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Why Having Fun Is Important in Both Work and Retirement

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Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on NewRetirement.

Whether you are thinking about what to do in retirement, or just contemplating how you spend your time generally at work and in leisure, play should be as a vital consideration.

Let’s explore what play is and why it is such an important activity for kids and adults alike.

Why Is Play Important?

active senior couple
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Stuart Brown is a psychiatrist and founder of the National Institute for Play and he wrote “Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.”

Brown emphasizes that play is a fundamental aspect of adult life. It is not just for children.

Play is an essential component of a fulfilling and meaningful life for people of all ages. Play contributes to overall well-being, creativity, and the ability to adapt to life’s challenges.

Individuals who incorporate play into their lives tend to be happier, healthier, and more resilient.

Play Is Not the Opposite of Work

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It is important to understand that play is not the opposite of work. In fact, the experts agree that play is actually essential to effective work.

Brown argues that play plays a role in encouraging creativity, innovation, and mastery in the workplace.

Rather than being work, Brown believes that the opposite of play is depression. He emphasizes the importance of play in human development and well-being.

He believes that play is a fundamental aspect of human life and that its absence can lead to negative psychological and emotional consequences, including feelings of depression.

So, What Is Play?

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Brown defines play as any voluntary and enjoyable activity that provides a sense of engagement and fulfillment.

Characteristics of play

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Brown outlines several characteristics that define play:

  1. Inherent Attraction: Play is something that people are naturally drawn to and find enjoyable. It’s an activity that individuals engage in for the sake of the activity itself, not for any external rewards.
  2. Freedom From Time: Play is an activity where individuals often lose track of time. When engaged in play, people become fully absorbed in the moment, and the passage of time becomes less relevant.
  3. Improvisational Potential: Play encourages creativity and spontaneity. It often involves experimenting with new ideas, exploring different approaches, and allowing for unexpected outcomes.
  4. Active Engagement: Play requires active participation and involvement. It can involve physical, mental, or emotional engagement, or a combination of these elements.
  5. Non-Literalness: Play often involves a suspension of reality or a departure from the usual rules and constraints. It allows individuals to explore imaginary or metaphorical scenarios.
  6. Diminished Self-Consciousness: During play, individuals are often less focused on how they appear to others and are more focused on the activity itself.
  7. Intrinsic Enjoyment: The primary motivation for play is the enjoyment derived from the activity itself, not external rewards or goals.
  8. Positive Emotions: Play is associated with positive emotions such as joy, curiosity, and a sense of flow.

Examples of play in leisure and work

Man listening to music on headphones at work
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Here are a couple of examples of how I experienced play in the last week.

Leisure play

Jig Saw Puzzle Crowdfunding
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Last weekend I happened upon a beached dinghy at a secluded cove.

For absolutely no reason, two friends, a stranger, and I spent three happy hours trying to dig it out of the wet sand in the cold Northern California shorebreak.

We didn’t feel the frigid sea, we didn’t notice the sun setting. We just collaborated on how to get the water-logged craft onto dry sand.

We failed. We barely budged the boat. However, it was the most collaborative and fun few hours I have spent in a long time.

I still feel totally invigorated and inspired by the endeavor.

Work play

Generation Z at work
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Last week (and almost every day), colleagues and I were exploring how to make it easier for people to connect accounts and keep track of their net worth in the New Retirement Planner.

The back-and-forth problem-solving was exactly like my experience digging out the boat.

Instead of experimenting with digging and using levers and the ocean’s momentum to move the dinghy, we were doodling and testing solutions via Zoom.

How To Play More

Happy workers in the office
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Play is a personal experience, and what brings playfulness to one person’s life may differ from another’s.

The key is to be intentional about seeking out activities that bring you joy, stimulate your imagination, and allow you to experience the many benefits of play in your life.

Brown offers several suggestions and insights on how individuals can incorporate more play into their lives.

Discover your play preferences

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Reflect on the activities that bring you joy and make you lose track of time. These are likely your play preferences.

Whether it’s a hobby, a sport, creative expression, or something else, identify what activities truly engage you.

Think back to what you loved as a kid and try incorporating more of that into your life now.

Prioritize playful activities

Happy retirees
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Make a conscious effort to prioritize play in your daily or weekly routine. Set aside time for activities that you enjoy and that promote a sense of playfulness.

Embrace spontaneity

Happy Middle Aged Couple
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While you may need to plan time to play to ensure it actually happens, you also want to allow yourself to be spontaneous and open to new experiences.

Be willing to step outside of your comfort zone and try activities that you might not have considered before.

Engage with playful people

Happy retirees
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Surround yourself with individuals who have a playful attitude and encourage lighthearted interactions.

Playfulness can be contagious, and spending time with people who embody this quality can inspire you to embrace it more.

Incorporate play at work

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Find ways to infuse play into your work environment.

This could involve incorporating playful elements into your workspace, engaging in brainstorming sessions with a playful mindset, or incorporating playful team-building activities.

Use technology mindfully

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While technology can be a valuable tool, it’s important to balance screen time with real-world play. Consider setting limits on screen use and making time for outdoor or offline activities.

Engage in physical play

senior citizens dancing
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Participate in physical activities that you enjoy, whether it’s dancing, hiking, playing a sport, or simply going for a walk.

Physical play not only promotes health but also allows for joyful movement.

Cultivate a playful mindset

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Approach life with a playful and curious mindset. Look for opportunities to inject humor and playfulness into your daily interactions and tasks.

Experiment and explore

Senior Couple Surfing
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Be open to trying new things and exploring different interests. Take classes, join clubs, or engage in activities that challenge you and introduce you to new forms of play.

Create playful rituals

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Establish playful rituals or traditions that you can look forward to.

This could be a weekly game night, a regular creative activity, or any other activity that brings you joy.

Build and Maintain a Financial Plan (It Is a Form of Play)

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While financial planning is typically seen as a serious and structured process aimed at setting goals and making decisions, it is actually a creative endeavor infused with problem-solving and imagination.

Infusing planning with a sense of play can lead to more innovative and effective outcomes.

Here’s how financial planning can incorporate elements of play.

Visualization and storytelling

Happy woman finding out about tax refund or saving money on taxes
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Playful financial planning might involve visualizing your desired future and crafting stories around it. This can make the planning process more engaging and help communicate the vision more effectively.

This is particularly true for setting goals and building out your future budget.

Budgeting can be seen as a chore, but using the detailed budgeter in the Planner is actually an incredibly useful and playful way to think about who you want to be in the future.

Creative problem-solving

Happy seniors with money
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Play encourages brainstorming, experimentation, and trying out new ideas.

Financial planning can benefit from these creative processes, where participants are encouraged to explore unconventional solutions and think outside the box.

Scenario building

Happy couple with money
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Playful strategic planning might involve creating and exploring various scenarios or “what-if” situations.

This can lead to a deeper understanding of potential challenges and opportunities, allowing for more informed decision-making.

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