We’ve all heard the saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” and for some of us from a certain era, it brings up a rather frightening image of a younger Jack Nicholson in a particularly disturbing role… but how much do we nod at this adage, profess its importance, and proceed to ignore its central message?
There are numerous studies extolling the virtues of a play-rich childhood, especially one in which the child has ample opportunity for “nonstructured” play. This is fertile ground for developing creativity, social skills, and cognitive flexibility via fantasy, mock situational play and conflict resolution, and problem solving. But in today’s society, we are increasingly structuring our children’s time – something that can be positive in the right amounts – but not to the detriment or even exclusion of unstructured time.
And what about adults? Does our need for play simply evaporate after a certain age? The answer seems to be a resounding “no.” It is an invaluable part of our life balance. Having an activity, a hobby, or a pursuit that is not tied to our pressing life goals helps us to express our creativity, keep us mentally astute, and fresh for other challenges. Additionally, it increases our ability to mitigate stress. It also adds a little something we all need: Joy and happiness.
Isn’t this synonymous with goofing off, or wasting time? Maybe you should ask your work computer that question (replace with: the water cooler, your work buddy, the break room, etc. as necessary). We seem “wired” to take those breaks, anyway, which really affects productivity and purpose. Many other cultures have figured this out (you’ve likely heard of afternoon siestas? Longer/more frequent vacations? Higher productivity?). Americans still value their identity as hard workers, and many define this by the number of hours worked. While we live in this system, it’s important to find ways to balance out that expectation with those activities that recharge our batteries.
Remember: Everyone’s needs are different. Take a critical view not only of your designated times for work and play, but also of where it comes out in unplanned places. Then look to you and your needs and see what adjustments you can make. You might surprise yourself!