We all want to live happy, joyful lives, right? That’s the drive behind most of our behavior. As kids, we learn how to socialize, problem solve, and discover our interests through play. We stumble around trying different toys, different forms of art, and playing with others and by ourselves. We harness our imagination and get lost in whatever activity we think is fun, so much so that we forget to eat, rest, or use the bathroom. As adults we don’t make as much time for play anymore, and a lot of us have forgotten what brings us joy.
A child approaches items with wonder and curiosity, which is why their learning is exponential. They experiment with their surroundings without any attachment to the outcome. We may have significantly more knowledge as adults, but without that same curiosity, we will stop growing, we can feel stuck, and life can lose all of its color. We have more responsibility now, but that doesn’t mean that the magic we had as kids is gone, we’re just choosing not to see it. For me, losing sight of that was getting lost in a steady cycle of work, gym, eat, sleep, and errands, with space for nothing else.
Life doesn’t have to be all work and adulting. It can be fun, but first we have to prioritize play. Here’s why:
Having uninterrupted time with other people can provide a sense of connection over a positive experience. We all want and need connection. When I say uninterrupted time I mean an allotted time for whatever chosen activity, like sports, board games, dancing, art, etc. and being totally present for that experience. A time where you’re not checking emails or scrolling through social media, where your full attention is placed in the now moment. Connecting with others can stimulate empathy, compassion, and foster intimacy. We get to know the people we’re with on a deeper level, and we get to share a piece of ourselves. This energetic exchange helps us feel seen, heard, and understood. Relatability is what helps us form authentic connections.
Being present in play can get you into a flow state. This is when you’re so engulfed in the moment that you lose track of space and time. Your concerns about the past and future dissipate, and you even disconnect with aspects of yourself or your identity that you aren’t utilizing. For example, you may be so absorbed in a softball game that you forget that you’re a doctor, that tomorrow you have an overbooked schedule, or that laundry is waiting at home to be folded. In this space, all that exists is right in front of you, which allows the stresses and anxieties to fall away, if even for a little while. With reduced stress, your nervous system can relax, your mood improves, and you can allow yourself to experience happiness.
3. Physical And Mental Stimulation
Play often includes moving your body while learning a task, or problem solving in creative ways, either by yourself or collectively. This allows for neuroplasticity, which is “ the ability of the nervous system to change its activity in response to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli by reorganizing its structure, functions, or connections.” You can literally change the way your mind works, which can open opportunities to adopt new perspectives, viewpoints, and step into unconventional ways of thinking.
The ability to foster creativity can lead to new channels of personal fulfillment. For example, I recently signed up for tennis lessons. The challenge and beauty of this was that I had to surrender to the fact that I know nothing about the sport, and had to be in complete student mode. I then had to unlearn all of my softball driven muscle memory so that I can rewire my mind and body for tennis. The learning wasn’t the hard part, the unlearning was. I was awful at tennis when I started, and I felt ridiculous, but I learned how to fail and still give myself grace. I felt stimulated, and challenged, and started to find fun in the process rather than the outcome.
4. Rediscovering Interests
If we’ve forgotten what brings us joy, we might sit at home on our day off and feel restless and bored. If you’ve forgotten your interests and feel too busy or drained to have hobbies, look back and think about what you enjoyed doing as a kid. There are things we stop doing because we “don’t have time.” In reality, we don’t make time.
I used to rollerblade, so I recently bought myself a new pair of skates. I also made mudpies and enjoyed sculpting with playdough. Now I get lost in baking and decorating pastries. My point is, there is an adult version of your childhood hobbies, and many of these may reveal hidden skill sets that you have. That child version of you is your true, authentic self, before the hardships of life muffled your views of possibility. If you’re open to revisiting your inner child, you may discover your new passions, gifts, and different sources of joy. Play with it.
This is simple. We are light hearted beings by nature. Being silly and ridiculous may seem unproductive, but without these simple pleasures and happiness, we are moving unconsciously through a life that we aren’t fully living. Prioritizing play brings us fun in the moment, but can also make us more playful, and that’s a trait that can help us work through the stresses and demands of adult life.
It’s okay that we take our roles seriously; our careers, our contribution to the world, parenting, and partnerships. We take them seriously because they’re important, but the weight we place on these roles can cast a shadow over all the things that light us up. We
can all choose to tap into our lightness through play. That fun, that joy, that playfulness and curiosity can bring out another side to us that we can then bring to our work, and create a flow that we didn’t know was possible.