A question I get asked fairly is often is – fun aside – what can you really do with play? They’re a variation on a theme, said in a way that implies it’s good and all “…but where do you go with play?” They’re asking: Play seems great. We love it. It’s fun. But it’s not really got any actual punch to it, does it?

It’s a question that CounterPlay 2017 enthusiastically embraced with its theme: The Power of Play. Because when people ask this question I think what they’re secretly implying is that Play creates joy, but has no real power to it. The irony of this is that I think that these assumptions about the disconnectedness of everything is collapsing in more and more fields.

It was credible until recently to believe that health and well-being was a matter of medical diagnosis and taking the right pharmaceuticals. (Though this view only held for a very short blip in the timescale of human history!) Now, of course, what you eat, whether you exercise, how you choose to approach your own wellness is seen as just as important as the interventions you might need if you neglect any of these things.

Conversely, depression, anxiety etc. used to be thought of as just occurring when you happened not to be happy. Now we know that you can train the mind through meditation or CBT and even shift how you think about your own thoughts.

Play: a vital component of good living

So why do I think play could be a vital component of good living in the same way? I guess the basis of my belief comes from the other direction: that I think play is a vital ingredient to thriving as an individual and lacking it must surely cause problems.

I doubt the positive messaging about ultra-low-carb diets because, well, the body needs carbohydrates to rebuild itself. I can believe that starving yourself of a necessary component can make you slimmer, but that’s because the body isn’t functioning correctly without it. Similarly, I believe that if you crowd out time for fun by working non-stop, you may look productive, but your soul might be wasting away inside.

There’s plenty of evidence for play helping in all sorts of ways: with creativity, communication, efficiency, relationships, stress, etc. That’s the symptoms-first way of looking at it. But to me it’s strange to treat the symptoms when the disease is so apparent and avoidable.

“The power of play is that it will heal our very being”

All animals play. They don’t stop in adulthood. In fact, many play much more once sexually active. We’re the only ones who decide we are ‘too grown-up’ to play.

While things may look good on the outside for those lacking play, I believe the power of play is that it will heal our very being.

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