The Importance of Playtime
I have a 9 year old bully named Lily. Even though 9 years is advanced for bulldogs, Lily still LOVES to play. If Lily doesn’t get stimulating interactive playtime, like tug of war or fetch, she starts whining and trying to initiate play around 11 pm. Without some quality playtime, she is more likely to engage in destructive behaviors like getting into the trash or licking her paws until they are raw.
Therefore, I dedicate at least 15 minutes of playtime a day. I may have music playing in the background, and might engage in some light housework while Lily is fetching a toy, but during that time she has my full attention. She is a different being when I take her for a walk than when we partake in these intense rough and tumble play sessions.
Don’t get me wrong; Lily likes going for walks. But when I walk her for anything more than bathroom business, she resists and gives me dirty, hangdog looks like I owe her money. She’d would literally rather smell everything thoroughly then get any kind of exercise. But when we play fetch or tug of war? She acrobatically jumps and pivots, and I can practically see her little Lily brain fully engaged and in the moment. I look forward to these sessions as much she does because she is so funny and because they remind me to be present and have fun.
If I don’t allow myself time to play, I also engage in destructive behaviors. I don’t get into the garbage or lick myself raw, but I escape into bingewatching bad TV, comfort eating, overspending, and really terrible sleep hygiene. I am slowly realizing that playtime is as necessary for my mental health as bathroom business is for my physical health. If I don’t routinely purge the intestines of my psyche, I become emotionally constipated, (i.e. certifiably insane.)
The opposite of play is not work—the opposite of play is depression. ― Brian Sutton-Smith, Play Theorist
For me, playtime has many forms: journaling, painting, making collages or jewelry, molding things out of clay, taking an exercise class, browsing children’s books, riding my bike, hitting a punching bag, cooking something for the fun of it, dancing, singing, reading a compelling book . . . I could go on and on. Playtime for me is generally something I do for the pure joy of it, rather than because I HAVE to. It connects me with my spirit and helps me process pent up energy that would otherwise make me go crazy.
Play matters because it gives us a brief respite from the tyranny of apparent purpose. ― Jill Vialet, CEO and founder of Playworks
CEO and founder Jill Vialet launched Playworks in 1996 to improve the well-being of children by increasing opportunities for healthy, meaningful play in schools. In her Ted Talk, she stresses the importance of playtime for both children and adults.
Dr. Stuart Brown, head of the National Institute for Play, wholeheartedly agrees. “Play [is] voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.” Play is important for adults for many reasons: community and connection, mental acuity, and bonding with loved ones. According to Dr. Brown, there are significant consequences from depriving ourselves opportunities to play as adults “You begin to see [in an otherwise competent adult] that the perseverance and joy in work is lessened and that life is much more laborious.” Translation, life is no fun and everything is hard and sucky.
So make time for play, people! Play with your dogs, your kids, someone else’s dogs or kids (with their permission, of course). Start a hobby for the fun of it, without judgement or expectation. Schedule it like you would a doctor’s appointment, and show up for it! Relish in it, you deserve it! It is NOT a waste of time; it is actually a wise investment with a significant ROI. It will literally make life worth living.