Updated: Jan 15, 2021
Today, 3rd January, my husband said, ‘I want to thank you for not asking me what my aims are for this year!’ You can imagine my surprise, after all, what better question could there be at the start of twelve whole months of possibility? I could be criticized for being more practical than spontaneous - I mean, why eat out when you can bring your own food or go to the cinema when you have Netflix? But this doesn’t mean I can’t be fun too!
For those of you who are familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), I am a ‘J’ (Judger), and characteristically J’s aren’t comfortable playing until they have finished their work. The corresponding opposite preference is ‘P’ (Perceiver), and P’s have the ability to play anytime, often finishing their work at the last minute. The best thing about MBTI is, if delivered skilfully and accurately, you discover that you actually like your type; you like yourself! So although I have to work at not working and embrace the contradiction of planned spontaneity - thinking ahead, formulating, accomplishing and completion are all a joy to me; and hey, I can always change my plan if it’s not working out! My husband on the other hand, is a P, and therefore doesn’t like to be unnecessarily tied down to a year’s plan before he has all the information about what the fifty-two weeks might offer, in order to make the most informed decisions. Something beneficial might come along at any moment, and he needs to be free to follow where that might lead, to play with a new idea or opportunity if you will, rather than be restricted by a blueprint of what the future might hold.
So, what’s the value of play anyway? According to Stuart Brown, (doctor, psychiatrist, clinical researcher and founder of the National Institute for Play), in his book, ‘play’……. ‘The opposite of play is not work – the opposite of play is depression. Our inherent need for variety and challenge can be buried by an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Over the long haul, when these spice-of-life elements are missing, what is left is a dulled soul. Far from standing in opposition to each other, play and work are mutually supportive.……Though we have been taught that play and work are each other’s enemy, what I (Brown) have found, is that neither one can thrive without the other. We need the newness of play, it’s sense of flow and being in the moment. We need the sense of discovery and liveliness that it provides. We also need the purpose of work, the economic stability it offers, the sense that we are doing service for others, that we are needed and integrated into our world…… At their best, play and work, when integrated, make sense of our world and ourselves.
Play is called recreation because it makes us new again, it re-creates us and our world……with a pinch of pleasure it integrates our deep psychological, emotional and cognitive capacities. And quite without knowing it, we grow…… In the long run, work does not work without play.’
Wow! So having established that play is really important for us all, what about those of us who would, ‘Rather not play, thank you very much!’, because, ‘We’ve got other more important things to do’. Mercifully, Brown describes the characteristics of eight different play personalities, and exploring each one, you’ll probably find yourself in there somewhere, encouraged to play in your own authentic way; a way that works naturally for you, whether you are an Extravert or Introvert, Sensor or Intuitive, Feeler or Thinker, Judger or Perceiver.
After some years of deliberation, I have recently embarked on my version of play by purchasing a Vespa scooter! It wasn’t cheap, it’s not particularly practical considering the transportation needs of the family, I am required to take more road-tests, and the British weather can make the idea of getting out-and-about seem unappealing at the moment. But when I do get out there, it will be fun, it will be life-giving, and it will break me out of my cocoon of problem-solving, enabling me to ‘fancy-free’ for a while, ‘burning’ up the highway for no good reason other than I will hopefully come back changed for the better.
Brown encourages us that, ‘When we play, dilemmas and challenges will naturally filter through the unconscious mind and work themselves out…… where we have felt pulled in one direction by the heart and another direction by the head, play allows us to find a balanced course or third way.’ This I am looking forward to!
Finally, while we are on the subject of play that is perfectly suited to each of us as individuals, I smiled when I noticed that Stuart Brown, who lives in California, works out of his office treehouse!