The quote at the top of this post was sent to me by a friend who threw me a life line. I am sharing with you below the e-mail she wrote to me because it is so useful:
I’m reading 2 books now that are changing how I’m thinking about pretty much everything. The books are “The Gift of Play” by Barbara Brenner and “Play” by Stuart Brown. Although both authors agree that it is almost impossible to create a definition of “play” since it is so different for everyone, the key elements are:
- apparently purposeless (not done for practical value, money, etc.)
- voluntary (no one is making you do it)
- inherently attractive (fun and makes you feel good)
- freedom from time (lose sense of time when doing it)
- diminished consciousness of self (stop worrying and thinking about ourselves)
- improvisational potential (potential for serendipity and chance)
- continuation desire (desire to keep doing it)
Both authors talk about the vital importance of keeping play in our lives, which includes everything from physical health, having a healthy brain in later life (like a 63% better chance of having a healthy brain), creativity, emotional balance, etc. and that the elimination of play is the root cause of many problems in children as well as adults, like ADD, ADHD, depression, violence, anti-social behavior, problem solving abilities. There are studies that supposedly show that the one common attribute among the most violent criminals is that they didn’t have a chance to play as children. In Stuart’s book, he described some recent problems they were having at NASA’s JPL (where most of the engineering for the space program is done) with the new, younger people they were hiring. Many of their older employees recently retired, so JPL started recruiting the best of the best college graduates from all over the country, but found that these new employees were not good at problem solving or finding creative solutions for things. They did an extensive study and found that many of the older employees who had retired had grown up “playing” by taking things apart to see how they worked and then figuring out how to put them back together. The newer employees at JPL did not do this growing up, but instead focused on book reading and academics and never learned how to “play" this way to solve problems. So now JPL has questions during their interview process to see how much the interviewee has “played” with the types of things they do at JPL. Both books keep pointing out how purposeless playing that is done just because you find it interesting and love to do it, leads to health and well-being. .
I was having an hard time figuring out how I like to play until I read the following “play personalities” In Stuart’s book. He came up with these through his observations of people, although he says these are just basic categories and were created so he could address the “engineering” types at corporations who needed to have things more defined:
The most basic and extreme player throughout history is the joker. A joker’s play always revolves around some kind of nonsense. Indeed nonsense is the first type of human play we engage in: all baby talk begins with nonsense. Parents make infants laugh by making silly sounds, blowing raspberries, and generally being foolish. Later the class clown finds social acceptance by making other people laugh. Adult jokers carry on that social strategy.
Kinesthetes are people who like to move, who - in the words of Sir Ken Robinson - “need to move in order to think.” This category includes athletes, as well as those who find themselves happiest when moving as part of dance, swimming or walking. Kinesthetes naturally want to push their bodies and feel the results. They may be those who do football, yoga, dance or jump rope. While kinesthetes play games, competition is not the main focus - it is only a forum for engaging in their favorite activity.
Each of us started out our lives by exploring the world around us. Some people never lose their enthusiasm for it. Exploration becomes their preferred avenue into the alternative universe of play - their way of remaining creative and provoking the imagination. Exploring can by physical - literally going to new places. Alternatively, it can be emotional - searching for a new feeling or deepening of the familiar through music, movement, flirtation. It can be mental: researching a new subject or discovering new experiences and points of view while remaining in your armchair.
The competitor is a person who breaks through into euphoria and creativity of play by enjoying a competitive game with specific rules and enjoys playing to win. The competitor loves fighting to be number 1. If games and keeping score are your thing, this may be your primary play personality. The games can be solitary, or social - either a solitary video game or a team game like baseball - and they may be actively participated in or observed as a fan. Competitors make themselves know in social groups, were the fun comes from being the top person in the group, or in business, in which money or perks serve to keep score.
Directors enjoy planning and executing scenes and events. Though many are unconscious of their motives and style of operating, they love the power, even when they’re playing in the B-movie league. They are born organizers. At their best, they are party givers, the instigators of great excursions to the beach, the dynamic center of the social world. At worst, they are manipulators. All the world’s a stage, and the rest of us are only players in the director’s game.
What good is a world of random objects? The thrill of play for the collector is to have and to hold the most, the best, the most interesting collection of objects and experiences. Coins, toy trains, antiques, plastic purses, wine shoes, ties, video clips of race car crashes, or pieces of the crashed car themselves, anything and everything is fair game.
For the artist/creator, joy is found in making things. Painting, print making, wood-working, pottery, and sculpture are well-known activities of artist/creators, but furniture making, knitting, sewing, gardening and decorating a room or a house are also in their purview. Artist/creators may end of showing their creations to the world and even selling them for millions, or may never show anyone what they make. The point is to make something - to make something beautiful, something functionally, something goofy. Or just to make something work - like fixing a pump.
For the storyteller, the imagination is the key to the kingdom of play. Storytellers are, of course, novelists, playwrights, cartoonists, and screenwriters, but they are also those whose greatest joy is reading those novels and watching those movies, people who make themselves part of the story, who experience the thoughts and emotions of characters in the story. Performers of all sorts are storytellers, creating an imaginative world through dance, acting, magic tricks or lectures. Because the realm of the storyteller is in the imagination, they can bring, play to almost any activity.
“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”