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How to prioritize play in your life

PIEN HUANG, HOST:

What if we told you that play is a basic human need? That's what play researchers believe.

STUART BROWN: It's as basic as sleep and nutrition. It just doesn't necessarily produce the same outcome as hunger or fatigue, but the need to play is there in all of us.

HUANG: That's Dr. Stuart Brown, a longtime play researcher and psychiatrist by training. And he says that play can help us adapt to difficult circumstances, to practice skills that we need to survive. But as adults, we often stop playing and sometimes we even forget how to do it. So Marielle Segarra, the host of NPR's Life Kit, is going to help us remember. You probably have an idea of what play is, but here's a definition just in case.

JEFF HARRY: I define play as any joyful act where you forget about time. It's where you're, like, fully immersed in the moment. It's when you're your you-est you.

MARIELLE SEGARRA, BYLINE: Jeff Harry is a play coach. Companies hire him to get their employees to play more. And he says, if you want to play, you can start by getting in touch with your inner child.

HARRY: Your kid self knows what makes you happier. Kid self knows what makes you fulfilled and satisfied.

SEGARRA: So what were your favorite ways to play as a kid? Were you super into Legos or finger painting, make-believe, catching fireflies, seeing how far you could catapult yourself off the swing set? For me, it was Barbies. I loved to dress them up in the coolest fashions.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: Hello, Barbie?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: Let's go for a drive.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: Cool.

SEGARRA: OK. So next, you're going to think about what kind of play that is. You know, what's at the center of it? Based on many years of working with patients, Dr. Stuart Brown and his colleagues came up with some archetypal play styles or personalities. For example, there's the joker, who loves to laugh and make other people laugh. There's the kinesthete, who just loves to move. There's also the artist-creator. As Barbie's personal stylist, my inner child fell into this category. Once you know your play style or styles, you can start to figure out how you like to play now. Like, I built a gallery wall of art behind my couch and recently went to a panel on fashion in hip-hop. Another suggestion from Jeff Harry - for 5 or 10 minutes a day, put down your phone and your laptop and do nothing.

HARRY: When you get bored, all of a sudden, that inner child starts to whisper all these nerve-cited (ph) ideas, these ideas that make you nervous and excited, you know, ideas like, hey, you know, why don't you start writing that book or that blog post? Why don't you make a video on TikTok?

SEGARRA: Now, you may feel like you barely have time in the day to sit down, let alone play. But you can always find moments to be playful. Dr. Brown told me that on the morning of our interview, he walked out of his house to get his copy of The New York Times.

HARRY: Which is part of my 90-year-old ritual now. And there on the step in front of me was a little Oregon junco. And that little Oregon junco was looking up at me and jumping up and down and jumping up and down. And I thought, that little bird is really glad to be alive. OK, so am I. I'm an old guy, but I'm still glad to be alive.

SEGARRA: So go pet that cute puppy on the street - with permission - or pick up a pinecone at the park and ask your friend to name it. Or my favorite - watch people flirting on your subway car. Do what feels like play, and see where it takes you. For NPR News, I'm Marielle Segarra.

HUANG: And for more Life Kit, check out npr.org/lifekit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Marielle Segarra
Marielle Segarra is a reporter and the host of NPR's Life Kit, the award-winning podcast and radio show that shares trustworthy, nonjudgmental tips that help listeners navigate their lives.