The Brain and Play

by Kathy Laurenhue on July 3, 2012

One of my favorite books on the brain is called, Play – How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. Who could ask for a more comprehensive topic than that?

Author Stuart Brown, M.D., who has spent his career studying play, makes the claim that, “The ability to play is critical not only to being happy, but also to sustaining social relationships and being a creative, innovative person.”

As a member of the Association of Applied and Therapeutic Humor (AATH) and an advisor to their Humor Academy, I am a full-fledged member of the choir he is speaking to, and it is a theme I will talk of often in this blog, because the subject is huge. Let me begin with broadening the definition of play.

In the last blog, I wrote about tightrope walker Charles Blondin and the whimsical way he played with crowds who watched him by not just performing an awesome feat, but entertaining them with an amusing folly such as fixing an omelet halfway along the walk. Play is something that can be done alone, with others, or have done to us.

Here is how Dr. Brown describes his subject: “Life without play is a life without books, without movies, without art, music, jokes, dramatic stories. Imagine a world with no flirting, no daydreaming, no comedy, no irony . . . In a broad sense, play is what lifts people out of the mundane. I sometimes compare play to oxygen – it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.”

  • Have you ever thought of play in these broader terms?
  • What else do you define as “play” in your own life?

One advantage of seeing play as wide-ranging is that anything you enjoy can qualify, and that makes play easier to build into a day. Even a 5-minute break to watch silly YouTube videos or page through a book of cartoons or your favorite artwork can refresh you. Or get up and dance next to your desk. If you work with others, announce “Dance Break!” and get them to dance for three minutes, too. Smile with each movement and in no time at all others will be smiling with you.

Soon we will discuss how play enhances brain power, but begin by sending me your answers to the above questions. And if you want to read ahead, you can learn more about Dr. Brown’s book, Play and/or order it here.

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