When was the last time you played or did something purely for the joy of it?
Most of us dismiss play as frivolous and unproductive. Typically, we’re ruminating about what we’re making for dinner, how we’ll ever complete our to-do lists, and whether we handled that work situation well.
But play absolutely deserves our attention, no matter our age. Research has found that play lowers stress, boosts creativity, and cultivates connections.
According to play expert and creative strategist Yesim Kunter, play “makes up the foundation of human nature. Through play and playfulness, we become curious to learn, adapt, evolve, and develop.” Which no doubt are vital ingredients for thriving in our personal and professional lives.
The great news is that you don’t need to overhaul your days to incorporate play. You can simply add an activity or two and shift your mindset. Here are five ways to do exactly that.
Adopt a Playful Pastime
“Hobbies are a perfect way to get in the mindset of playfulness,” Kunter says. To pick your hobby, she recommends identifying an activity that’ll “make you smile and relax you,” or an activity you were curious about as a child.
Another approach is to try a pastime you never thought you’d do. Kunter points out that sometimes an unlikely hobby can bring out our best because there’s no inner judgment—which poisons playfulness.
Cultivate Playful Traits
Studies show that playfulness in adults has some serious physical, mental, and emotional benefits: On average, playful adults live 10 years longer than their less playful peers. Playfulness also has been linked to successful problem solving, positive affect, effective coping, and emotional regulation.
Researchers have found that playful adults share five key attributes: spontaneity, expressiveness, fun, creativity, and silliness.
To cultivate playfulness, take an improv class. Learn the tango. Get curious, and ask more questions. Invent a silly game. For instance, mental health counselor Laura Torres, LPC, and her son talk to each other using nonsensical terms “in a relational way, with our tones, body language, and facial expressions.”
Slip Up on Purpose
As adults, most of us fear mistakes. But making mistakes frees us to explore and experiment, fostering growth, creativity, and innovation.
So make mistakes on purpose and see what happens, Torres says. You can play with all sorts of slip-ups: Spill paint on your paper. Play the wrong notes on your guitar. Sing out of tune. Reconnect to your childhood and color outside the lines.
Schedule Play Sessions
Play sessions—which can range from 5 to 30 minutes—are a time to toss your to-do list and “follow your joy,” Torres says. For instance, you might make up funny dance moves, read a children’s book, or finger paint.
According to Torres, simply ask yourself: What do I feel like doing? What would bring me joy right now?
Play at Work
Work and play don’t have to be at odds. In fact, research suggests that play can boost productivity at the office. Keep coloring books or Play-Doh on your desk. Joke around with colleagues. Decorate your workspace with objects that make you smile and spark fun memories.
Think of lunch as recess: Take walks, hula hoop, play Frisbee in the park with a coworker. Sample lunch spots that serve food you’d normally never eat.
Adopt a playful attitude. Set a timer to race against the clock. When you’re stuck on a step, as author Jake Knapp writes, goof around with that task. Often, this is a gateway to great ideas and getting us into the zone. After all, when you’re playing around, you tap into your imagination and see unlimited possibilities.
Make tedious tasks interesting by listening to your favorite music or rewarding yourself after completing a tough step.
At first, it can feel strange to play—especially if you can’t recall the last time you engaged in an activity simply because it was pleasurable. However, remind yourself of play’s powerful benefits. Give yourself permission to have fun. You just might be pleasantly surprised by how much your life and work improve.