Think play is just for kids? Think again. In fact, it can have serious benefits for adults. Maintaining a sense of creativity and fun is linked with greater happiness across the life span. Plus, it is thought to contribute to resilience and healthy aging.
One possible reason: Taking a playful approach may equip you to better cope with the inevitable stress of life. One study of university students found that those who rated themselves as being more playful found the challenges in their lives to be more manageable.
It's normal to experience stress, but how you perceive that stress and what you do with it can have lasting impact. In the study above, the more playful someone was, the more likely he or she was to search for a silver lining when things didn't go as planned, a strategy called positive reframing. Raining on vacation? Maybe it's a perfect opportunity to sip tea and play board games.
There are different ways to be playful and have fun. Many people enjoy talking and relaxing with friends. Others enjoy physical activity, such as yoga or water aerobics. Researchers who study the benefits of play point out that it has more to do with your attitude than what you're actually doing: Things like living in the moment, finding amusement in everyday details or finding the fun in solving problems such as riddles and crossword puzzles are all forms of play.
And while some people are naturally inclined toward playfulness, this skill can also be practiced and learned — just as a person can learn to be more grateful over time.
Ready to play and have fun? Here are some ways to get started:
- Schedule time for a hobby. Always wanted to learn woodworking? Love gardening? Make time to do the things you enjoy. But make a point to find joy in the process, and not just focus on the end product.
- Enlist social support. Doing fun things with others is a key aspect of playfulness. Perhaps you'd love to join an adult soccer league. Or maybe a bird-watching club is more to your liking. Or, maybe you just like to meet a close friend for coffee to talk about life.
- Play games. According to one study, people averaged about 2,000 more steps a day when they started playing a mobile app game that used the device's GPS, rewarding players for finding objects in different places. You can create games in your nondigital life, too. Try racing people on the escalator while taking the stairs. Or pass the time on a car trip by playing a game of I spy.
- Visit a park or playground. Getting out in nature can improve your mood and can be a fun social activity. And there's no such thing as being too old for playing outdoors.
- Stop and smell the roses. Playful people tend to be those who take the time to appreciate beauty in the world. Practice mindfulness and catch a snowflake on your tongue, notice the changing leaves and how they look, feel or smell this fall, or allow yourself to jump in a puddle during the next rain shower (rain boots optional).
Put simply, play is finding amusement, humor, joy and even entertainment in your daily life. And anyone can do it by setting a goal to become more engaged in fun and enjoyable activities.