Sigmund Freud posed an intriguing question, “Where does a thought go when it's forgotten?" Jean Piaget smartly observed, “Play is the work of children." Thinking about those two ideas together leads to my query. What happens to the desire to play with the onset of adulthood? If “love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness,” as Freud noted, where is room if any, for play in your 20's, 30's and beyond?
Enter PLAY. I learned about Olivia Hamilton's immersive experience from one of my favorite radio programs called,'The Frame,' after a day at the office. Ms. Hamilton has one of the best quarter life crisis transformation stories I have yet encountered. It appears that she is taking calculated risks that are unfolding nicely, rather than simply becoming complacent with external signifiers of success.
Back to how to understand play in the context of adult life. What Freud had to say about beauty may well apply to play. "Beauty has no obvious use; nor is there any clear cultural necessity for it. Yet civilization could not do without it.” I would argue that while concepts of beauty and play are not perfectly analogous, there is room for 'civilized' adult play that has an important place in one's life over the lifespan.
The challenge is to make play childlike without being childish that appropriately fuels and inspires us. Rather than neglect the memory of the seven year old, try to see your child parts as something which your mature parts needs to thrive. Keeping the perpetual seven year old happy may be a necessary component for the business of life.
Don't get me wrong. Being on task and on time has its place. Play's intrinsic value may be savored best as a reward for the discipline of work and the achievement of goals and results. I'm not only speaking of time spent at the office, or answering emails and texts. I'm including attending to family, friends, hearth and home. All are important, yet all too often leave little resources for play.
I admit to liking time spent on my dumb smart phone as much as the next person. Too much unplanned time also makes me uncomfortable. Maybe it takes retirement for time to open up. But then again, ignoring work/life balance by over focusing on giving up work is problematic. The unexpected and unwelcome aspects of life are something you can certainly count on at any age.
Back to play. Play is not the same as working out or even doing a hobby though meaningful these activities are. What I am talking about is entering another kind of interactional safe space, such that PLAY provides, that may be described as Montessori like learning stations interspersed with theater games designed for adults to tap into their eternal fun loving eternal child. The play we experienced was in downtown LA close to Grand Central Market. Asked to dress in all black athleta-leisure attire as there may be light physical activity you come off the bustling street into a silent all white environment like one of those roadside natural history museums the result of one person's collecting of curios and artifacts over a lifetime.
Shoes off and into the cubbies, you are lead to a chute that drops a couple of feet into a Yayoi Kusama style infinity room filled with 100's of Beanie Babies. One man who lingered there while others passed through remarked he felt 'reborn.' I liked the overstuffed chair with the sign 'grandfather's chair' where chocolate cigars were provided to relax. There was a corner with equipment to play doctor. I tried out the crutches. Hats and scarves were available for costumes. In the warehouse space there was room to ride the scooter provided. As soon as the thought rose up in me, "Where is the game Twister from my childhood," there it was!
All the while the playlist that was provided for the music from rag time to funky soul to techno played in the background was audible without being too loud which provided a soundscape for this 'free time.' Theater exercises alternated between charades and mirroring games.
Just as children need the freedom and time to play so do adults. Non goal directive adult play is not a luxury, it is a necessity. It may also be as Ovid once said, "In our play we reveal what kind of people we are." Abraham Maslow, most known for his 'Hierarchy of Needs," also said of play, “Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.”
There are so many great quotes about play reserved for the young of all ages. Here are a few noteworthy ones that I will end with:
"In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play." Friedrich Nietzsche
“Whoever wants to understand much, must play much.” Gottfried Benn
"The reluctance to put away childish things may be a requirement of genius." Rebecca Pepper Sinkler
“Necessity may be the 'Mother of Invention,' but play is certainly the father." Roger von Oech
“Play is training for the unexpected." Marc Bekof
Disclaimer Alert: Nothing written here should be construed as advice and is no substitute for therapy. If you or someone you know is suicidal, do not hesitate to reach out to a professional or trusted family member or friend to get needed help.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.
Tara Fass, LMFT #35078, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles, California. She treats adults and couples dealing with a broad range of issues from navigating the legacy of divorce in one's life, to the quarter life crisis and conscious aging. Together we attempt to make meaning [...]