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The Importance of Play to Our Social and Mental Health

Updated on August 2, 2018
MsDora profile image

MsDora, former teacher and Certified Christian Counselor, explores attitudes and actions that can help us maintain our mental well-being.

“There’s a clear relationship between play and how much joy and fulfillment people experience in their lives,” states Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. “It’s a health issue, as important as exercise or taking vitamins.”2

Dr. Patch Adams3 also subscribes to the health benefits of play. Physician and clown, he travels the world spreading love and healing through treatment which includes clown performances. He visits war zones, refugee camps and natural disaster sites—places where play would be the last thing on people’s minds. His play has positively affected the lives and health of people in more than sixty countries.

Clown care group at the Bambin Gesù Hospital in Italy.  Photo by  Kurosawa and Frack
Clown care group at the Bambin Gesù Hospital in Italy. Photo by Kurosawa and Frack | Source

What Kind of Play Do We Need?

Somebody told us, in our early adulthood, to act our age. Perhaps we thought it meant that adults do not play. However, sometimes when we feel frustrated and not sure why, or when we are tired but cannot sleep, play could be what we need to improve our well-being.

Here are some of the characteristics of the kind of play the experts4 recommend:

  • Not an obligation

We are not obligated to do it. We are not trying to fulfill a commitment. We abandon the seriousness with which we approach work and accommodate our childlike, playful side.

  • Solely for enjoyment

We do not have to win in a game with other people. We do not have to burn any calories if it’s a physical activity. We simply enjoy the moment.

  • Engaging (without taxing) the mind or body—or both

It requires conscious thought or action—not like staring at the television screen without following the movie plot, not pushing the swing without noticing the child’s responses.

Street Handball in Zaragoza, Spain.  Photo by Sergio.
Street Handball in Zaragoza, Spain. Photo by Sergio. | Source
  • Helps us lose track of time

That is because we are having so much fun, we neglect to look at the clock. We do not rush to get to the end of play.

  • Takes away self-consciousness

    We are not afraid to laugh, or scream. There is no need for any pretentious airs to impress. We are comfortable with ourselves and that makes our playmates comfortable with us.

This list of characteristics does not require us to check off each one when deciding to play. It simply suggests an awareness and an approach that will help us enjoy our play.

With Whom Do We Play?

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. ― Plato

One important aspect of play is that it builds relationships; we get to see different character aspects of the people we play with, and we learn more about them. What games we play depend on with whom we play. Here are some easy choices:

  • Play with a child.

Most adult-child interactions require the adult to teach communication skills, social skills and anything that helps their healthy development. However, there are many opportunities for intentional play and the child incidentally learns cooperation and creativity. For example:

  • Build Lego blocks and color with crayons together.
  • Build jigsaw puzzles.
  • Keep the ball bouncing for as long as you can.
  • Put on imaginary wings and fly.

As the child grows, the games change with opportunities for different kinds of play: shoot hoops, jump rope, play board games.

  • Play with our mate.

Chances are, mates were both very playful when they first fell in love. True, life is busier now, but they both need some relaxation time. Bring back the early memories and strengthen the relationship by playing some of the games they used to play. Playing together enhances the sense of growing together.

  • Play with our co-workers.

At Googleplex in Mountain View, California, employers understand the importance of play to relieve stress during the workday. There are swimming pools; ping pong, billiard and foosball tables; video games; and like several other play-provider companies, a gym full of equipment.

Google employers even get to play in the restrooms with codes and puzzles provided above the urinals and on the doors of the restroom stalls.

At Google, employees can access the dining room by a slide.  Photo Credit: (#1 humor site on the "net.")
At Google, employees can access the dining room by a slide. Photo Credit: (#1 humor site on the "net.") | Source
  • Play Alone

We do not always need partners for play. When we feel burnt out, play can help us relax. When we feel stuck, it can tap our creativity. In our space, there are more opportunities for play than we realize.

