ore and more children spend time indoors focusing on school assignments and homework. They tend to copy their work and prepare for exams, separating work from play.

However, this approach can lead them to develop a negative attitude towards work, seeing it as a burden rather than a source of satisfaction.

According to Peter Gray, Play is what we choose to do, not what we have to do, so the more we experience a sense of choice about our employment, the more we share it as play.

If you feel that necessity requires you to work at such-and-such a job, then it will be hard to maintain a playful attitude about that job. 

The Decline in Independent Work 

The decline in independent activities has led to a rise in mental disorders among children and teens. This is according to a research summary by Peter Gray, which shows that a decrease in opportunities for kids to play, roam, and participate in unsupervised activities is the leading cause of this trend.

Independent activities are essential because they promote mental well-being in the short and long term. In the short term, they provide immediate satisfaction; in the long term, they build mental characteristics that enable people to deal with life's stresses more effectively. 

This research explains how the decline in children's opportunities for independent activities has coincided with a decrease in their mental health. It also highlights how independent activities promote immediate happiness and long-term psychological resilience.

The study looks at the relationship between independent activities and well-being from the perspectives of self-determination theory and evolutionary mismatch. 

When you see work as play 

When adults enjoy their work, they often feel empowered and have fun. Although work is not the same as play because it serves a purpose and pays, some situations can still make it feel like play, especially when individuals push their abilities.

This feeling is often associated with Creativity, increased productivity, and higher energy levels.

The need for play and Free exploration in Science

The fields of Science and engineering have long recognized the power of play-like states to drive innovation. Researchers and inventors are often like children at play, self-directed, driven by curiosity to explore and use their imaginations actively.

Employers have noticed that when researchers are free to explore and experiment in research-oriented fields, it can lead to breakthroughs in innovation. These play-like states, characterized by free exploration and imagination, drive innovation in research-focused fields.

Employers can unlock a new realm of inventive thinking by encouraging researchers to explore actively.

Play-based Office Culture 

Google's software engineers have a unique option to personalize their workstations with oversized Tinker Toys. Some even prefer standing desks or attached treadmills to walk while they work.

Employees have the freedom to express themselves by writing on walls. The result may seem chaotic, resembling a high-tech refugee camp, but Google claims this is what their engineers like.

Flow and Free Play 

According to research, flow, or getting into a state of focus and productivity, can positively impact our mood. By experiencing flow throughout the day, we can feel energized and less anxious in the evening.

This is why many adults today need to seek out flow in their work, especially in the post-pandemic era.

Flow is a feeling people get when they're doing something they enjoy. It's often talked about when people talk about playing, but it can also happen when you're working, cooking, or singing.

According to Nakamura, a psychology professor at Claremont Graduate University, flow occurs when you're fully engaged with a challenge but not overwhelmed by it.

"These conditions help absorb you, propel you forward, and keep you in flow; as you proceed, from moment to moment, you are forming a sense of what you want to do next, and you can tell how well things are going—envision, for example, an experienced rock climber." -Nakamura.

Need for Wild Exploration

According to Alison Gopnik, when playing, adults and children switch between problem-solving modes: "explore" mode and "exploit" mode. In the "explore" mode, they gather information and experiment without a specific goal, while in the "exploit" mode, they focus on achieving a particular goal.

Exploring and exploiting modes poses a challenge in computer science, especially in artificial intelligence programs.

"You start with this wild exploration of lots and lots of different possibilities, figuring out all the things that you can do, and then you decide the specific things that you want to do. And because you get this protected period to explore, you can find options you wouldn't find if all you were trying to do was get the results immediately." - Alison Gopnik.

Need for Creativity and Exploration

Studies have revealed how our brain functions when we are creative, curious, or find humour in things, all associated with a state of flow. The Default Mode Network, a specific set of brain structures, is activated during such creative activities.

This has been observed in jazz musicians who improvise, poets who compose poems, and non-artists asked to imagine innovative uses for everyday objects like bricks.

Novel Experiences and our Brain

Our brain processes complex art or intellectual insight differently than routine tasks. A USC neuroscientist, Irving Biederman, and his protégé, Ori Amir, discovered that novel associations activate the temporal lobe, a part of the brain associated with memory, language, and emotions.

This area contains pleasure-producing opioid receptors connected to the brain's reward centres. Hence, discovering new information and pushing our intellectual limits flood our brains with neurochemicals, which motivate us to seek more.

We all have enjoyed acquiring information—a view of a dramatic landscape. Human beings are designed to be "infovores." It's a craving that begins with a simple preference for certain stimuli, then proceeds to more sophisticated levels of perception and cognition that draw on associations the brain makes with previous experiences. - https://www.americanscientist.org/

In conclusion, play is crucial for children and adults alike. It promotes mental well-being, creativity, productivity, and innovation. As Peter Gray suggests, when we see work as play and have a sense of choice about our employment, we are more likely to maintain a playful attitude and find satisfaction in our work.

The decline in opportunities for independent activities has coincided with a decrease in children's mental health, emphasizing the importance of promoting free exploration and play. As adults, we can seek out flow and wild exploration in our work to experience a sense of engagement and fulfillment.

Ultimately, incorporating play into our lives can lead to more satisfying and productive experiences.

Feb 25, 2024
Integrated Parenting

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