Rebekah Lyons: Looking for joy? First make time for play

The importance of play for children is documented. We assume kids should play, but adults? Aren’t we supposed to be mature, responsible grownups?

That’s how so many of us live, but researchers are now documenting the benefits of play for adults and finding that “play isn’t just about goofing off; it can also be an important means of reducing stress and contributing to overall well-being,” according to Lynn Barnett, a researcher and professor of recreation, sports and tourism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

She added: “Highly playful adults feel the same stressors as anyone else, but they appear to experience and react to them differently, allowing stressors to roll off more easily than those who are less playful.”


Barnett's study concluded that playfulness in adults contributes to their resilience, one of the great attributes needed to cope with 21st century demands and stress.

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Let’s be honest: playing feels childish, to me anyway. But I’ve come to see that the practice of play is critical.

Why? Because it forces us to give up control. Our tendency is to push against the release of control — control of work, control of relationships, control of family, control of logistics, control of fear, control of whatever. After all, isn’t managing our lives what it means to be an adult? So we hold on tight, but our death grip just leads to more anxiety, more stress.


Play can become our instructor if we’ll let it. We can allow play to show us that everything won’t fall apart when we let go and give ourselves a little space and freedom. As we do, we’ll find the stress and anxiety of management and control melting away, if only for a while.

But if this is going to be a reality in our lives, we need to pray for the courage to become like children again. If we do, we’ll find that childlike freedom — from stress, anxiety, and moments of affliction — has been waiting for us all along. While the stressors may not go away, we can develop a rhythm that helps us become more resilient to deal with them.

What are you trying to control or manage? Can you name it? Does it bring stress into your life? Today, even if just for a few minutes, find ways to release control and management and give yourself to frivolous play.

Consider a fun family board game or, if you have one, a family jump on the trampoline. Pick up a musical instrument to play for fun, or make a family band — that’s what we do. Between a guitar, ukulele and a band in a box, everyone in our family gets an instrument.

We also keep a karaoke machine in our living room. It has an attached disco ball that will strobe lights across the ceiling to the beat of the music. Our kids keep that thing pumping with solo acts and a microphone stand.


For play that needs more than a moment’s notice, grab your tennis racket or make your way to a pool and take a jump off the high diving board. Mount a horse if you have a local stable, or throw a Frisbee in your front yard.

Whatever it is, take the time to play and see if you don’t find relief and rejuvenation from letting go, releasing control, and experiencing a little time of your own. See if it doesn’t refresh you, restore your mind, and give you new energy to enter back into a busy world.