- The U.S. toy industry generates 97.2 billion dollars per year.
- The National Institute for Play identifies eight unique “play personalities.”
- Play at any age aids cognitive development and physical health.
- Adults who play have lower levels of stress.
- Playing releases endorphins, which are vital for reducing anxiety and depression.
Most of us played all of the time as children. We were outside on bikes, climbing trees, building sand castles, and challenging friends to games. Toys were gifts for nearly every occasion, and no childhood was complete without some mini-golf, bowling, laser tag, or hide-and-seek.
In the U.S., childhood play is a big industry. In fact, toys are the largest imported product category, according to Statista, with retail sales revenue equalling nearly 29 billion U.S. dollars per year. The total economic impact of play in the United States is even more staggering. In 2020, toys generated 97.2 billion dollars for the economy.
And this is good news. Studies have found that the economic value of play and toys may actually be promoting good health. Physical activity from playing has been shown to promote a healthy heart and lungs, being outside reduces anxiety and depression, and certain games can improve cognitive function—all of which lead to increased happiness and satisfaction in life.
Yet, somewhere along the way to adulthood, and despite the abundant benefits, many of us have forgotten how to play.
Rediscover recess with your inner child and reap the health benefits with these 20 ways to play.
What Does It Mean to Play?
“It doesn’t have a particular purpose, and that’s what’s great about play. If it’s purpose is more important than the act of doing it, it’s probably not play.”Dr. Stuart Brown
Play for adults means disconnecting from responsibility and simply having fun. It’s a chance to rediscover your inner child, express yourself creatively, and connect with others in a lighthearted way. Adult play can look different for everyone. For one person, play might mean board games with the family. For another, climbing some of the world’s most challenging cliff faces is a type of play.
Learning how to play as an adult provides critical value to your life. As children, play is how we learn valuable life skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and exploration. Even within the animal kingdom, different types of play can prepare a species for hunting, breeding, exercising, and nurturing their offspring. While it may seem frivolous, play has been shown to aid growth and development across all boards.
The Powerful Benefits of Play for Adults
Play for adults provides many powerful benefits, both for mental health and physical health. As Dr. Tabitha Dell’Angelo explains, “When we laugh, we pull in oxygen, and then that oxygen fuels our heart and our lungs and it increases our endorphins. It also stimulates circulation so it revs up and then relaxes our stress response system. And that leaves us with this overall sense of well-being.”
The biggest benefits of playing as an adult include the following:
- Relieves stress: If you feel stressed and need a mental health day, go outside and play. Studies have shown that adults who played had lower levels of stress and better coping strategies than less playful adults.
- Stimulates creativity: Studies have linked having a playful mind with fostering creativity. This is because we become more open to new possibilities when we use our imagination and share ideas.
- Reduces depression: Endorphins are released when we’re active and doing something we enjoy. Studies have shown that playfulness not only improves overall well-being but the release of endorphins reduces symptoms of depression.
- Boosts physical health: Your physical health boosts tremendously simply by getting outside and getting your heart pumping. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute shares that even modest physical activity can improve heart and lung health.
- Improves social skills: Relationship management is part of having emotional intelligence. Playing facilitates communication, problem-solving, mistakes, empathy, and leadership skills, all of which can improve one’s social skills and EI.
- Improves cognitive function: Feeling sluggish? A National Library of Medicine study found that games, particularly brain-training games, positively affected memory, attention, problem-solving, speed, and flexibility.
Types of Adult Play
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”George Bernard Shaw
Playing at Work With Colleagues
The majority of us spend most of our time at work and with our colleagues. Using this as an opportunity to practice adult play will not only make work more enjoyable but a fun and playful work culture can also boost collaboration and productivity.
Playing in Friendships and Relationships
Adult play can strengthen our relationships and even help heal emotional wounds. This is because play brings people together and pulls us from any troubles, creating a unified space of playful togetherness. We’re more open to letting our guard down when we’re in a playful state.
