By Dr. B
My husband and I have this long-standing argument about the fact that I love to watch Grey’s Anatomy. It is one of my “guilty pleasures” as one would call it. He, and I think I would be accurate to say this, literally HATES that I love to watch it.
My husband is bit of a telly snob; He has strong ideas about what is worthwhile to watch and what is not. He will pass by the door of our den where our television is located, peek in as the kids are watching their 100th episode of “The Kardashians,” and yell out “you are making a choice!”
I’m not kidding.
I’m a grown up and not his child, so he can’t really pull that one on me, but I can tell, he so wants to. He gives away that he finds it more acceptable when I watch documentaries, or historical fiction, even "Outlander", or high-brow productions like "Handmaids Tail". Just not Grey’s or shows that do not seem to add value to who I am as a human being.
Unfortunately, I do not think my husband stands alone in those views. We have become a culture where productivity has become our sacred value. It has become the gold standard against which we judge our worthiness and doing things that are not work or not productive are felt to be wasteful. This is why “pleasures” make us feel “guilty” and are sometimes hidden from the judgy eyes of others. We are at a point, argues Brené Brown, that we hold on to “exhaustion as a status symbol.”
So, when I read that play was defined as “time spent without purpose” (Brené Brown) and described by Dr. Stuart Brown, the foremost researcher on play, as a PUBLIC HEALTH NECESSITY throughout our whole lives, I thought: “Yes! This is my chance to find evidence to prove to my husband that watching Grey’s was my form of play, and that it is actually GOOD for me, and by virtue, him; Because, of course, “happy wife, happy life.”
Tomorrow we will be releasing a podcast on play which will discuss the definition and benefits (and more) of play during our lifespan in greater detail, so I will not reiterate too much of that here, but I do want to talk about why play is a necessity even in adulthood, and what constitutes real play.
PLAY IS ESSENTIAL TO LIFE.
Brown says, “We are built to play, and built by play for all our lives.” It is a natural, inherent instinct in humans to play. Brown also studied play histories and found a connection between play deprivation (in rough and tumble play) during childhood and homicidal prisoners in adulthood; Compared to a comparison group, 100% of whom had vivid memories of childhood play including playground buddies, games of chase, and so on, homicidal prisoners had none. Instead their childhoods were marred with a lot of isolation and oppression. Findings have also shown that animals prevented from engaging in social play during childhood are unable to form normal social relationships with peers, cannot distinguish friend from foe, do not bond with a mate, and have many other difficulties including less rich brain connections.
In childhood, but continuing through adulthood, play is a way of developing and practicing social skills, problem solving, risking exploration, creativity, and innovation. Play releases endorphins, reduces stress, improves brain functionality and memory, stimulates growth of the cerebral cortex, keeps us feeling young and energetic and even builds our resistance to disease.
It is true as George Bernard Shaw says, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing,”
Socially, play improves relationships and connections by increasing empathy, compassion, trust, and intimacy. It helps us break the ice in awkward social situations (including dating) and helps in the creation of new friendships.
Most powerfully, Brené Brown, in studying people who live a wholehearted life (a successful, happy and healthful life, who engage in their lives from a place of worthiness and therefore have the courage to be vulnerable and live “all in”), found they all had something in common; they “goofed off”, they played.
Dr. Stuart Brown famously concludes, “The opposite of play is not work. It’s depression.”
Alan Watts, a British writer and speaker known for interpreting and popularizing Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism for a Western audience, further claimed:
“One might say the most important thing in human life for one’s sanity, is to be able to be playful or to be able to do things which are sublimely useless. Where you see there is no room in our lives for the useless and for the purposeless, we are in serious danger of going completely crazy.”
If after all this, you still believe in productivity over play, and work as the supreme master, Stuart Brown added:
“[Play] can bring back excitement and newness to our job. Play helps us deal with difficulties, provides a sense of expansiveness, promotes mastery of our craft, and is an essential part of the creative process. Most important, true play that comes from our own inner needs and desires is the only path to finding lasting joy and satisfaction in our work. In the long run, work does not work without play.”
So far, with all the health, cognitive, social and psychological benefits of play, I am winning the debate on Grey’s I think. My husband would certainly benefit from a wife who kept her sanity.
BUT WHAT EXACTLY CONSTITUTES PLAY?
I would have loved to stop while I was ahead, but a question kept nagging in my head: “what is play exactly, and would watching Grey’s Anatomy qualify as play?”
Stuart Brown offered 7 characteristics of play:
1. Purposelessness; Play is time spent without purpose (Brené Brown) -
2. Voluntary; It has no obligatory aspect or duty.
3. Inherent attraction; It is fun, makes us feel good, and gets us excited.
4. Freedom from time; We lose track of time as in a state of flow.
5. Diminished self-consciousness; We drop the concern for what others think of us.
6. Improvisational potential; There is no specific system of doing things, leaving room for creativity and discovery.
7. Continuation desire; It is accompanied by a strong desire to continue the activity.
Hmm, with the exception of number 6, I think Grey’s is still safe?
But a deeper search across all definitions of play suggests the five consistent properties of play are:
· It is pleasurable
· It is intrinsically motivated
· It is process-oriented
· It is actively engaged
· It is non-literal
So there it is ..the snag…active engagement!! Watching television is passive. It has even been described as "non-participating dope addiction." My sweet little daughter tried to defend my Grey's addiction by pointing out, "But you are actively engaged in it! You're always crying when I see you watch it!" Bless her sweet soul. It ends up I do perhaps watch Grey's more as an escape than as rest or play. You know that saying, "People are not addicted to alcohol or drugs [insert Telly here], they are addicted to escaping reality." Grey's is my escape.
Perhaps I need to do research on why escaping reality can be good for me...
In the meantime, I will leave you with this quote and a wish that you create some time for active play in your life:
"What would the world be like without play? Brown asks. Life without play is not merely an absence of sports or games, he says. Without play, books, art, movies, music, dancing, jokes and stories would disappear.
There would be no flirting, no irony, no comedy.
Play adds colour to what would otherwise be a dull and boring place." Larry Maguire (2020)
Brown, Brené (2010).The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be
and Embrace Who You Are. Hazeldon Publishing, Minnesota.
Brown, Stuart (2010). Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the
Soul, Penguin Books, London.
Maquire, L (2020) The 7 Properties of Play. Larrymaquire.com