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Massage Today
September, 2011, Vol. 11, Issue 09

What is Your Play Personality?

By Sharon Puszko, PhD, LMT

When the last time you played? I'm sure there are some people who can quickly give an account of what they did yesterday that constituted play for them. There also will be many who will pause with a furrowed brow and remain silent as they try to remember when they last did something just for the fun of it.

Whether it's cooking a new recipe, going on a hike, watching a movie, fixing up an old car or reading a book, play is a primal and necessary part of our lives. Especially in a competition-based culture such as ours, play is essential to being a productive member of society. As helpers and caregivers, it is crucial that we as massage therapists give ourselves time to play. It is impossible to help others heal and relax when we aren't relaxed ourselves. Playing helps us re-boot our systems and bond with others, which, in turn, makes us better therapists.

Merriam-Webster defines play as, "a recreational activity; especially the spontaneous activity of children." However, the types of play that exist are as varied as the people who engage in them. As adults, we often do not think about, or spend a significant amount of time, playing. Notice that the definition itself refers specifically to children. While play is crucial for the intellectual and social development of our children, it is also important for us in adulthood.

children at play - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark We are learning that it would be beneficial to change the ending of that entry to "children and adults." Current research demonstrates that not only have Americans made work and competition a priority, but that we are sacrificing playfulness and creativity for them. For instance, over the past 30 years, time spent at work has jumped 10 hours a week. Therefore, learning how to play more at work has become a popular subject these days. However, the nature of our work as massage therapists puts a limit on how much play we can integrate into our work. While some clients enjoy playful banter and laughing throughout a massage, others would never return if we did not respect the quiet time they look forward to while in a session. This makes it all the more important that we try to incorporate play into our lives outside of work.

So, if we simply work less, will we spend more time playing? Not necessarily. Play and work are not mutually exclusive; rather, one cannot survive without the other. A life without play is not one filled with work: it is a life filled with depression. For example, the work we find most fulfilling usually reflects the type of play we engaged in as a child. Does this mean I spent a lot of my childhood volunteering massages to my friends? Not necessarily. But it does mean that I was an active, social child who enjoyed problem solving, which Stuart Brown, M.D., the founder of the National Institute for Play, would say meant I have three different types of "play personalities."

After years spent gathering "play histories" from people, Brown noticed several archetypes that play preferences usually fall into. While some people might fit into just one type, others might have several preferences for the type of play they enjoy. An easy way to start putting more play into your life is to identify what type of "personality/personalities" the play you enjoy fits into.

I've listed what I feel are the more common types below. You can find the complete list in his book. These "types" can be used as a guideline to determining the type of play you prefer, and help you remember how to put some fun back into your life.

The Joker

Someone who enjoys comedy shows, making people laugh and finding the humor in any situation enjoys the Joker type of play. It is the most basic form of play, and is repeatedly found throughout recent history as a species. Think of the saying, "Laughter is the best medicine."

The Kinesthete

The Kinesthete is the person who taps their foot, twirls their hair or rocks back and forth during an exam. Kinesthetes are happiest when they are moving, whether that be playing basketball, walking, or cleaning the house. I am also inclined to believe that the majority of massage therapists — those that truly enjoy their work — are all or partly Kinisthetes, since our work is very physical.

The Explorer

The unique, the different, the unknown is what drives the Explorer personality. Visiting a new park, reading about a new scientific theory, or trying a new cuisine are all activities someone with a dominant Explorer personality would prefer.

The Artist/Creator

People who have an Artist/Creator play personality find pleasure in creating things: planting a garden, cooking, writing music, or even fixing up an old car. Some might share their creations with others, some may not, but the point is simply to create.

The Storyteller

Fun is found in the imagination for people with a dominant Storyteller personality. Some examples include people who like to write, perform, play Dungeons & Dragons, watch movies or read books.

No matter what type of play you enjoy, the point is simply to make sure you spend time having fun. It doesn't have to be all fun all the time, but one needs to find a balance between focused work and playfulness. Remember: the opposite of play is not work; it's depression. The more ways we find to incorporate play into our lives, the happier and healthier we will be. This in turn will make us better therapists, which is a good example of how work and play complement each other. So start singing, take a road trip, see a play, or get out your postcard collection and just start having fun!

Click here for more information about Sharon Puszko, PhD, LMT.


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