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10 Ways to Make Your Life More Playful

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” ~George Bernard Shaw

I was 25 and traveling through Ireland by myself. I was in Cong, a rural small town outside of Galway. It was quiet. Very quiet. Even though I had met people on my trip, I was starting to feel lonely.

I was thousands of miles from home. I had nobody around who knew me well or cared for me, and in the days before cell phones or internet cafes, I couldn’t just get in touch with my friends or family at the drop of a hat.

I went on a walk in a local park, along a wide stream that emptied into a small, pristine pond.  The weather was grey and gloomy, the park was damp and romantic-looking, with its bending trees and dark water.

On a whim, I sat down by the edge of the pond and began to do something I hadn’t done in probably 15 years: I started to build a fairy village out of sticks, pebbles, and leaves.

As a child I had practically lived in the backyard, building intricate tiny villages, exploring the spaces in between plants and trees, making tree roots into cottages and lumps of mud into hillsides.

It calmed me down and got me away from sometimes troubling thoughts. In Ireland, I found the same thing happened: My loneliness and anxiety vanished, and an hour or so later when I finished, I felt better: lighter, and less worried.

When we lose ourselves in play, whether creating a make-believe world, throwing a ball between friends, frolicking with our dog, or watching silly YouTube videos, we allow ourselves to get out of the linear, problem-solution, adult mindset.

We’re activating a part of our brains that we don’t use much in the grown-up world: the one that doesn’t care about deadlines or mortgages or how much we weigh, the one that doesn’t care how we look to others.

In the land of play, we make connections we wouldn’t normally make. We see things in new ways. Play can boost our creativity, heighten our mood, make us laugh, and can engage us in the world in ways that regular “adult” life often doesn’t.

For some reason, I’ve never grown up enough to stop playing. When I stop noticing the playfulness of the world around me, I know I’m in a bad mood or too stressed, and I often make myself stop and re-engage in the world in a playful way, even if just to watch a funny movie.

Here are some ways you can add more play to your life:

1. Spend time around young children.

You can’t really engage with young kids without entering the world of play with them. Let them show you the way and leave your grownup mind behind!

2. Take a walk or day trip without any plans or route.

To make it extra playful, toss a coin to decide on the direction you’ll start out in. Then just go wherever you are drawn. Let your playfulness lead the way.

3. Do art without thought of success.

Grab a random stack of magazines and make a collage, without worrying about whether it’s “good.” Finger-paint. If you do art or writing, do a piece in the style of an artist or writer that’s completely different from your normal style. Have fun. Don’t worry.

4. Get a couple of different magnetic poetry kits and combine them.

Keep them where you spend a lot of your hours and play with them whenever you get bored or creatively blocked.

5. Invite a few fun friends over for a “play date.”

Get some kids games, art supplies, even pieces of costumes, and just hang out and have fun. Make the goal to be to laugh as much as possible.

6. Play with young, active dogs.

They love to run and jump! If you don’t own one, borrow one from a friend, volunteer to walk the dogs at an animal shelter, or go hang out at a local dog park. Even just watching dogs play can be fun!

7. Keep kids toys at your desk.

Having them around will automatically lighten things up, but playing with them when you’re bored or in a bad mood will help even more.

8. Before you start on your commute to work every day, think of something you’ll look for on your drive.

Maybe they’ll be blue pickup trucks, American flags, or houses with red roofs. Count the number you see by the time you get to work.

9. You know those silly cat YouTube videos you ignore when people send them to you? Watch them.

10. Dance.

Do it alone, do it with friends, do it with strangers, but just dance. Any style, any place. You can’t dance while also being stressed and worried!

How do you make life more playful?

Photo by fotogravirus

About Melissa Kirk

Melissa Kirk is an editor, writer, and blogger living in the SF bay area and attempting to go with the flow and roll with the punches as much as possible. She writes for Psychology Today and also has a personal blog.

