Making fun a priority
Let’s face it, sometimes we take ourselves a little too seriously.
As adults we often get caught up in our daily tasks, solving problems and getting things done. We can get caught in routines, too – get up, go to work, come home, eat, go to bed, repeat.
We don’t have time for fun, or worse, we actually forget about it.
Plus, stress can keep us in a serious mindset and looking for solutions. When we’re stressed, the brain wants to DO something – well, what if the thing to do is actually to have some fun?!
Play time seems to be a bit scarce these days.
With the push to be productive and always on and available via our smart devices, our brains can forget what it’s like to have some time for free play, like our kids do.
We can actually take a lesson from children who make play a priority. But the adult, practical brain may need some good reasons for “frivolous” play, so read on.
Play for flexible brains and learning
How does having fun help our brains?
Studies of rats have shown that the urge to play comes from the brain’s more primitive, limbic area, but that it also develops connections to the more complex prefrontal cortex which is responsible for higher-level thinking and social and emotional intelligence.
Neuroscientists believe that play not only helps create neural pathways to the prefrontal cortex, but it also helps to develop social skills, and facilitates new experiences and learning. Play may indeed be a precursor to social connectivity, creativity and problem-solving.
Play has also been found to activate the release of neurochemicals like norepinephrine which is sometimes called the “feel-good” chemical, and dopamine which is part of the brain’s reward system. So when we play, we want to do it more, which is a good thing because these neurochemicals support the brain’s ability to change and to learn.
Play for stress
Research has shown that higher levels of play in monkeys correlates to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
And a sign of fun, laughter, is also linked to lower stress and improved learning.
It makes sense if you think of it like this: fun signals to our brains that we’re safe, all is well, no need to stress. If we didn’t feel safe, we couldn’t really be having fun.
The fun challenge
Real fun is when we don’t want it to stop, we lose track of time, we get lost in the activity for its own sake. And when we can get out of our routine and lose ourself in play, we’re strengthening new neural connections that help the brain learn and grow.
On a scale of 1-10, how high is your fun-meter these days? Be honest.
Summer is a great time to plan for some fun and shake up the normal routine. Plus, you’re doing something for your brain and your well-being, so you can lose the guilt!
So here’s the fun challenge:
#1 – For the next week, do one simple thing a day that’s fun, that makes you laugh or smile and that’s different from your normal routine. Maybe this is jumping into water, running through a sprinkler, playing your favorite card game, dancing to your favorite song, or jumping and clicking your heels (or trying to ;).
By doing something each day, you’ll strengthen the neural pathways for play, and because your brain just might release some dopamine and norepenphrine, you’ll probably want more…
#2 – Plan or create a fun event that involves playing with others, whether that’s a bocce tournament, charades, game night – you pick.
#3 – Do something fun that you’ve had the urge to do but haven’t because it seems too impractical… and do NOT feel guilty!
I’ve started playing tennis with the kids, dug out some old CD’s to start listening to, and went to see one of my favorite bands from college. Next, I’m finally going to get that croquet set for the family.
What will you do? Remember too that if you’re having fun, you’re going to be more fun to be around.
Speaking of that, share this post via email or one of the icons below with some friends who could use some more fun. Let’s do this – seriously!
Photo by Neko Tai on Unsplash.