Play On

Inviting More Play into Your Life

The Power of Play, Part Four


On the last day of her life, my dog Frannie fell off the bed. She was so excited to see my friend Nan enter the room with a squeaky dog toy, that in her final act of exuberance, she tumbled to the floor. Though she tired quickly playing with us, it warmed our hearts to see her playful nature hadn’t surrendered to her illness.

Though our desire and need to play diminishes with age, we can reduce stress and improve our overall approach to life by exploring and nurturing ways to keep our playful side thriving, notes Dr. Rene Proyer, from the Martin Luther University Institute of Psychology. Dr. Proyer asserts four different types of playfulness for adults, based on their particular preferences:

  • Other-Directed: Those of us who like to interact with friends, family, colleagues, and teammates
  • Light-Heartedness: For those who view life as a game
  • Intellectual: Those with an preference for thinking and idea-generating
  • Whimsical: Folks interested in the unusual and amused by small day-to-day observations


 “Playfulness is an expression of what various researchers call ‘manifest joy.’”

Bernard Louis De Koven- Humorist, game designer, writer


Besides joy, playful people gain various other values and benefits, including reduced stress, and a greater capacity for what Dr. Brene Brown identifies as “whole-hearted living.” Because there are so many ways to unleash your playfulness, find the path that best appeals to you. Here are some of my favorites and go-tos:


  1. Take a clowning class
  2. Have a water pistol shootout
  3. Meet friends at the playground
  4. Turn off the sound on your TV; lip-sync your own dialogue with a friend
  5. Gather friends to play your favorite sport. Don’t keep score
  6. Bake ready-made cookies and invite a neighbor for an afternoon snack
  7. Do something nice for a stranger
  8. Give a gag gift or prank your BFF
  9. Engage in meaningful conversation with one new person daily for a week
  10. Play some high-energy games (no prizes)
  11. Have a water balloon fight
  12. Play board games until you’re bored
  13. Have a paper plate-whipped cream pie fight.
  14. Play hide and seek
  15. Conduct a scavenger hunt at the mall


  1. Build a sand castle or shoe-box house
  2. Buy a Lego set and build your dream vacation home
  3. Spend the afternoon coloring using every color in the 64-count Crayola box
  4. Doodle
  5. Buy a flip chart and markers. Draw letter C nouns: clouds, cars, cakes, castles, caterpillars… (go through the alphabet!)
  6. Make an alien from Play-Doh
  7. Try some simple Origami
  8. Make and launch paper rockets
  9. Make sock puppets and put on a show
  10. Play with watercolor paints
  11. Hop or skip your way to the mailbox when no one is looking
  12. Sing in the shower, in the car, or in your garden. Just sing!
  13. Make Christmas ornaments inAugust
  14. Play with magic
  15. Catch fireflies…then release them


  1. Build a house of cards, straws or recyclables
  2. Make a Post It mosaic on your wall at work
  3. Write a one-paragraph science-fiction fantasy story
  4. Host a comedy film festival for a day
  5. Lie in a field and look for as many cloud images as possible
  6. Go barefoot in a field and describe the entire experience in metaphors
  7. Read aloud to yourself trying different foreign accents
  8. Watch the moon and stars come out and create new names for the constellations
  9. Write raunchy limericks
  10. Give all the trees in your neighborhood names
  11. Create 2 alter-egos: give each a name, characteristics, and super-power
  12. Eat monochromatic meals
  13. Draw a comic strip with a friend
  14. Design your own robot sidekick
  15. Read to children using character voices


  1. Buy the brightest, most outlandish pair of new sneakers you can find and wear them all weekend
  2. Ride a tire swing
  3. Look for beautiful shells on the beach
  4. Look for interesting rocks in the woods
  5. A week later, toss your shells back into the ocean—one by one
  6. Throw your rocks as far into the woods as possible on your next hike
  7. Run in the wind, sun, or rain
  8. Dance in the wind, sun or rain
  9. Dress in your worst clothes and jump in mud puddles
  10. Climb trees…start small
  11. “Sock ice-skate” your best Olympic routine across the kitchen floor
  12. Climb a jungle gym
  13. Blow bubbles. Alternate between soap and bubble gum
  14. Fly kites – that you make!
  15. Wear 2 different color socks


Embark on your playful development by committing to the process of the experience rather than aiming for an outcome. And keep these other principles in mind, too. For the truest experience, however, study with and emulate the experts—children, dogs, or cats. If you follow these models of authentic play, you’ll be led directly to golden gifts of whole-hearted and joyful living.