How do you use your leisure time?  Fewer unstructured “play” hours seem to be in our lives!!  This is a serious threat to our health and happiness.

Did you know?

•  The average married couple works 26 percent longer each year than similar working couples did thirty years ago.

•  Leisure time among children ages 12 and under has declined from 40 percent of a child’s day in 1981 to 25 percent of a child’s day in 1997, and about one in four American adults reports no leisure-time physical activity.

•  A landmark Surgeon General’s Report identified lack of physical activity, including during leisure, as a serious health threat in the U.S.

Our high tech life with its accelerated pace has fostered a culture that seems to be always working, always rushed, always connected. Cell phones interrupt every aspect of our lives so much so that it’s hard to separate “play” from “work.” Yet to maintain balance in our lives, and for our ultimate well-being, play is important.

Lenore Terr, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of Beyond Love and Work: Why Adults Need to Play,a book written by  Lenore Terr, A psychiatrist oat the University of California, San Francisco, argues that play is crucial at every stage of life. In play, we discover pleasure, cultivate feelings of accomplishment, and acquire a sense of belonging. When we play, we learn and mature and find an outlet for stress. “Play is a lost key,” Terr writes. “It unlocks the door to ourselves.”

When we are completely involved in play our cares and worries disappear. Dancng, playing a game of tennis or a round of golf, or being thoroughly engrossed in a good novel, we feel pleasurably alive and light-hearted. There is nothing like play that allows us to be present in the moment.

If you feel like you don’t have enough play time in your life (and who doesn’t), try these suggestions:

Turn-off. Turn off the television, computer, beeper and cell phone for at least two hours a day.

Let your mind wander. Recall what you used to enjoy doing or what you always wanted to do before we became so technology-oriented.  Take a coarse at the local college.  Join the church choir.  Volunteer in a local non-profit.

Include others. Invite someone over to play, just like you used to when you were a kid.  Play table games, or cards.  Put a puzzle together.   Nothing planned, nothing structured. Let your play evolve naturally.  Rent a funny movie, put on the popcorn, break out the soda and get ready to laugh.

Think physical. Go for a walk, ride your bike, rent some skates, break out the croquet set from the basement, go for a swim or a run.

Be Present.  There nothing more treasured than being present in the moment.  Call a friend, visit your neighbor. Realize you have all the time in the world to laugh and play and enjoy. Accept there is no moment other than this.

Any time you have the choice of whether to work “just one more hour” or give yourself over to play, consider what Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”