Playtime: What Brings You Joy?

In case you missed the memo, it is summertime.  In my world, that means lots of walks to the playground, time at the pool, family vacation, day trips to fun destinations, and all kinds of other play.  I noticed that trend as we got into the second full week of summer.  And then I found this video, and I knew what I wanted to write about this week.  Dr. Stuart Brown is a researcher who studies the impact and importance of play.  (Fair warning, the video is 26 minutes long, so you need to invest some time to see the whole thing–but it’s worth it).

In case you don’t have 26 minutes right now to watch the whole video, let me summarize one of the key points.  Dr. Brown talks about the fact that play, both as children and as adults, is not something trivial.  Instead, he characterizes play as one of the most important things that we do.

And that got me to thinking.  Where does play fit into my life?  Where am I silly, and light, and immersed in a moment of joy?  And those questions led me to thinking about my readers and my patients.  Because play feels incompatible with pain.  When you are hurting, one of the last things that you are thinking about is play.

But after listening to Dr. Brown and thinking about moments in my own life, I think that maybe we have it backwards.  Maybe, when we are faced with our biggest challenges, that is when we need to be most deliberate about adding in some small moments of joy.

So, I’d like you to think about this.  What do you do on any given day that brings a smile to your face?  What lets you set down your adult responsibilities for a moment or two?  What adds to the total amount of joy in your life?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Dig out the board games and challenge a loved one.
  • Learn a new card game.
  • Do some brain play with a crossword.
  • Kick a soccer ball.
  • Splash your heels in a stream or swimming pool.
  • Find a swingset and defy gravity.
  • Try out a canoe or kayak.
  • Hike through a new park.
  • Challenge a friend to a riddle contest.
  • Dig out some art supplies and color or sculpt or otherwise create.
  • If you’re close enough to a beach, go race some waves.
  • Make music.
  • Blow bubbles.
  • Fly a kite.

This is a short list, and I’d love to hear suggestions from you in the comments to expand the list (and the definition of play).  As you think about this, I hope that you find ways that you can let some small joys re-enter your life–even if you are currently facing great pain.



14 thoughts on “Playtime: What Brings You Joy?

  1. A wonderful reminder, Ann. I love the list of ideas you came up with. The issue or difficulty is that when you are faced with pain or overwhelming issues, play is the very last thing on your mind. In fact, play can seems like an impossible chore for which there is no energy left at all.

    Perhaps one idea to help people give the “play” idea a try is to explain that while it “uses” energy, it actually recharges you so that you will have more energy to deal with whatever it is that you have to deal with.

  2. I think you’re right that play is something we adults all need more of. I know that figuring out how to be playful with my husband helps to break the tension when we’re having a conflict or are stressed out about everything people get stressed out about. Here’s my example: the other day, my toddler was having a grand ol’ time in the bathtub, but I was dealing with a headache, worried about household chores, and just wanting her to get done and get in bed. She started squealing/screaming/shouting for joy in the wonderful acoustical environment of our bathroom, and rather than get irritated (my first instinct), I joined in with her, whooping and yelling, too. It felt great!

    1. Rachelle,

      What a lovely example of how we have the power in the moment to change our experience from negative to positive. Thank you so much for sharing!


  3. Hi Ann,
    This is an excellent reminder. Play is essential for children learning about the physical and social world. And it helps all of us re-fuel and re-focus. Thanks for this reminder. I haven’t watched the video yet, but I plan to.

  4. Hi Ann,

    My personal example is the pillow fight I had with my husband tonight. I would also like to add dancing and singing to the list.

    WSU researcher Jaak Panksepp talks about play as one of seven basic emotional systems along with seeking, rage, fear, lust, care and panic. Here is a link to a 3 1/2 minute video of Jaak Panksepp explaining the power of play, including its health benefits:

    Thanks for reminding us all of the importance of play.


Leave a Reply