The Cornell Legacy Project Reminds Us Play Is Essential

Published On: May 7th, 2012By Categories: Blog


The theme this year for Older Americans Month is Never too old to playKarl Pillemer, author of the book ’30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans’, shares wisdom he collected about the importance of play.
In the Legacy Project, we’ve spent the past seven years collecting the practical advice for living from the oldest Americans (in their 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond). They shared their wisdom on a wide range of topics, from marriage, to child-rearing, to career, to how to avoid regrets.
Some of their most useful advice had to do with the question: “What’s the best way to stay happy throughout your life?” And more often than I had expected, the idea of maintaining a lifelong sense of play came up. For example, Maurice gave this recommendation as his advice for marriage: “Think back to the playground when you were a kid. Your spouse should be that kid you would have most liked to play with!”
Sandra, another elder who contributed lessons to the Legacy Project, articulated the importance of play very clearly:
There are certain human needs that are constant. One of them is the concept of “play.” We learn to play without realizing that there may be difficulties that need to be faced in times that lay ahead, but it is going to be all right. As children we can easily write down about ten activities that we love to do, and we can often remember the last time that we did them. We enjoyed being with friends, roller skating, sledding, playing games with family, jumping rope, etc.  It is interesting that when adults are asked, they tend to have difficulty in listing ten things that they love to do, let alone when they last did the fun activity.
Play is an essential. Many times marriages end because couples tend to stop playing. Friendships end because folks get sidetracked with responsibilities and lose touch. Family life becomes mundane when the parents and children omit family chat around the dinner table that leads to listening and laughing. Their time to play as a family can define their love for one another and add to positive memories.
Having fun through play remains with us from birth to death.
So let’s listen to our elders, and keep playing – for all the years that we’re here!