What is Play? And what does it mean to be playful?
Much wiser heads than mine have considered and written on this subject, and I won’t pretend to have anything more than the most passing acquaintance with their conclusions.
Clearly ‘play’ is a complex and multi-faceted subject.
But, for me, there is one thing above all others that characterises play:Play has no purpose! Click To Tweet
Obviously I’m being deliberately provocative here, but I do mean what I say: play, at its purest, does not set out to achieve anything.
The more any activity has a goal to attain, an outcome to achieve, the less like play it becomes.
For example, which is more playful: an Olympic athlete, training and striving for a medal; or a little child, running and spinning and leaping, wherever and however the mood takes them?
This is why it is so hard for our work to feel playful – because, by definition, work has a goal, whereas play does not. We ‘work towards’ something, we don’t ‘play towards’ it.
Of course, much real play does have a ‘goal’ of its own – to build a sandcastle, or complete a puzzle, or finish (and perhaps win) a game. So the distinction between work and play is primarily one of external goals – work is a means to an end, whereas play is an end in itself.
(Having said this, I do think that perhaps the purest, most playful play is play that has no goal at all, just a joy in the activity of the present moment – such as the running, spinning, leaping child mentioned above.)
For example, cooking can be playful if we are trying out new recipes, but rather less so when we just need to put food on the table.
Of course, play does have numerous benefits – but these cannot be our reason to play.Play is its own reward. Click To Tweet
C S Lewis – author of the Narnia books, and much else besides – wrote this:
You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.
This principle can be seen right across all aspects of our lives, but concerning play and playfulness it could be rewritten like this:
You can’t get the benefits of play by making these the purpose of play; you can get the benefits of play only by being playful for it’s own sake.
In other words, the more we seek the benefits of play, the less like play it becomes; and the less like play it becomes, the more we’ll miss out on the very benefits of play that we seek.
But if, on the other hand, we simply give ourselves over to playfulness, then we’ll find that in the purity of our play, we get the benefits of play ‘thrown in for free’.
So, what does this all mean in practice? I hope, perhaps, to explore this a bit further in future posts (although, judging by my previous record, this might be something of a vain hope on my part!) For now, I’ll leave us with two simple takeaways:When we make time to play, let us just play! Click To Tweet Let us make all of life more playful, by incorporating more things that have no purpose at all! Click To Tweet
Thank you for reading this. Please do share with others, and let me know your thoughts. Thank you!
My thoughts about play and playfulness have been revived and refocused by Ben Ross (The Flying Racoon) and his 100 Days of Play. Do take a look.
Image [CC0 1.0] via openclipart.org