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Rekindle Enjoyment with Play

Purpose: Play may help to improve problem-solving skills, strengthen social connections, increase creativity, and produce a more joyful view of the world.


It is not easy to define play, but Stuart Brown, MD, the founder of the National Institute for Play, has given play the following definition: “an absorbing, apparently purposeless activity that provides enjoyment and a suspension of self-consciousness and sense of time.” 


As people get older, they may feel that play is unproductive or a waste of time because it does not seem to teach a new skill, make money, or bring social gains. However, research shows that play improves problem-solving skills, strengthens social connections, and leads to creativity and innovation. Play allows for a rehearsal of the challenges and uncertainties of life and provides an opportunity to create simulations and test different situations that haven’t existed in reality yet. Through play, people learn social guidelines and how to interact with one another.


If someone goes too long without play, their mood may become depressed, optimism may diminish, and they may find it more difficult to sustain a feeling of pleasure in everyday life. Without play, behavior can become fixed and a person may see fewer opportunities for pleasure. Research suggests that play may be a way to prevent neurodegenerative disease; and puzzles, playful exercise, and games are shown to promote the creation of new brain cells, in a process called neurogenesis.


Play cultivates motivation to master a craft and may help someone find lasting joy and satisfaction in work. When feeling burnt out, going on a play vacation often helps an employee regain their energy and motivation for work. In the workspace, team-building games such as puzzles can strengthen bonds and lead to an openness that fosters creativity. Many companies are now identifying play as one of their most precious commodities, as the creativity it facilitates helps produce new products and solve challenging problems.

Practice: This practice may help someone to rekindle enjoyment with play.

Stuart Brown, MD, describes eight play personalities, with the caveat that “most of us are a mix of these categories. At different times and in different situations, people might find themselves playing in a mode that is different from their dominant type.”


The eight play personalities are:

  1. The Explorer: The explorer enjoys going to new places, searching for a new feeling or deepening of that which is familiar, and searching for new experiences and points of view.

  2. The Kinesthete: The kinesthete likes to move and naturally wants to push their bodies and feel the result.

  3. The Joker: The joker enjoys play that incorporates some kind of nonsense.

  4. The Competitor: The competitor enjoys the competitive aspect of a game and gets the most enjoyment from the act of winning.

  5. The Director: The director enjoys planning and executing scenes and events. They are born organizers.

  6. The Collector: The collector wants to have the most or best collection of objects or experiences.

  7. The Artist/Creator: The artist/creator gets joy from making things.

  8. The Storyteller: The storyteller excels by using their imagination in play, whether that is through creating their own stories or enjoying the stories of others.


For someone to regain play in their life, Stuart Brown, MD suggests first making a play history to remember the play that was done in the past that created a sense of pleasure, in which time stood still, and that was desired to repeat over and over. Then, find activities to do now that can recreate that feeling. This can bring joy and strengthen personal relationships as the enjoyment of novelty is rediscovered and the world is viewed in a more light-hearted way.


The following is a set of questions, adapted from Stuart Brown, MD, for someone to consider when making a play history:

  1. When have I felt free to do and to be what I chose?

  2. Is that a part of my life now? If not, why not?

  3. What do I feel stands in the way of achieving times of personal freedom?

  4. Am I now able to feel that what engages me most fully is almost effortless? If not, can I recall when I was able to experience such times? Describe. Imagine settings that allow that sort of engagement.

  5. Searching through my memory, when were there times in my life when I experienced the feeling of being at my very best? These are usually authentic play times, and give clues as to where to go for current play experiences.

  6. What have been the impediments to play in my life?

  7. How and why did some kinds of play disappear from my repertoire?

  8. Have I discovered ways of reinitiating lost play that work for me now in life?

  9. Am I able to imagine and feel that the things that I most desire and enjoy are really the things that I ought to have? Why so, or why not?

  10. How free am I now as I play with my spouse, partner, or family? Or do I treat them as an extension of a responsibility?


After completing the play history, there are five more steps to follow for regaining play:

  1. First, become exposed to play by opening up to the possibilities of admiring beauty, sensing humor, and finding opportunities for enjoyment in all surroundings.

  2. Then, grant permission to be playful regardless of how silly it may feel. This can be hard for those who hold a serious self-image, so accept that the enjoyment of play is being pursued as a beginner. 

  3. An indicator that the right play for someone has been chosen is when they are having fun.

  4. If a jumpstart is needed for regaining play, try movement such as going for a hike or throwing a ball. It is important to find a place that feels safe to play. 

  5. Lastly, dedicate time each day to practicing play and find others to play along with.

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