Did you know that the more we play as a family together, the less we worry, and the smarter, more prosperous and happier we become? It’s true and these benefits increase exponentially when we play outside. How is that possible? When we worry, we over-focus on mental constructs and negativity.
One of my favorite quotes from Albert Einstein is this: “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” But honestly, how many of us do try to solve our problems by thinking about them (over and over)? Let’s face it. It’s easy to be serious.
The importance of play
Playing is an activity that actually increases intelligence by exercising a part of the brain that allows new information to come in. When we play, our minds become less rigid, increasing our chances of looking at the world (and our problems) from different perspectives, including a more optimistic point of view. Add family and nature to the equation and the benefits increase.
Time spent outside physiologically reduces anxiety. Spending time in nature increases our appreciation for all living things. Fresh air improves our health and brain function. Nature provides new information and stimuli for our senses. Playing outdoors develops our imagination, problem-solving skills and creativity.
…and the list goes on. Playing outside could be the secret solution to many of our personal and professional challenges. Who better to share playtime with than the most important people in your life? Your family. Not only do family activities promote better communication, but enjoying unstructured time together increases the pleasure, understanding and overall satisfaction in your family’s relationships.
Playing takes practice, so follow the fun
For children, playing is natural. For many of us adults, playing takes practice. What if we could re-learn how to play like we did when we were children, when we followed our impulses of what felt fun? What if we engaged in a give and take with our kids, our partners and ourselves that was silly and easy, with very few rules and lots of laughter and letting go? Author and clinical psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison writes, “Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.” I suggest we replace the word “Children” with “Humans” and add it to our daily life. When we let go of structure, we allow ourselves to experience a sense of freedom.
What happens when we play as a family together outside? We connect. We laugh. We rekindle the spark of feeling alive! When we play, we relax. When we relax we become more curious and comfortable being our genuine self. From that easygoing, authentic place, we can truly connect, let go, give, receive, laugh and enjoy. Nature calms. Enjoying the outdoors can be a time to unplug from our devices and let in the beauty and power of the natural world around us. When we allocate time in our schedule for outdoor fun with our family, we create opportunities to relax, rejuvenate and recharge.
It’s like riding a bike
Need inspiration for something to do? Go for a swim, take a walk, play ‘duck duck goose’, act like a child, run around in a circle, make up a game, throw a ball, hug a tree, smell the roses, catch a Frisbee, role-play with kids – let them act like the parents and you act like the children, play charades, count the clouds, look at the stars, dance outside, play in the dirt, make a bunch of mistakes, make it fun for YOU. BE in the moment and lay on the grass, tell a story together where everyone says a sentence and each person starts their turn with the words Yes, And… Even 15 minutes of outside playtime together can make a difference. If you’ve got a whole Saturday afternoon – go for it.
In addition to the countless benefits of playing outside with family is the prize of Belonging. We all need to feel loved, worthy and that we belong. Playing outside, being our authentic, silly, complicated, imperfect, funny, true self, with the ones we love reminds us what’s really important, that we matter to each other and that we belong.
about the author
Rachel Madorsky, LCSW is a psychotherapist and relationship expert. With over 18 years of experience in the field, her love for her work and the Austin community keeps growing with each client she serves. Rachel’s therapy practice focuses on empowering individuals and couples to have more love, more joy and more peace in their relationships and in their lives. Find out more: rachelmadorsky.net