Imagine that you’re five years old again. In front of you is a small orange bucket. To your left is a pile of earthy brown dirt. A shiny metal shovel beckons from the top of the mound. Psst…come play with me…you know it’ll be fuuun…
You grab hold of it and start scooping and pouring, flinging and packing. Bits of coarse dust spray up around you as dirt spills everywhere. You gleefully giggle as your fingers become coated in the gritty goodness. There’s no avoiding it: You’re making a mess, you’re getting dirty, and you know what?
You’re loving every freaking minute of it!
There’s no point to it. No rules or deadlines. No intended outcomes. Just being completely lost in the moment, high on life.
Back then, playing in the dirt (or the water, or the snow, or the brownie batter) brought us so much joy. Something so simple held so much pleasure.
As adults, we deprive ourselves such simple pleasures. We don’t allow ourselves to play or goof off or be silly purely for the fun of it.
And frankly? I think that’s sad. We bust our butts building careers, managing households, being all responsible all of the time. Many of us are burnt out, depleted, and lacking that seemingly elusive joie de vivre. We deserve more.
What we deserve is more play time.
Play is the secret ingredient to cultivating more joy in our lives. Playing on a regular basis is good for the body, mind, and soul. Science agrees. Just ask Dr. Stuart Brown, author of Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.
Dr. Stuart is also the head of a nonprofit called the National Institute for Play. According to their website:
“Play is the gateway to vitality. By its nature it is uniquely and intrinsically rewarding. It generates optimism, seeks out novelty, makes perseverance fun, leads to mastery, gives the immune system a bounce, fosters empathy and promotes a sense of belonging and community.”
Um, yes please. Sign me up!
A few weeks ago I got to play at an event called Plant Nite with my mom and sister. For three hours a bunch of adults filled planters with dirt, succulents, decorative rocks, colorful mosses, and dinosaurs. Yes, dinosaurs (why not?).
It was hilarious, creative fun that brought us all to a place of joy. The room was abuzz with laughter, and not just because of the sangria involved. We were in the moment, doing something not to produce anything of substance, but to create something simply for the fun of it.
I left with dirty hands, a full heart, and these guys:
Now, every day when I walk into my home office, I see these mini meat-eaters and smile. They remind me to lighten up, loosen up, and play a little. Live a little. No, live a LOT.
Life without play is dull, and who wants that? Play isn’t a trivial waste of time. It is vital to our health and happiness and helps us be our best selves at home and at work. So before you let another all-work-and-no-play week fly by, grab your planner or your phone and open your calendar.
Set up a weekly play date with yourself to do something that brings you joy.
It doesn’t have to be long or complicated. Hike through the woods. Go play tennis at the park down the street. Draw in a coloring book for adults (yes, that’s a thing now…and I totally own one). If you aren’t sure what will bring you joy, ask yourself this question: What did I enjoy most as a child? Find a way to translate whatever that was into something you can do today.
Reserve a full 60 minutes of uninterrupted time and honor this weekly appointment with yourself. Treat it as sacred time. Watch as playing brings you into the present moment, quiets your mind, and reconnects you with your carefree, innocent inner child. See how adding more playtime to your life affects your mood, creativity, and productivity. Witness the healing that takes place as your stress melts away and is replaced with lightness and joy.
Give yourself a gift that keeps on giving. Make time for play. Your heart will thank you.
Featured Image by Abigail Keenan – Unsplash