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The Importance of Pleasure and Play

Too many of us believe that any of our time that is not “productive” is a waste of time, and/or feel guilty when not “productive”. It’s an attitude of scarcity in resources, and that squandering our resources will lead to our demise. We pride ourselves on efficiency. And it is the imbalance of all work and no play that contributes to stress, anxiety, and depression. It also blocks us from our vital life force, the fuel of eroticism. Eroticism is inefficient. It loves to squander time and resources. In the words of Esther Perel, “Eroticism is an imaginative act, and you can’t measure it. We glorify efficiency and fail to recognize that the erotic space is a radiant interlude in which we luxuriate, indifferent to demands of productivity; pleasure is the only goal”. Eroticism is pleasure for pleasure’s sake.


The number one so-called sexual dysfunction seen in women today is lack of desire. According to Dr. Christiane Northrup, “What we all need is to be connected with our life force. We need to be present and alive in each situation. But you can’t be present if you are spending all your time working, or worrying, or feeling resentful about everything you have to do. Changing your focus to pleasure and appreciation – starting with small things – can literally change your life”. Deliberately pursuing pleasure and play is what fuels our vital life force, for both women and men. It requires searching out thoughts, relationships, and experiences that are pleasurable, and allowing time for pleasure on a daily basis. It’s important to not wait until “on vacation” to indulge in pleasure. We need to make it part of our lifestyle, taking time to focus on what feels, looks, sounds, smells, and tastes good.


Pleasure is more than just about sex. According to Northrup, “You’ll find that your entire life – as well as your sex life – is enhanced by putting your attention on other things that are pleasurable besides sex. This practice of accessing all types of pleasure helps you be fully present when you are being sexual. And you’ll find that you bring all those other pleasurable experiences to the bedroom”. One type of pleasure that I’ll focus on here, is play. Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, gives this definition:


Apparently purposeless: play is done for its own sake, not to achieve a goal

Voluntary: play is not a requirement or an obligation

Inherently attractive: play is fun and feels good

Outside time: when fully engaged in play, you lose a sense of the passage of time

Outside self: when fully engaged in play, you become less self-conscious

Improvisational: play is spontaneous and doesn’t lock into a rigid way of doing things

Mildly addictive: play makes you want to do more of it


Dr. Robert Holden writes, “Happiness is not about getting there; it’s about being here […] it’s a way of being”. Play gets you in touch with now, with the happiness to be found in the present moment. When you are playing and having fun, you are only focused on what is happening right in front of you. Playtime wakes you up to the joy of living. And play isn’t limited to games or sports. Art, music, and all forms of creative expression, such as cooking, quilting, building, tinkering, even work, can be play.


Play is more about attitude than activity. Openness, mindfulness, and spontaneity are key traits of a playful mindset. When you are open, mindful, and in the moment, you may find that you gravitate to activities that brought you pleasure as a child. It can be a simple spontaneous experience with the senses, such as stopping to smell a flower, touching a tree that looks soft or interesting, kicking stones or pebbles, walking on grass with bare feet, jumping in a puddle, watching a butterfly, finding shapes in clouds, or interacting with an animal. It can be a movement or dance, talking with a funny voice, or just being silly in some way. Play is for life, not just childhood.


There are those who wonder if seeking pleasure and play is being selfish. Finding time for fun and play in your life could be inspirational for those around you. What benefits one may end up benefiting all. Valuing your health and happiness doesn’t have to mean sacrificing what you do for others. And the more happy and healthy you are, the more you’re available for others.


Having a balance of work and play is key to your health and happiness. And the healthier and happier you are, the healthier and happier your relationships will be. Also, as you fuel your vital life force with pleasure and play, you may notice a shift in your sexual desire, being more present and curious. What do you need to let go of in order to incorporate more play into your life? In what ways can you be more open, mindful and spontaneous with the senses? A simple shift in focusing on pleasure and appreciation can be life-changing. In the words of Joseph Campbell,  “Follow your bliss”.




Shari Derksen, MA, is a Registered Psychologist with the College of Alberta Psychologists and specializes in the areas of relationship issues and intimacy, as well as many others. For more information on Shari, her work, or other articles she’s written for Living Well click here to link to her full bio page.