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The benefits of play

Want to be happier and more creative? Allow yourself some play time.

Don’t berate yourself for watching a film when you should really be cleaning the bathroom, or for eschewing your run for a game of Frisbee with your friends. A study from North Dakota State University, US, has found that the more childlike we are in our thinking, the more imaginative we become. ‘Play is a profound biological process which shapes the brain, makes us smarter and more adaptable and fosters empathy,’ says Stuart Brown MD, psychiatrist, founder of the National Institute for Play in the US, and author of new book Play (JP Tarcher/ Penguin Putnam, £13.99).

He argues the point of play is far from just pleasure – it’s key to our creativity and brain development. In fact, says Brown, play has led to some of mankind’s greatest ideas and inventions – the first steam engine, for example, was a toy.

Remember how to play

Read the descriptions below and work out your ideal form of play. Then, the only obstacle is getting started, which isn’t easy because most of us have play conditioned out of us at a young age. ‘As we get older, we’re made to feel guilty for playing – we’re told it’s unproductive, a waste of time, even sinful,’ says Brown. ‘Any play that’s allowed is very regimented and competitive, but that misses the point, as free play allows us to be creative and develop new ways of looking at things.’ So give yourself permission to dawdle, daydream, laugh at things that strike you as silly and spend time doing things you enjoy – even if you’re not actively achieving anything. You’re improving your brain power, creativity and wellbeing with every moment.

What’s your type of play?

Read the descriptions of each type and decide which sounds like you. You may relate to elements of several, but choose the one that sums you up the best. If two describe you equally well, read the suggestions for both.

The joker

Making people laugh gives you a kick, and you love practical jokes. Your perfect play = Watching comedies or trying your hand at stand-up yourself.

The kinesthete 

Movement is key to play for you. You feel at your most relaxed when dancing, walking or swimming and are bursting with energy. Your perfect play = Playing sport for the fun aspect, rather than for competition.

The explorer

You love making new discoveries, whether it’s a new holiday destination, the hottest exercise craze or a new relationship. Your perfect play = Save up for adventure trips or sign up for a fun new evening class.

The competitor 

You feel great when you win or succeed at something. And you like keeping score, whether bettering your own previous record or beating others. Your perfect play = Play a team sport or take up competitive running or cycling. Try mental games, such as scrabble or cards.

The artist

You love making things. Cooking, knitting and painting are your ideal ways to relax. Your perfect play: Try a new craft.

The storyteller 

You adore reading books and watching films and get caught up in them. Your perfect play = Try penning short stories, poetry or a novel. Look out for writing classes and competitions to get you going.

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