When you’re caught up in the daily grind, having fun is the last thing on your mind. With so many urgent tasks and responsibilities to attend to, doing something just for the joy of it can seem like a waste of time. Yet ironically, play for grown-ups is more than just fun and games.
“Having fun is a non-negotiable if you’re serious about flourishing – that is, living a life that’s high on mental health and wellbeing,” says Dr Suzy Green, founder of The Positivity Institute. “Plus, there’s a difference between being childish and being child-like, where you bring a sense of curiosity, a non-judgemental mindset and you’re in the present moment.”
Freeing your inner child can give your mental and physical health a major boost. We take a closer look at the heavyweight benefits of lightening up:
Having fun with others strengthens our emotional bonds and brings us closer. “It’s the shared experience, the laughter and the ‘contagious’ nature of emotions,” explains Green. With your kids, a fun activity you can enjoy together now can also serve as a way to connect when they’re older. With your partner, it’s about bringing joy back into the relationship, for instance with a lively date night (hello, indoor trampolining, bowling or laser skirmish!), a spontaneous pillow fight or trying a new activity such as art classes together.
Joy and delight are powerful antidotes to negative emotions such as stress, worry and anxiety. “When we play, we go into a ‘flow’ state where we are completely absorbed in the activity and become one with it, leaving no space for anxiety,” Green says. To tap into ‘flow’, give yourself permission to do something that brings you joy, whether it’s colouring in, laughter yoga or playing Twister.
A fun-focused holiday such as a Carnival cruise offers plenty of ways for grown-ups to play: from mini golf, live comedy, dance classes and karaoke to the amazing Green Thunder waterslide (the steepest and fastest waterslide at sea!). It’s all about having a break from regular life and enjoying yourself.
Putting play back on the agenda can improve your overall physical wellbeing, according to a study in the United States. Researchers found that taking part in enjoyable leisure activities, including holidaying, sports and hobbies, and doing fun things with others is linked to lower blood pressure, reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol and better sleep. Bonus: enjoyable activities are also linked to a smaller waist circumference and lower body mass index. Who knew weight loss could be fun?
As adults, we typically focus on the outcome of a task, pushing ourselves to get it right or, better still, perfect. But with playful activities, the focus is on doing something for the sheer pleasure of it, without judgement or outcomes. This in turn can teach us to go easier on ourselves. “It makes sense intuitively that play is good for our self-esteem, because when we hold something lightly we have space for failure and a bit of playfulness around it not being perfect,” says Green. Taking this open-minded, have-a-go attitude into regular life helps us to be more creative, especially with problem solving.
When we do something child-like and enjoyable, we trigger a cascade of positive emotions – happiness, pleasure, amusement, delight, contentment. And, according to the folks in white lab coats, feel-good emotions boost our likelihood of a longer life, with one US study concluding these feelings “significantly predict longevity”. Other research suggests an upbeat outlook can extend our life by up to a decade.
The best bit about living longer? More time for fun, of course!