When was the last time you took time out of your busy schedule to play? Whether inside or outdoors, and regardless of your age, can you recall the last time you permitted yourself to have unbridled free time – to imagine, to explore, or to escape?
As adults, I think we view vacations as our “play time,” an opportunity for rest and relaxation from the grinding schedules of work and the family’s extracurricular activities. However, throughout the week, I think it’s vital to find time to tap into your inner child, releasing laughter, silliness, and letting go of structured schedules.
Lately, I had forgotten about the importance of play until my husband, Jeff, and I visited New Orleans in August to celebrate our anniversary. One day we visited the exhibits at The Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes and Culture, owned and founded by Carl Mack. The center contained the largest collection of Mardi Gras costumes in the city. As I walked into one of the rooms that I dubbed the “costume closet,” I discovered racks and racks of glittering, sparkling, bangled, and beaded headdresses and costumes. I grew wide-eyed and ecstatic, dressing up in these extravagant jeweled-toned outfits and modeling them in front of full-length mirrors to see my transformed appearance. For the next hour, I lost myself, magically transported into a world of imagination, laughter, and entertainment.
While touring the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida last month, Jeff and I stumbled across the Blue Angels simulation rides for kids and adults. Jeff and I dared each other to try this new and unexpected encounter. I bit my nails, grew apprehensive, and began to let fear take over when I saw that the capsule could roll, pitch, and yaw just like the planes flown by the expert pilots in their mid-aerial acrobatics shows. Despite my rising nerves, I hunkered down and embraced the unknown as Jeff bought our tickets. Once buckled into the five-point restraints and the cockpit lid closed, I remained wide-eyed, belly laughing, and scared all at the same time as I gyrated in circles, endured nosedives, and deep rolls to the left and right while watching the terrain on a simulated screen. When the ride was over, I stepped back out on solid ground, grateful I didn’t throw up or yell too many obscenities during the experience. I realized how much fun, having fun could be.
What are the health benefits of unstructured play-time for adults? There is a myriad of reasons for adults to find time to play that include alleviating stress, enhancing and deepening relationships through shared experiences, releasing good endorphins – the “feel-good” hormones, unlocking creative solutions to problems, boosting morale, and improving mental health.
While it’s imperative that children need to find time for unstructured play in their lives, whether at home or at school, so do adults. So, give yourself permission and go out and go play. After all, laughter is the best medicine. “A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones” (Proverbs 17: 22).
About Katie Hart Smith
Katie Hart Smith’s column, “From the Heart,” touches the heart, inspires, and entertains. Smith, a published author for over twenty years, believes that words, written or spoken, have power. To learn more, visit www.katiehartsmith.com.