  • Draw or paint a smiley face, a house, a pet. Use the child’s crayon. It does not have to be perfect and it may become a conversation piece, later.
  • Play some upbeat music and dance with or without rhythm—like nobody’s watching.
  • Pretend to be someone you admire and imitate his or her gestures before the mirror.
  • Dress up your pet and take pictures.
  • Just start playing, and more creative ideas will come.

Summary Benefits of Play

HelpGuide.org5recommends that play is better with, at least, one other person; and that we avoid the sensory overload of electronic gadgets. They summarize the benefits of play to our well-being in five points:

  • Play relieves stress.

The fun triggers the release of endorphins, which makes us feel good and provides an overall sense of well-being.

  • It improves brain function.

Puzzles and other games like chess can improve brain function and prevent memory problems. The social interaction also keeps stress and depression at bay.

  • It boosts creativity.

Play stimulates the imagination, and makes us better at adapting and problem solving.

  • It improves relationships.

People who play together become friendly. They loosen up, and often, share their stories and emotions. They laugh, develop trust and enjoy each other’s company.

  • It keeps us feeling young.

It boosts our energy and vitality, improves our resistance to disease, and makes us feel better.

All work and no play makes Jack an old man. Let's not grow old for lack of play!

So, how are you likely to respond if someone asks you about your play schedule?

See results


1. Hall, G.Stanley: The Quote Yard (George Bernard Shaw, Benjamin Franklin and Oliver Wendell Holmes, all receive credit for the quote; it is not certain which one is the owner.)

2, 4. Bertsos, Magrita: Eat, Play, Love; Redbook, Hearst Publishing Vol.219 No 2, August 2012

3. Adams, Patch: Patch Adams M.D. and Gesundheit! Institute, Me: A Short Biography, (visited 06/01/2014)

5. Robinson, Lawrence et al: HelpGuide: Why Play Matters for Adults, (April 2014)


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    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Mothers, it is so easy for us to fall back on play, but it is also never to late to resume the fun. The bet to you as you get back into stride.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Glutathione PRO, you make a big, big point in your last sentence. Thanks for your valuable input.

    • mothersofnations profile image

      Mothers of Nations 

      4 years ago

      Definitely made me realize I don't play nearly as often as I used to. I became so consumed by work & personal projects that I barely play any more. This served as a reminder of how much fun I've had playing games with my kids (not to mention how much they've had as well!) I need to do this more often than I have in these past months. Thank you for posting so many helpful articles. Your insight is a blessing!

    • Glutathione PRO profile image

      Ken Williams 

      4 years ago

      Love this article! People underestimate the profound effects of positivity and "play" in their lives. It is easier to understand how beneficial play is when you understand how detrimental stress is.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Maggie, you're so right about the joy of playing with the kids. Thanks for your input.

    • Maggie.L profile image


      4 years ago from UK

      Hi Marie, A really interesting article and so true. I think that's one of the things that's so enjoyable about having children as that we get to play with lego and dress up dolls all over again.

      Voted up!

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Marie, nice meeting you. Glad you enjoy my article. Yes, we need time for play to keep us balanced.

    • marieloves profile image


      4 years ago from Canada

      What a great article, Dora! Thank you for illustrating how important play is for adults.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Sheila, thank you for sharing those wonderful quotes. I love your attitude.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      VVanNess, good for you! Take break and go play. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Great hub! My two favorite quotes are "I may grow old, but I refuse to grow up" and "Life's too short to be serious all the time". The games I play may have changed over time, but I still love to play.

    • VVanNess profile image

      Victoria Van Ness 

      4 years ago from Fountain, CO

      This sounds like fun. Even adults need a break from being so mature and responsible all the time. lol I know I do.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Ann, you're privileged. Sometime cats,sometimes kids. Keep right on playing. Thanks for your comment.

    • Ann1Az2 profile image


      4 years ago from Orange, Texas

      MsDora, now that you've written about it, I've decided I need more productive play in my life. I do exercise and take care of my cats, but I need to play with them more.

      In the fall, I love volunteering at our Christian school because it gives me time to play with the kids. And you're right - play keeps us young.

      Voted up and well done, my friend!

