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Why You Need to Start Playing Again

  • 7 min read

Life is about winning and losing. But what about playing?

When was the last time you played? Why don’t you play anymore? Play is in our DNA and essential to life. It’s fun, makes us happier and more creative.

When I watch my child play, I think to myself that, far too often, professional life is about winning or losing. But what about playing? How about trying out more and just playing? No one teaches you that better than your own children.

We are Instinctively Meant to Play

Within the first few weeks after our baby’s birth, we noticed something fascinating: our little one’s alert and interested eyes. You see that spark there. That natural joy. That interest.

In the beginning, when he was still new to planet earth, he marveled at the world with big eyes from our arms. Every activity, every move of mom and dad was closely observed and studied.

Next, his own hands and feet were discovered.

Later, he put a lot of effort into exploring everything with his mouth as part of the so-called oral phase. Even our dining table is closely examined and looked at to see if there isn’t a way to put the entire table in his mouth to explore it.

Playfulness is Required to build New Skills

Over time, objects like rattles have also been banged against the bars of the crib, which can get very loud at times. ‘What a racket’ some mother-in-law might scold. ‘Can’t he keep himself busy any other way?’

But I have looked up this noise-making, and it’s an excellent sign, dear parents. It means: everything is going just as it should. He’s playing naturally and has the feeling that he can give free rein to his play instinct.

Later on, with his interested eyes, he looked closely at how our mouths formed words like ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy’. In the next step, he imitated us in play and smiled when he made his first sounds like ‘brrrrrr’. Today there are already first words like ‘Mama’ and ‘Dada’.

Children are Embracing Challenges with an Intrinsic Desire to Learn More

With enough time and opportunity on the crawling blanket, the next stage was crawling — although he complained when we put him on his belly and he couldn’t even lift his head properly at first, he embraced this challenge.

He complained, rejected the blanket, and wanted back on the arm as quickly as possible. But as time flew by he became more and more mobile. He noticed that more and more was possible. He persevered in the face of failure and suddenly he began to roll around on the bed. Then to push his bottom around and stretch it up in the air.

To inspire him, we did try to teach him to crawl in the beginning. But he taught himself this innate way of moving by trying to move forward playfully over and over again. The great thing is that with every further step in his development, he looks at us with a smile and signals:

Hurray, this is getting better and better, and look what I can do now!

What is the Purpose of Play?

To sum up, when I look at a day in the life of our babies, the main activity of our little ones is playing. And in fact, I found out:

Little earthlings play about 15,000 hours in the first 7 years of life

Through instinctive playfulness, children gain experience about the nature of the world, experts say. The point of play is in the action itself. Our children perceive the world around them with all their senses, this challenges development, and sparks creativity.

Why do children want to Play Again and Again?

Photo by Tim Mossholder from Pexels

Our children want to play again and again. Why is that? When we play, we are in a joyful state and receive the reward of happy emotions. Therefore it has emotional benefits for us. You can watch your children being absorbed in their play and enjoying happy feelings in the moment.

Homo Ludens vs. Homo Economicus

From my marketing studies and the world of business, I know above all the model of Homo Economicus. This type tries to maximize its utility and is considered a rational actor in the world of capitalism. But do you also know Homo Ludens?

I found out that in the 1940s, the Dutch historian, Johan Huizinga introduced his idea of ‘Homo Ludens’. He describes a type of person who played across all cultural development. According to Huizinga, play is one of the driving forces of our culture.

Play is in our DNA and is essential to life.

All of our adult skills were once learned through free play.

And indeed. Come to think of it….

Literature plays with words and fantasies

Art tries to shape reality

Philosophy describes mind games

Law conceives and controls rules of the game

The Value of Playing

According to Huizinga, Homo Ludens learns any skills through play. That means space for creativity. And where there is creativity, innovative ideas can develop.

And these innovative ideas are more important than ever in an increasingly complex working world, in our adult playing field. If you want to be successful in the market in the long term, you have to improve the old and discover and invent the new. What if, like our little ones, we tried more often to shape reality through play?

Is there Space for Playfulness?

But let’s be honest. What does the world of business usually look like? Every form of competition forms a game, a competitive game, like football. It’s a matter of winning or losing. But most of us are threatened by others’ success.

In the competitive game, what counts most is efficiency and accuracy. It’s about outdoing and convincing. Every action has a purpose.

We should arrive quickly, function. All of this is best done without detours. Many have huge pressure at work. Their fear of making mistakes makes them avoid challenges.

In this error culture, there is a fixed mindset with fixed abilities, where we have the desire to look smart. There is no space for playfulness.

What If…?

What if we went back deep into our childhood? Find more to ourselves. Remember how we were as children. The feelings of joyfulness we had when doing activities like Legos or painting. The fantasies and ideas we had when we were free from fear in the moment, playfully experiencing and discovering the world?

Let’s suspend efficiency and purposefulness for a moment and see what our mind is capable of with purposelessness. Without competition, comparison, and pressure of goals.

If we take the seriousness out of the competitive game for a moment, we can experience work as an adventure again. We can have fun and be intrinsically motivated. Taking the pressure and fear out of work are optimal conditions to make learning progress and develop creative ideas. Another great benefit: if you are feeling happier you become more creative.

Here are 6 Simple Ways to Play More

Photo by jonas mohamadi from Pexels
  1. doing crossword puzzles
  2. get out your crayons and start painting
  3. coloring Mandalas
  4. playing video games (on Zoom)
  5. playing a board game
  6. get out your Legos

Wrapping it Up

Play again. Play more!

Learn ‘the business of playing’ to lead a happier and more joyful life.

Playing is essential. Feed the deep creative hunger you are born with. Get out your Legos and crayons again.

Don’t stay in your self-limiting fixed mindset — but exchange it for the growth mindset of the smallest people.

You want to read more about true happiness? Here’s my article about what’s holding you back from being happy in 2021.

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