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December 4, 2013
by Lisa Baker, M.A., R.C.C.

The Importance of Play

December 4, 2013 02:55 by Lisa Baker, M.A., R.C.C.


Play energizes us and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our naturalsense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities.- Stuart Brown

We don’t stop playing because we grow old;we grow old because we stop playing -George Bernard Shaw

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct -Carl Jung.

Play is the highest form of research. -Albert Einstein

We forget that the imagination at play is at the heart of all good work. -Julia Cameron

A late afternoon prairie thunderstorm had just swept its way through the small rural town I was staying in, leaving a turbulent tale of beauty in its wake. Peering out the window through eyes swollen with grief from a recent loss, I was suddenly seized with an urge to get out and play with my camera in the dizzying disparities of sun and cloud, rainbow and puddle, mud and freshly washed grass. Running after that summer storm, my tears mixing with stray raindrops, my feet slapping through puddles chasing down a great shot, I felt alive. Even in the middle of pain, unrest, indecision and conflict, when I could choose to soak up a moment of fun, truly letting go and playing for a while, life was still good. I could still acknowledge my heart’s ache, and I could laugh for a moment without discounting what I was going through. My capacity for enjoyment was still there; the dimensions of experience big enough to hold both a playful instant and the heaviness at hand. And for a brief period of time, the heaviness wasn’t quite so heavy. I recognized that life was still able to offer tangible glimpses of true happiness.   I have had seasons since that summer when fun is much more prevalent and my days are more frequently punctuated with a sense of childlike wonder; I love where there’s purity in my experience of joy, but I’m grateful that even when I have times tainted with the darker side of life, fun can invade my world for a while and lift my spirits.

Sometimes play comes more naturally and it’s easy to find; other times it takes a concerted effort to create fun and break out of whatever slump or mood we are in. We sometimes need to force ourselves to act opposite to our emotion and in doing so we find that our emotion changes into something more pleasant or at least more tolerable.

One of the skills we teach in Dialectical Behavior Therapy recognizes the value of intentionally building pleasurable activities into our routine which ultimately helps to raise the baseline of our emotional experience. This skill is called Accumulate Positives and when teaching it, it is useful to brainstorm by using this simple guide based on the work of Marsha Linehan.

How to Build Positive Experiences

Steps for increasing positive experiences

-In the short term do pleasant things that are possible right now; make your own list of fun experiences you can do and do at least one of them mindfully each day

-For the long term, make changes in your life so that positive events will happen more often: identify and start taking small steps to reach your goals for future enjoyable occasions, nurture and build relationships, and avoid giving up

-Be mindful of positive experiences that happen, even small ones, by focusing all of your attention on them and by fully participating in the moment

-Distract yourself from thinking about when the fun will end or whether you deserve this experience

I remember as a child being so frustrated by the parameters put on me by the adults in my world that seemed to be so anti-fun, longing for the day when I could make my own decisions and pursue my own enjoyment with my own money whenever I wanted. It seems a shame that often when we finally get to the grown-up place in life where we thought we would have more freedom and be able to do more of those things every kid wants to do, we tend to neglect the playful side of ourselves in the name of being responsible. How different would our daily experience be if adopted a stance of curiosity, a sense of wonder, a playful approach to the tasks at hand?

Allowing ourselves to have fun, seeking out times of enjoyment, building positive experiences into our days will ultimately help create a life worth living, and the child we once were, the child we still are, will be honored and delighted by our invitation to play!

We were created fully human. We were given emotions, desires, hopes, dreams, feelings. There is an alive, excited, fun-loving child in us somewhere! Let it come out! Let it come alive! Let it have some fun – not just for two hours on Saturday evening. Bring it with us, let it help us enjoy this gift of being alive, being fully human, and being who we are!

- Melody Beattie


Author – Lisa Baker, M.A., R.C.C.

604 853 7477 twitter: @ShamrockLisa


About the Author

Shamrock Counselling Shamrock Counselling, MA, RCC, CBEIP, NAEFW

We believe the counselling should be an essential service and are committed to helping people find ways to access resources. We take the time to walk you through the process to find the best fit and suit your needs.

Shamrock Counselling can be found at
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