainstorming is going well, it is also play.
On an individual level, your creativity also needs to be protected, not only from outside critics, but also from your own internal critic. Allow yourself to be abundant in your creativity, at first not making judgments about what you think, feel, or do.
Most of the time, we have so internalized society’s messages about play being a waste of time that we shame ourselves into giving up play.
If you make the emotion of play your North Star, you will find a true and successful course through life.
As James Michener wrote in his autobiography: The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he’s always doing both.
Those who played together, stayed together. Those who didn’t either split or, worse yet, simply endured an unhappy and dysfunctional relationship.
Jokes are the minimally invasive surgery of a relationship: they penetrate to a deep emotional level without leaving an entry wound.
When we put people in love into the imaging machine, the areas of the brain that lit up were the same as those that light up in people on cocaine.
Couples that made a point of doing things that were new and unfamiliar had a much higher satisfaction measure than the couples who spent time doing familiar things.
The television comes on and play stops. Interaction is no more. The story line is set by the box, and the kids are now merely along for the ride, motionless and mute. Single-player video games are similarly attention hogs and socially isolating.
We adults are too quick to step in to stop such play.
Play, by its very nature, is a little anarchic. It is about stepping outside of normal life and breaking normal patterns. It is about bending rules of thought, action, and behavior.
Play shows us our common humanity.
Making all of life an act of play occurs when we recognize and accept that there may be some discomfort in play, and that every experience has both pleasure and pain. That is not to say that bliss is suffering.
Comedy and play are a universal language, accessible to all ages in all cultures.
Play is how we are made, how we develop and adjust to change. It can foster innovation and lead to multibillion-dollar fortunes. But in the end the most significant aspect of play is that it allows us to express our joy and connect most deeply with the best in ourselves, and in others. If your life has become barren, play brings it to life again. Yes, as Freud said, life is about love and work. Yet play transcends these, infuses them with liveliness and stills time’s arrow. Play is the purest expression of love. When enough people raise play to the status it deserves in our lives, we will find the world a better.