To live fully, you have to play

Break out of the tedium and have a good time!

By Barbara Pierce

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

— George Bernard Shaw

When was the last time you did something that was so engaging, so much fun, that you lost track of time?

For some, it’s whirling on the dance floor. For others it’s belting out a karaoke tune, exploring a new place, or shooting some hoops.

For Gloria Koslofsky of Utica, it’s going for a walk and using all her senses to absorb the sights, the sounds, the feel of the leaves scrunching under her feet, the sweet smell of flowers, and the breeze on her face.

“Nature is a great injection for happiness in our hectic lives,” said the 77-year-old retired teacher.

For Gina Esposito, also of Utica, it’s dancing. “We love dancing; it’s always been a big part of our lives. It’s central to our lives,” said Esposito. She is 77 while her husband Luc is 82.

In our hectic lives, many of us are so busy that we never have time for fun. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we’ve stopped playing. When we carve out some leisure time, we’re more likely to zone out in front of the TV or computer. But because we’re adults, that doesn’t mean we have to take ourselves so seriously. We all need to play.

In fact, play is essential to our health.

“Play is vitally important,” said Bowen White, online. White founded the National Institute for Play.

We’ve all been trained to relegate play to some later time, after the work is done, he said. For most of us, fun starts after work.

Traditionally, concerns about wellness have focused on things like fitness, nutrition, weight reduction, not smoking, taking responsibility for one’s lifestyle, etc. The fun factor — play — usually isn’t included.

“I believe that play, as well as relationships, may just be central to living fully, living well,” he said. “My bias is clear: not playing enough is bad for your health.”

Defining play is difficult, because it’s a process, not a thing. It’s anything that brings you joy, that makes you feel good. It doesn’t have a goal; it’s not structured; it can be a needless activity, like knitting or crocheting.

It can be laughing with your partner or friends, throwing a Frisbee, building a snowman, playing fetch with your dog, going for a bike ride, or playing a game with your grandchildren.

Keep it fresh

Play is one of the most effective tools for keeping relationships fresh and exciting. Playing together brings joy, vitality, and resilience to relationships.

Even in the most difficult of times, taking time away from your troubles to play or laugh can go a long way toward making you feel better. It’s true what they say: Laughter really is the best medicine.

Koslofsky shared some of the ways she plays that keep her fully alive and happy.

“I love to laugh, and I seek out those experiences that help me do so. I call them my ‘little adventures.’ For example, last summer I took my girlfriends to an outdoor sculpture park, Stone Quarry Art Park,” Koslofsky said. “We ate our picnic lunch on a hill overlooking the valley, and told ‘girlie’ stories. Then hiked the trails and admired the artwork. It was a beautiful day, likely to be repeated.”

“My boyfriend and I discovered concerts at the Sodus Bay Lighthouse, set against the backdrop of the sparkling blue waters of Lake Ontario. As the music wafts over the lawn, we eat a freshly grilled hotdog and enjoy an ice cream sundae while watching the graceful sailboats glide through the water. Then drive to our favorite fruit stand to taste and purchase homegrown peaches,” she said.

Because of dancing, Esposito and her husband are thriving. They’ve been dancing for years, and teach dance classes. “People who come to our classes thank us,” she said. “They say, ‘Dancing gives us a fun thing to do and we’ve made new friends.’”

Esposito has written a book about dancing. For more information about her book or on the Espositos’ dance lessons, see their website at http://ginalucadance.com.

It’s never too late to develop your playful, humorous side. The more you play, joke, and laugh, the easier it becomes.

You might begin by thinking about what fun means to you. Think about what you enjoyed doing as a child. What may still appeal to you?

Or, Google “fun ideas for adults” or “bucket list ideas“ for things you may want to try.

Combine fun with other activities. Of the things on your to-do list, could you find ways to make them more fun? For example, exercise can be fun. Find a class or activity that sounds fun, such as Zumba, pole dancing, belly dancing, or aqua biking.

Make a deliberate effort to do activities that involve humor, such as watching a funny movie or going to a comedy club.

Work a jigsaw puzzle, try a coloring book for adults, or Play-Doh® for adults.

Playfulness has the power to affect our lives in profound and unexpected ways.

As George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

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