Spirituality & Health Magazine

How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul
By Stuart Brown, M.D., with Christopher Vaughan
Avery/Penguin Group, 2009, $24.95

“A lack of play should be treated like malnutrition — it’s a health risk to your body and mind,” says Stuart Brown, M.D., revealing what neuroscientists, biologists, psychologists, and other researchers have come to know: that play is “a profound biological process” that not only promotes survival but shapes the brain and makes us smarter and more adaptable. Dr. Brown vividly illustrates how important play is to our well-being and careers through stories of children who were “cured” of their “learning disability” through movement; a hungry polar bear, just awakening from hibernation, who chose to play with and embrace a chained husky rather than eat it; and the perplexing problem faced by Cal Tech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory when new hires from the top schools, who lacked certain types of play as children, were unable to perform as well as the retiring engineers who had put men on the moon. 

To be healthy and happy, we must play, but following our bliss doesn’t mean only doing things that produce easy fun; engaging in a sport may involve rigorous and painful training, and artistic creation involves both joy and frustration. When we face the difficulties involved in such activities and find that our joy is still greater than our suffering, we begin to lose the distinction between “play” and “work” and become able to do both with pleasure and enthusiasm.

Stuart Brown is a psychiatrist, clinical researcher, medical doctor, and founder of the National Institute for Play. Co-author Christopher Vaughan has written about science and medicine for over 20 years and co-authored the national best-seller The Promise of Sleep. 

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