If I were to guess a few things about you — you are hardworking, you are successful, you are smart and you are dedicated. I think many of these things brought you to a point of living with more intention, whether it’s in the things you pursue or the desire to live with less.
When I think about the values I’ve been taught, “hardworking” is easily at the top of the list. Not only were my parents hardworking in their workplace, but also at home. They worked full time, raised kids and cared for extended family. I admire them so much and am thankful for their efforts in my life.
As a result of my upbringing, I am hardworking too. When I’ve had a “regular,” job I’ve stayed late, worked at home even when I didn’t have to, thought of ways to do my job better, and wanted to improve the company I worked for.
For so long I have prided myself in those things, and to an extent I think rightly so. But as I’ve held up this high view of work, I have looked down on play, rest, and leisure.
What if work and play are not two things in opposition, but rather two equally important and vital parts of our lives? What if adding times of play into our lives will further enhance this quest to live intentionally?
In his book Essentialism, Greg McKeown devotes a whole chapter to the idea “Play is essential in and of itself.” He claims three benefits of play are that it helps us see alternative options, reduces stress, and increases our brain activity. His suggestion for us is to consider things we loved to play as a child and think of how you can recreate that now in adulthood.
As I’ve been considering the importance of play and trying to incorporate it more into my life, here are some things to help you add it to your life.
1. Say no to cheap play.
By cheap I’m not really talking about money or expense, but rather about its value. Many of us crave good, real play like playing basketball for an hour or bike riding on a trail or painting uninterruptedly or working a puzzle or sudoku.
Rather than allowing ourselves that, we discount its value and instead find some source of entertainment. There is a time for entertainment for sure, but I would posit that we are often filling our lives with entertainment when what we are really craving is play. There is a distinct difference between the two.
2. Just do it.
Either mark it on your calendar or make it a date with a friend, but make a point to play. Until we truly see the benefits and begin to change our thinking in regards to play, we will have to be deliberate and intentional in making it a part of our life because it has so long been something not of worth.
As the benefits become clear, we will more easily recognize our need for play. The practice of something tends to lead to an awareness and mindfulness of it.
3. Only play.
McKeown defines play as anything we do simply for the joy of doing rather than as a means to an end. As I read the Play chapter in Essentialism, my first thought was that I love to play sports and be active, basketball in particular. It makes me feel alive, yet I rarely make time for it.
My multi-tasking self said, “Oh, I could play AND get some exercise in.” However, the argument is that play should be play, not a way to get something else accomplished. Any benefit I reap from playing is a bonus.
McKeown even points out that, some of the best minds such as Shakespeare, Newton, and Mozart came away from play with some brilliant, world changing ideas. So, you, who work so hard, please consider making some time to play. Not as alternative to work, but as a vital part of your life that is not to be ignored.
One of my favorite photographers to follow, Steve McCurry, has a beautiful photo essay showing play from both children and adults along with some inspiring quotes.
I would encourage you to check it out for more inspiration. Take a some time this week to do something you love, not with any other objective in mind, but to enjoy a few minutes of playing.
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