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  • I love this post. I’m still young, but I tend to live my daily life like I’m much older. Thank goodness I have a puppy and little sister to keep me playful, haha. I don’t think lacking playfulness is really about age or getting older. I think a lot of people at different stages in their lives tend to get set in their routine and don’t really make an effort to just enjoy life every day. I’m sure a lot of people will benefit from this list. 🙂

  • This is great!  I’m a firm believer in having a playful side.  I didn’t play much as a child, but I’ve made up for it as an adult. 😉
    I always kept toys, like a slinky or play doh on my desk.  It’s nice to have a moment of silliness in the day!
    b

  • LOVE this post! Thank you.

  • I want to play!

  • Guest

    Lovely post. Thank you. 

  • This is just what I needed to reinforce what I know in my heart. I love kids movies for example, but my daughter (36) thinks I need to move on to more adult ones. I think she’s too serious, she thinks I’m crazy. I’ll take crazy anyday. My granddaughter has taught me that there’s no such thing as having too much fun! 😀

  • Lovely thought and what made me smile is that I’ve been to Cong and know just the spot you mean.  It’s a lovely village with great people.  I was midway through a 300k bike ride when I reached there and it is a hauntingly beautiful place.  Some times those places have a way of making us feel like an intruder when you play you can’t be aware that you might not belong somewhere.  You just are.

  • Shannon Kaiser

    Thank you so much for sharing. I am inspired to make a play date today. Very timely messages. Cheers,
    Shannon

  • I enjoyed your post, Melissa. The image of you sitting down and building your fairy house rang so familiar to me. It might have been a knight’s castle, a dam of sticks across a rivulet…whatever. It’s the act of playing — and its inseparable connection with creativity — that opens you to possibility. Nice job!

  • Christyitamoto

    This is a great post because people do tend to lose their playfulness with all of life’s responsibilities. I will set time to play everyday even if all I can fit in is a tiny bit of fun. 😀

  • Pingback: How often do you play? | Reinventing Life at 64()

  • Kheisty

    I love to put on Salsa or World-beat music and dance in my living room while being ‘responsible’ and cleaning house.  It is an amazing spirit lifter!  How can anyone be down in the presence of Celia Cruz?!

  • Melissa Kirk

    Thanks! Yes, there is intense energy there. I had some very interesting experiences there.

  • Melissa Kirk

    Yes, young kids are a great reminder of how to stay young! Maybe you and your granddaughter can rope your daughter into playing together 🙂

  • Melissa Kirk

    I think silliness is absolutely crucial to an enjoyed life. If someone can’t be silly, I usually end up not having that much in common with them!

  • Melissa Kirk

    What’s that saying about it’s not age, but the state of mind? I sometimes wonder if some of us get more playful as we age because we care less what others think of us.

  • Melissa Kirk

    It’s easy! Luckily, I have a warped sense of humor, so I usually laugh a lot during any given day. And if not, there’s always my friend’s funny posts on facebook 🙂

  • Anonymous

    beautiful. let’s play.

  • Hello Melissa,
    A delightdul post that created vivid imagery in my mind of playing as a youngster. Yes it’s great to bring out the child when it’s most needed. Reframing our thoughts to “break the cycle” is a great way to go, in my humble opinion. Thank you for the delight.
    be good to yourself
    David

  • Bking

    Every once and a while I start skipping. Even in high heels. Also jumping rope in the driveway or drawing a hopscotch board with chalk is good.

  • I have also never grown up enough to stop playing. Which is why I enjoy hanging out with my nieces and nephew. They have such great imaginations and when I am with them I can totally let go of the “adult world” and feel relaxed and playful…and the George Bernard Shaw quote is one of my all time favorites.

  • Davine

    I love this post. My theme for August on my Medicine Wheel is “Playfullness” so I think I will definately be getting myself playing with a couple of your points. I am going to put a link to this post on my blog http://www.53buddhas.blogspot.com

  • My sister occasionally drops hints that I need to do things more “my age” (some of my hobbies and interests are definitely not typical of a 40-year-old).  I hear her, but I know I need to be true to myself.  It doesn’t hurt anyone, and I enjoy those things so I keep doing them!

    Good for you for listening to your heart too, Tee!

  • I loved #8 – I’ll try that on the drive in to work today!

  • RamiEskelin

    Adults really do need to break out the finger paint and just have fun… :]