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The Importance of Play
Written by Bryce Smith

George Bernard Shaw once wrote that, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” I believe the American society is growing old as a result of being overworked and not putting enough emphasis on leisure time and play. Our society has always influenced us to play after work has been completed. Unfortunately, in this day and age, time is money and people feel that if they, for lack of a better term, waste time playing, then they are jeopardizing an opportunity to make more money. If one plays prior to completion of work, it is seen as out of the social norm, and that person is characterized as lazy or labeled as having a poor work ethic. Most Americans follow the Schiller-Spenser theory known as the Surplus Energy theory, which believes play is an over abundant use of energy which is needed primarily for daily life (Newton). This theory believes play should only be done if there is energy left over at the completion of daily living tasks. This mindset is what is getting most Americans in trouble mentally, emotionally and physically.

There are tremendous benefits of play; not only for kids but also for adults. Unfortunately when we think of play, we immediately associate play with children; but in reality, play is necessary for all life forms. If animals play, this is because play is useful in the struggle for survival; because play practices and so perfects the skills needed in adult life (Newton).

When looking back at the history of play, play was associated with the creation of the ideal human (Moore, 1972). After living in Europe and learning to understand the importance of play and leisure, it is no wonder the health of Americans is declining. The American mindset is that more is better; however, based on the direction of our society as a whole, we need to make play a part of our lives. Although not easy, the ultimate goal is a life of balance. A balanced lifestyle can be achieved by having a thorough understanding of the developmental perspective where play is viewed as a mechanism for growth and development through predetermined  stages and individuals eventually seek equilibrium.

Vacation time is virtually nonexistent in many American jobs and leaves many people overworked, stressed, sick, overweight, and relying on stimulants like caffeine to get through the day due to lack of sleep and lack of free time. Sometimes, less is more. It is not always the quantity of time worked, but the quality of time worked. We need to stress that play is vital across the lifespan and has lifelong benefits. I believe that hidden dangers lie ahead if we continue on this present course. Play allows children time to develop and improve skills which they will need later in life (Groos 1901 as cited in Moore, 1972). Despite the direction society is headed as a result of lacking play, play has had a tremendously positive impact on my life and has helped me to overcome struggle, learn valuable lessons that are necessary to my growth and development, and shape the person I am today.

The famous Greek philosopher Plato once said that “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” This quote has resonated with me since the first time I read it three years ago in a philosophy class at San Diego State University. Judging by one’s body language and ability to cope with stress, the character and integrity of players can be revealed immediately during play. Many in the world of sport and play believe that “the ends always justify the means,” implying that a positive result in a given situation should be achieved at any cost. Unfortunately, in this life, there are only scoreboards and people are willing to compromise their morals for success.

Most importantly, play can teach us that positive results must be achieved through honor, dedication and hard work. It is unjust to lie, cheat, and steal simply for self betterment. There is no substitution for hard work and a consistent work ethic. We should always set high standards for ourselves and  always use failure as motivation for future success. Like Michael Jordan said, “I have failed over and over again, and that is why I succeed.” Play teaches us at a very young age that life is not a perfect bubble and there are going to be ups and downs. The goal is to maintain strength through adversity, keep a positive attitude, and know that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Play can help us to establish permanent family values and continues to prepare people for the journey of life while keeping people happy through fulfillment.

Overall, I support Aristotle, student of Plato, who believes that happiness is the ultimate goal of man through the fulfillment of the individual. Life is all about living and learning. I agree with Diane Ackerman, a famous American author who wrote that “Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.” Play is vital to human development throughout life and should not begin to dwindle with age. If you want to stay young forever, make sure you get out there and get those knees scraped up a bit in the wonderful world of PLAY!


Newton, Delfina. Play and Human Potential, It’s Not Just for Kids Anymore.


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