As children there is a part of us, big or small, that longs for the freedom of adulthood. Our curiosity craves the limitless bounds that autonomy has to offer, actively intrigued by the opportunities and stories that have yet to unfold. Our dreams are barely beyond our reach, waiting just on the other side of a driver’s license.
We are in a rush to be adults. Then, inevitably, we get what we asked for. Growing up is beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, but adulthood feels a little bit different than we thought it would.
The concept of “growing up” is frequently associated with having it all figured out. The punchline of that joke? We are all just out here trying our best, learning how to laugh through the stumbles while gathering wisdom along the way. I’m convinced that one of the greatest ironies of life is that after years of dreaming ahead, upon arrival, we begin to remember truths we innately knew as children: eager curiosity, humble self-esteem, tender kindness and brilliant imagination.
We are all just out here trying our best, learning how to laugh through the stumbles and learn a little something on the way.
The best part is that these things never left us. Challenges, pain and grief really make it feel like it, but it’s still there. One of the best ways we can tap back into the optimism and joy that is present in (but not limited to) youth, is to play.
Here are some ways to incorporate play into your life:
Walk in a child’s shoes.
This one is for anyone who has a little one in their life. When you’re asked to play that game for the hundredth time, challenge yourself to get into it. Go all out when you’re exaggerating a character’s voice or putting together that costume. Don’t be shy.
Share your ideas for hilarious and dramatic twists in the Lego storyline. Wow them with your design for an unprecedented secret tunnel when building a fort. The possibilities are truly endless when you lean in and the adorable giggling you’ll incite will invite genuine laughter of your own.
When you’re asked to play that game for the hundredth time, challenge yourself to get into it.
Look for the mundane and make it fun.
This tip was inspired by a man and his son who I once saw in the airport. It is all about transforming a moment with intentional presence of mind. Waiting at their gate, a father sat surrounded by a sea of strangers with eyes cast downward looking at phones, at magazines, everywhere but at each other.
I watched as the dad said “Ready?” to the 10-year-old sitting opposite him. The boy smiled, nodded and became still. The dad, grinning widely, scanned his son from the tips of his hair to the bottom of his shoes before closing his own eyes. Then the boy, would slowly change one tiny thing about the mental picture his dad just took—moving his hand an inch to the left, putting in one earbud, taking off his hat.
The dad would then open his eyes and try to guess what was different. They went on like this for a long while, taking turns and giggling the whole time. I wasn’t the only one who noticed their moment of joyful connection and the peace was contagious. It was a gift to observe the two. Without even knowing it, they taught me a life-changing truth: there is no moment too common, too ordinary, too predictable, to infuse with life and play.
There is no moment too common, too ordinary, too predictable, to infuse with life and play.
Try something new on a whim.
It’s easy to let the desire for productivity guide our actions, especially when adult responsibilities are at the forefront of our minds. We deem activities worth our time when they benefit us professionally or financially. In doing so, we risk reinforcing the notion that value comes only from activities rooted in career or the work of our hands.
Embracing a new hobby is beyond freeing. Try origami. Learn to tap dance. Study a brand new language. Open up Groupon, close your eyes and point at the screen to find your next new hobby.
These new experiences encourage us to get out of our comfort zones, meet new people and open our minds. Trying a playful new activity is not only refreshing but reminiscent of childhood, a time when everything was new.