Play improves the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional wellbeing of children and young people - but as we age, prioritising having fun tends to fade.
When we’re young, we long to be a grown up. To a child, being an adult is all about not having a set bedtime, being allowed to eat cake for breakfast, watch whatever we want on television, and essentially doing as we please.
In reality, many adults long for the simplicity of being young again. While kids don’t have to deal with things like work, paying bills and cleaning the house, there’s now also science that says that one of the big gaps between childhood and adulthood is the absence of fun, and why we need it to stay happy and healthy.
So Can Having Fun Makes Us Healthier?
Technically speaking, anything that you do recreationally that brings you joy or excitement counts as playing as an adult, but many of us pursue these ventures out of habit rather than actually having fun.
Whether it’s arranging flowers, playing sports, or writing short stories in your spare time, judgement and distraction are considered to be the ultimate enemies of having fun, so leave them at the door the next time you do something purely to feel good.
While the process is linked to wide range of famous quotes, such as ‘don't forget to have fun’, ‘time flies when you’re having fun’, and of course, ‘girls just want to have fun’, there’s a reason why making time for play as a grown up should be a priority, as research shows that having fun not only makes us happier, but healthier as well.
A 2011 study explores how playfulness in adults may be linked to certain desirable characteristics, such as liking to make people laugh, the ability to ease tension, and being able to support creative processes in a group.
The researchers asked people to rate themselves on five types of ‘playful behaviours’ - spontaneous, expressive, creative, fun, and silly.
They found that higher playfulness scores were associated with higher creativity, appreciating beauty, approaching life with excitement and energy, playful expressions of love, a sense of humour, and importantly, a sense of hope.
The research showed that playful adults tended to do more enjoyable activities and have a more active way of life than less playful adults. The authors concluded that because of these links, being playful and taking the time to have fun significantly contributed to overall well-being, with individuals being much better equipped to handle stressful life events.
To further expand on these concepts, or the different ways that people like to have fun, Dr Stuart Brown - researcher and founder of The National Institute for Play - has identified eight ‘play personalities’ that can help you find out what kinds of play work best for you in order to have more fun.
The Collector - You enjoy building collections, such as collecting stamps, vintage cars or even certain items of clothing.
The Competitor - You enjoy playing and winning games with specific rules, such as chess, with a local football team, or even on an XBox.
The Creator - You find joy in making things, or making things work. You might enjoy painting, woodworking, decorating, fixing machinery, or sewing.
The Director - You enjoy planning and directing, like hosting themed birthday parties, having friends over for dinner or organising group activities.
The Explorer - You play by discovering something new, either physically (a new place) or mentally. You might play by going backpacking, or even making new Spotify playlists.
The Joker - You enjoy being silly and foolish. You might enjoy improv theatre, have a reputation as the class clown, or simply make your friends laugh.
The Kinesthete - You enjoy moving your body as play. You might practise yoga, enjoy dancing classes or even get a massage every week.
The Storyteller - You play by listening to or creating stories. You might enjoy going to the theatre, writing in a journal, or reading fiction.
Unlike children, most adults don’t have regular playtime built into their schedule. That means we need to be intentional about play and find ways to incorporate more play into our lives. Once you have a solid idea on what your play personality looks like, the good news is that the process of having fun through activities that truly bring you joy gets significantly easier.