From solitaire and poker to Bridge and Go Fish, people across the world have played card games for centuries. We’ve used card games to win money, socialise with friends, or simply pass the time. Whether it’s taking a risk or having a strategy, playing cards requires the use of a wide variety of mental skills.
In our age of digital entertainment, cards might not be as popular as they used to be, but their benefits remain as strong as ever. Here are 10 ways that card games improve our psychological health, and why these games can be beneficial to our well-being.
Our convictions tend to be rigid structures of thought. Many of us struggle to shift perspective, and sometimes we have to put in the effort to embrace new information, especially when that information contradicts our beliefs. Neural plasticity, on the other hand, refers to our ability to remain flexible, in thought as well as perspective.
Card games can teach us how to practice this mental flexibility. In poker, for example, we have to adapt to new information, make informed decisions, and be self-aware enough to understand that our opponents are betting on different odds than we are.
Daily life can often be a stressful affair. Routines and schedules, despite being productive, can wear us down after prolonged periods. If you feel a bit of burnout approaching, it’s important to take breaks and rejuvenate yourself. Card games provide a low-cost, low-maintenance way to unwind.
Give yourself a break by escaping to a simple world of hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades. Playing with a real deck of cards means you can get away from the screens that dominate our waking hours, and find a respite from the pings and tweets that pervade our digital age.
Studies by various institutions show that card games can improve memory capacity, retention and recall. Especially for those of us facing the natural decline of old age, card games such as solitaire and Concentration (also known as Matching Pairs) exercise our brains through the intake and recall of information.
Critical thinking is a vital survival skill. The quicker we’re able to figure out what to do when facing a problem, the easier it is to navigate life’s many troubles. Card games require deliberate planning to win and can be great tools for learning the ins and outs of winning strategies. Whether you need to calculate your odds in blackjack, or call a bluff during poker, critical thinking and problem-solving skills will definitely help in achieving your goal.
What are the odds of getting a royal flush in poker? Or a 21 in blackjack? Being able to assess these chances of success can also apply to real life, in the same way that they do these card games. Knowing when to call (and when to fold) teaches us the fundamentals of ‘risk vs reward’ thinking. It’s fairly straightforward logic to see how this can apply to investments, employment, and various other aspects of adult life.
Isolation can be healthy in small doses, however, all human beings need social interaction in order to live a healthy, well-adjusted life. Most of the time, playing cards takes at least two people. Motivating us to spend time with others, games like rummy, poker, and Exploding Kittens can grease the wheels of conversation, and foster healthy competition between players.
Change of pace
Sometimes we simply want to give our brains something different to do, a break from stress or monotony. Why not try a game of solitaire? Or better yet, learn about a game you haven’t tried before? Every card game involves a skill that has to be learned. Whether it’s arithmetic or mind games, playing cards is an easy way to switch gears and avoid boredom, all while learning something new in the process.
Reconnect with your inner child through the joy, simplicity, and healthy competition of card games. Learn to regulate your emotions while having fun with friends. Cards can be a great way to get family together for some quality time. A game of Uno, for example, is usually filled with laughs, and kids can have just as much fun as adults.
No age limit
Card games provide good times for all ages, a reminder that we don’t need video games or cinemas to have fun. One deck of cards means thousands of different games to play, and the same can’t be said of a video game or blockbuster film. You don’t have to be old to learn how to play bridge, and youngsters aren’t the only ones enjoying Throw Burrito.
Practising the skills you learn will teach you strategies that can apply to real life. As we’ve mentioned in the examples above, you can learn problem-solving skills, risk analysis, social skills, and many more. These skills will help you to develop patience and other positive attributes.
Cards are a timeless concept executed with simplistic elegance. As the only platform for thousands of different games, cards aren’t going out of fashion any time soon. Their benefits are numerous, and with the appeal of infinite entertainment on offer, you can’t go wrong with having a pack of cards lying around.
James Wallace has been an advocate for mental health awareness for years. He holds a master’s degree in counselling from the University of Edinburgh.