Keep Playing

When you think of the word ‘play’, what comes to mind? For me, the image of children running around playing tag usually pops into my head. When I think about play as a concept, I rarely picture adults. After all, 30-somethings running around in a park playing tag seems a little silly – it’s much easier to imagine the same group of adults sitting in a meeting room reluctantly wearing business casual.

I’ve been listening to TED radio hour and recently stumbled onto research into how powerful playing is – for adults.

Which got me to thinking: why do we almost exclusively associate play with the population that is age 13 and under? And when did the idea of ‘being an adult’ change to ‘being serious’ all the time?

So put down your smartphone and pick up a ball to toss around – here are the top 3 reasons why playing is just as important as an adult as it was growing up.


Play makes us better workers

Ever talk to a friend who just got a job at a new startup and got super jealous of their office ping-pong breaks? Ever wonder why there seems to be a movement towards these hip, playful work environments? Here’s what Startup XYZ knows that your company might not: play has been linked to creativity and often boosts performance (not to mention those open and fun environments improve employee morale and retention).

Playing makes us goal-oriented. Studies documented at Stanford have shown that playing a video game with an avatar makes us more courageous, ambitious and committed to our goals. If you view playing as a part of everyday life (instead of just an escape from real life) you are likely to see a positive impact on your real-life goals.

According to research compiled by, playing games makes you a better employee as it can increase motivation, improve your memory, increase your efficiency levels and make you a more empathetic co-worker on your work teams.

Play can combat depression and anxiety

It turns out that friend on Facebook who keeps inviting you to play Candy Crush might be doing something right (who knew?). East Carolina University recently released a study that concluded, “casual video games help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in people with clinical depression.” Just 30 minutes of game play a day led to a 57% reduction in depression symptoms among participants studied – yielding similar (and sometimes better) results than medication.

People who view their lives in terms of game play improve their personal resilience. Want to test that for yourself? Check out the website SuperBetter which encourages ‘players’ reach their health goals (including mental health goals!) by encouraging every day curiosity, optimism and motivation to face life challenges.

Play helps us bond with others

According to research at Brigham Young University, parents who spend more time playing video games with their kids have much stronger real-life relationships with them.

Studies have also shown that just by playing the game Rock Band with a stranger for 15 minutes cultivates feelings of empathy and removes the natural anxiety that comes with being around people we don’t know.

Playing helps us loosen up during stressful situations and open the door up for more laughter and enjoyment. A playful environment can be conducive to making new friends and forming healthy relationships as it helps us develop trust, compassion and intimacy.

Have you ever experienced a team building course or activity? Often when we are thrown into ‘team building’ as adults we roll our eyes… but more often than not, we concede to them and end up having a good time. Not only that, but it usually does help us bond more with those around us.

Researcher Isabel Behncke (who studies the very playful Bonobos) sums it up well when she concludes, “Play is foundational for bonding relationships and fostering tolerance. It’s where we learn to trust.”

Okay, I get it. So how do I play more?

Think of playing as something you can integrate in to your everyday life, not something you have to stop your life to do.

  • If you plan to see your friends for dinner, bring a game with.
  • If you are going to get a workout in, make it social or make it into a game in your head.
  • Instead of buying a card for your upcoming baby shower or wedding you are attending, get creative and make one.
  • Arrange nights out with your friends that revolve around fun activities like bowling or singing karaoke instead of just going out to a bar.
  • Spend some time with those that do playing best: goof around with kids or play with a pet.

The good news? We are designed to play through our lifetimes, not just as children.

I ask you to, I encourage you to and I hope you keep playing.

Happiness Think & Feel

About Cass Gunderson

Cass hails from the southwest suburbs as a proud White Sox fan and a graduate of University of Illinois. By day, Cass is a full-time student at the University of Chicago's Booth Graduate Business School. Before deciding to throw away all her money to go back to school, Cass worked for a private equity firm that buys technology companies. Raised as the youngest in a family of older brothers, Cass grew up a tomboy and remains active in sports. To her mother’s satisfaction, Cass learned how to embrace her feminine side in college and has developed an interest for fitness activities that require spandex as opposed to knee-length basketball shorts. In her spare time, she runs a lot because it is cheaper than paying for real therapy. Cass has completed four marathons and one ultramarathon (she claims she'll never do this to herself again, but that's TBD). She can still be found on the basketball courts in Lincoln Park wearing knee-length basketball shorts.

1 thought on “Keep Playing

  1. I can definitely vouch that a ping pong table in the office is a morale booster. It shown to help cultivate a culture that is positive and enjoyable in the work environment.

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