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When studying happiness in adults, experts agree the most joyful people are those who had the opportunity to play as children. We know play is an essential part of human development and something that benefits us throughout our lives, but most people are unaware of just how important it is.

Playing supercharges your brain, changes your perspective, and helps you understand people and relationships. It also reinforces the idea that not everything you do has to have a measurable goal or quantifiable outcome. The pursuit of joy and exploration is the motivator. Whatever you find yourself doing, if you can keep it playful and focus on the journey instead of the destination, you’ll achieve more and feel better compared to those who approach life with a serious face. Play is something that’s innate to us as humans, yet somehow many adults and children alike, to their detriment, have forgotten this essential skill.

“…not everything you do has to have a measurable goal or quantifiable outcome”

Play is special because it’s not goal-oriented like most of the things we do as adults. Play is an exploration and the pursuit of joy without specific goals attached. It’s about doing things that make us happy and bring us joy without worry about being productive or achieving a certain goal.

“Play does not have goals attached, it’s just pure joy and exploration without any judgment or goals attached”

Children are naturally great at play but by the time we’re done pumping them through the educational system, we take the play out of the kid and replace it with depression, anxiety, and confusion. With depression poised to take the center stage by 2030 as the leading cause of disability globally, it’s easy to see just how important play is to the human condition. Experts who study human development know the happiest people tend to be those that had lots of time to play and explore as children. Conversely, children who grew up in situations that afforded them little opportunity to play are magnitudes more likely to suffer from mental illness, anxiety, and depression as adults.  

Generation Y, or what some call the Millennials, is often referred to as the teacup generation, one that crumbles at the slightest issue. This generation is also the one that has had the least amount of time to play as children. Of course, we’re generalizing, and everyone is an individual, but it is easy to draw a parallel between Generation Y’s overall fragility and lack of resilience with the decreased playtime this group has had the opportunity to experience. Video games, facebook, and watching YouTube doesn’t count as playtime since these activities activate different parts of the brain. We’re talking about pure-play and unguided exploration, not the brain-bending and re-wiring we get from our modern digital culture. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with technology and the information age, but our general over-exposure has caused most people to live in a play and joy deficient state, reliant on dopamine hits from social media notifications and video games that employ teams of developers whose job it is to make you want to play the games longer and more often. It’s hard for adults to put their phone down for a day or to take a social media vacation, and it’s a no-contest loss for children who spend their childhood staring at a tiny screen instead of expanding their neurological network and physical abilities through play with their buddies.

So what’s the solution? Take time to play. Go travel without an agenda. Take an afternoon to just do whatever. Tell your kids to go outside and play with their buddies. Make taking digital vacations just as important as brushing your teeth. Seek joy, exploration, and adventure. Take yourself out of your regular zone and experience something for the sake of experiencing it. Remember, in the grand timeline of the universe, our life is just a blip, and all of us will be dead soon. Right now we’re literally walking on the bones of hundreds of billions of people that have lived and died before us, and in a short time, all of us will also be dead, some as early as today.

If the essence of your life isn’t the pursuit of joy and exploration, take a moment to reevaluate what the heck you’re doing. At the very least, be sure to frequently get out from behind your desk or take a deep breath and jump out of your fishbowl so that you can, at least for a moment, look from the outside in. You will be amazed at what you will see and how it will change your perspectives. We just want you to be happy.

Have you taken a digital detox before? What was it like? Share your experience in the comments below for a chance to win a Whale House Digital Detox.

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