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Devika, you're so right. Playing is one way to show appreciation for the sweet gift of life.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Life should be treated as the gift we have been given. Your hub shares a light of life indeed.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Faith, I have also tried to share and without success. Hopefully, our patience will soon pay off.

      Thanks for your input on the play principle. Yes, grandchildren are a great inspiration for play, but they're not always around. Anyway, you seem like a fun person who can create play, so play on when the need arises! Blessings to you, too!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      4 years ago from southern USA

      I believe my grands are keeping me young with all the playtime we have and never a dull moment, all pure joy. However, I do need to incorporate more play during those times when they are not up to visit. Great tips here. It is so important that our lives have a healthy balance, especially including play time!

      Thank you for another great write!

      Up and more, tweeting, pinning, google+ and will try to share on HP, but it has not been working for me here of late

      Blessings always

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Michelle, I think the same about that Google slide. Good that you have fun on your schedule. Thanks for your comment.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Flourish, you're doing something really good, getting those teens to talk. More power to your creativity,and thank you for sharing.

    • Efficient Admin profile image

      Efficient Admin 

      4 years ago from Charlotte, NC

      If I worked at Google I would be using the slide every day! That looks like a super fun thing to do in a "corporate" environment. If I had to be serious 24 hours a day, 7 days a week I would be depressed and grumpy. Having fun adds brightness to the hours. Very interesting and detailed hub. Voted up and across.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      4 years ago from USA

      I love to play word games during dinner. It gets verbally reluctant teens and grumpy spouses talking ... nicely. Most of them I have made up, and they're rather off-the-wall.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Bill, so great that both you and Bev enjoy playing. More play power to you, and thank you for sharing.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Eric, I'm sure your four-year old has a great time playing with his clown-dad. Enjoy it and thanks for your input.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Ignugent, we are in agreement with each other. Thank you for your comment.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm with you all the way on this one, Dora, and we do play on a regular basis at our house. Great for the health, great for the attitude....yes indeedy, I love to play, and Bev enjoys it even more than I do. :) Great topic.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Dora, I cheat, I make my 4 year old play with me. We did all your suggestions yesterday - except kick ball and running around instead of jigsaws. I was definitely an evil dragon for awhile.

      I was depressed so I did not play,,,, and then I remembered I was depressed because I did not play.

      Wonderful piece here, thank you for the reminders.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Very true. We need to play and enjoy life. Playing is also good for our health.

      Have a nice day!

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Frank, thank you for your affirming input. I always appreciate you.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Denise, we DO all the time; we ought to BE sometimes. Relaxing IS a specific purpose.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      4 years ago from Shelton

      Playing not only keeps the heart happy, but the soul too. I think this should be a must read hub.. and hub of the day if I were to select voted awesome as per usual Frank :)

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      4 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      It has been a long time since I have done something for just the pure enjoyment of it! Most things in my life have meaning and are done for a specific purpose. I'll watch a movie once in a while, just to relax, but here that doesn't count! This is going to take some thought!

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Word, thank you for delaying your bedtime to read my hub. So glad that you have fun on our agenda. You are healthier and happier living the play principle. Thank you for sharing.

    • word55 profile image


      4 years ago from Chicago

      Having fun is my favorite past time. This hub explains the truth of why we like to have fun in the first place. It puts the boost in our lives and it should not matter whether you win or not. If I race someone it should be for the fun of being able to participate and contend. It shows energy had to burn. That's fun in itself. I tell you, I wished my old job had a sliding board however, at the firehouses we had sliding poles that were just as much fun to slide down (two and three stories). It's playtime when you're sometimes on the happy dance floor too. We should always take time out for play. It was fun reading and commenting here. Now I'm going to dive into bed :-) Thank you MsDora :-)

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      EP, thank you for weighing in. We really need to put play on our schedule.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Ologsinquito, you put it nicely. Thank you.

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 

      4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I believe that it is necessary to incorporate some play time into one's schedule. Too much work is taxing on both the mind and body; it's necessary to have some fun as well!

    • ologsinquito profile image


      4 years ago from USA

      Great article. We need to have fun, relax and enjoy one another's company.


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