The Importance of Play

 “To stimulate creativity one must
develop childlike inclination for play
and the childlike desire for recognition.”

Albert Einstein

One thing that happens to most of us by the time midlife rolls around is that we have stopped playing. Through our early adulthoods, we most likely have lived our lives in work mode in order to build a life for ourselves and our families, establishing some kind of financial foundation and living situation in the name of being a responsible adult. Unless we are athletes, musicians, or artists by profession, playing has been left in our pasts and exists as a memory of our irreplaceable childhood experience. In childhood, something inside of us recognized play just for the sake of playing as a necessity of growth through exploration and experimentation.

The thing about play is that it’s not just for children. There is an actual need for playing and experimentation that exists in us throughout our lives. Through play we can be free to create and discover things that never could have been uncovered through any amount of dry thinking and arid reasoning. These are the things that make us old by closing off doors of exploration because they may seem silly or childish. We actually need to play in order to rediscover our perennially creative natures. Again- it is a need, not an elective. Like food and air, our souls are fed by looking into unencumbered possibilities that we allow ourselves the freedom to explore beyond logic and reason. Creative play is the sustenance that feeds that part of us. Carl Jung wrote about the necessity of play:

“Every good idea and all creative work are the offspring of the imagination, and have their source in what one is pleased to call infantile fantasy. Not the artist alone, but every creative individual whatsoever owes all that is greatest in his life to fantasy. The dynamic principle of fantasy is play, a characteristic also of the child, and as such it appears inconsistent with the principle of serious work. But without this playing with fantasy, no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of the imagination is incalculable.” (Jung 1921, par.93)

An underappreciated quality of play is that it can seem purposeless. We can play for no reason at all and become all the richer for it. Play is one thing that we can do for its own sake and nothing more. We don’t have to justify it to anyone because it’s not done for anyone else’s approval. It’s done simply because we feel like it. Adults have largely ignored this impulse out of the need to be accountable to their families and jobs for how they spend their limited amount of time. In that model, time needs to be turned into profit in order to justify one’s existence. Play on the other hand needs no justification. It is engaged in for the joy it can bring us. And approaching play in this way brings a requisite lightness to our hearts and souls that can resurrect the eternal childlike state of curiosity and wonder.

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