Playing With Children
Playing with children may be one of the easiest ways to tap into your inner child. Plus, playing with children encourages physical, emotional, and cognitive development while creating healthy lifelong bonds as a parent, guardian, or loved one.
20 Ideas for Playing as an Adult
Play can be anything you enjoy doing. To help you brainstorm some playful activities, here are 20 ideas for playing with your friends, your family, or your children.
- Play with paint.
- Go for a bike ride.
- Explore the forest.
- Cook something new.
- Throw a frisbee around.
- Arrange a karaoke night.
- Have a dance party with glowsticks.
- Host a group game night.
- Look for cloud shapes.
- Roll down a grassy hill.
- Go exploring in nature.
- Teach others a new game.
- Organize a water balloon fight.
- Play with a child’s favorite toys alongside them.
- Host or attend team celebrations or games.
- Plan or attend team outings or team-building activities.
- Include jokes and funny memes in emails to coworkers.
- Go outside with colleagues for lunch and explore nearby nature.
- Use a break to toss a frisbee with a colleague or kick a ball around.
- Include puzzles, games, contests, trivia, and other activities during meetings.
How to Rediscover Your Playful Side
“Many of the things that bring us joy as adults are usually really rooted in things that brought us joy when we were kids. Understanding this part of you is a really important in making your present life as an adult not only a lot more enjoyable but also less reactive.”Jenna Mamorsky, Psychotherapist
If you haven’t played in a while, rediscovering the types of play that you find enjoyable may take a little time. Trying different types of play, however, could be fun in and of itself. The important thing is to permit yourself to disconnect, be open to trying new things, accept failure, and just revel in the joy of exploration.
As Dr. Stuart Brown says in Play: How It Shapes the Brain, “Stepping out of a normal routine, finding novelty, being open to serendipity, enjoying the unexpected, embracing a little risk, and finding pleasure in the heightened vividness of life. These are all qualities of a state of play.”
Tips from the National Institute for Play for reconnecting with your play state:
- Identify which of the eight play personalities by Dr. Stuart Brown you most resonate with.
- Consider how you play (physical, social, or with objects).
- Try new types of play that best fit your play type and personality.
Dr. Brené Brown advises in an article, “Create a playlist. Write down three activities you could do for hours on end.”
More Strategies for How to Play as an Adult
Once you’ve identified your play type and personality, there are some tactical strategies you can use to start getting back into a play state. These may not be long-term, but they can help get that initial momentum.
Five tips for jump-starting adult play:
- Spend time playing with your children.
- Think about things you enjoyed as a child and do those again.
- Schedule time in your daily or weekly schedule and make an effort to plan something.
- Think about fun objects and toys that would inspire your inner child and collect them.
- Find a dedicated partner or friend to play with and schedule activities with them.
5 Steps for Combatting Self-Doubt When You Start Playing Again
When you start or restart something, it can be easy to fall into the trap of negative thinking. Self-judgment and limiting beliefs can occur with any new process or habit. This is completely normal. The key to successfully combatting them is accepting that they will come and employing healthy strategies for beating them when they do.
Tips for combatting self-limiting beliefs:
- Identify a limiting belief that you have and write it down.
- Examine it and remember that it is just a belief, not a fact.
- Challenge it: Ask yourself if it’s grounded in truth or supported by evidence.
- Acknowledge that holding that belief does more harm for you than good.
- Let it go and replace it with a new positive belief.
As James Clear says in Atomic Habits, “Your identity emerges out of your habits. You are not born with preset beliefs. Every belief, including those about yourself, is learned and conditioned through experience.”
Continue breaking down the barriers holding you back by reading, “Self-Limiting Beliefs: A Guide for Overcoming Limitations.“
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- “How to Connect with Your Inner Child.” YouTube, 27 Dec. 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUDkTb-RFyw.
- What Are Your Play Personalities? https://www.nifplay.org/what-is-play/play-personalities.
- “Why Goofing Off Is Really Good For You.” HuffPost, 3 Feb. 2014, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/brene-brown-importance-of-play_n_4675625.