Play To Live: The Direct Link between Happiness, Play and Survival

“The opposite of play is not work, it is depression”.

–Brian Sutton-Smith.

Many people love to play.  Yet, not many think about the connection between happiness, play, authenticity and survival. According to Evolutionary Psychology, the attitude of play is not only an organic part of human nature, but also a fundamental element to human evolution. Without play, humans, and many other animals, would simply disappear.

While playing, we explore environment, explore ourselves and develop various skills, such as emotional intelligence, grit and strategic planning. We learn how to approach other people, communicate with them, trick them, and create bonds. In other words, play teaches us how to survive.

But it also teaches us how to survive emotionally and find happiness. In fact, to dynamic and constantly evolving living organisms like humans, monotony means stagnation and depression. That may explain why we always look for change and excitement, which may be actually found in the various expressions of play: dancing, flirting, singing, running, jumping, making art, painting, etc.

Unfortunately, nowadays adults underestimate the importance of play, and often connect it with childish behaviour. However, if children play to have fun or to see what it feels like to be a driver, a nurse, or a hunter, for many adults play is a unique chance to finally play themselves.

In fact, if we fully immerse ourselves into play, it can have a transformative and healing power. This full-immersion, also known as flow, will invite us to step out from the norms and taboos, have fun, experiment, and find our most liberated self through the honest and authentic self-expression. Being authentic is an opportunity to realize who we truly are  what we truly want from life. It also an opportunity to find a deep emotional release, or catharsis, which enormously contributes to healing, health and wellbeing.

My personal experience and the experience of many of my students,  clients, friends and colleagues —musicians, artists, performers, Yogis and body-workers — proves that play indeed has healing and transformative qualities. Actually, in my Yoga and Intuitive Movement classes, I have seen so many adults go crazy while experimenting with play, or coming back to the moves they used to do as kids.

While playing like an animal, for example, you can instantly reconnect to a powerful archetypal energy of your inner Mowgli. Happy chemicals float into your system, turning each movement into a joyful and intoxicating experience. After the class, so many students would approach me asking: why has nobody ever told me I’m still allowed to play?

Literally anything can be turned into a play. Western Psychology distinguishes a few major categories of play – social play, creative play, storytelling, vocal play, playing musical instruments (music therapy), body play, etc. But adults often have a tendency to take play too seriously, or become too obsessed with the results, which obviously destroys the very essence of play, which is joy. So, let me offer you a few effective strategies that can facilitate the transformation of a regular play into a joyful, happy, and therapeutic activity.

Strategy One: Play True. It simply means that play must resonate with your heart. Obviously, only what is on your frequency has a healing potential for you.

Strategy Two: Play Safe. Play must be safe for you and others. You should use your intuition and common sense to make sure your play is safe and non-harmful.

Strategy Three: Play Deep. The activity should naturally immerse you into a flow-like state. It should also bring you joy, satisfaction, and a sense of fulfillment.

Strategy Four: Allow Yourself To Play. You must give yourself permission to play and have fun. This is critically important. Try to learn to be less serious, more open to experiments and more relaxed.

We all need play in life. We need it because it is the best antidepressant that exists in nature. We need it because it tastes like freedom. We need it because it is an amazing way to awaken and harmonize the body-mind-heart triad.

When you allow yourself to play, you allow yourself to experience pure happiness. You allow yourself to be the most authentic and honest expression of who you are. It is never too late to be you. Be happy and play.