Want More Joy In Your Life? Play!

Posted on: October 24, 2011

I’ve noticed that when we have an attitude of Play we are Open-minded, Receptive, Present in the Now, Flexible, and Loving. So why have we forgotten this essential key to a happy joyful life? Simple, we may have started listening to the wrong voices. We listened to the “What will they think?” or “How will they judge me?” or “I don’t feel like it!” (and you can throw in a foot stomp for effect,) instead of listening to that inner part of us that is curious about the world. That is where we stumble. We listen to the voice that keeps us small. For Play is about more than childhood games, it is an attitude of how to jump into life and be BIG!

Psychologist David Elkind has been studying Play. Pure play, he indicates, is motivated by pleasure. It is unstructured, self-motivated, imaginative, and independent kind, where we initiate our own games and even invent our own rules.

Maybe we tend not play anymore because we have learned to stifle pleasure? Possible. However, what if you just decided to play anyway? What would happen? Would society stop in its tracks to judge you? Probably not; more likely you would start to feel joy, and pleasure. So why not play?

Play is a direct route to intimacy because it’s a way to learn more about ourselves and our partners. Play reveals the kind of person we really are. Sean and I suggest an attitude of Play because, not only does it make everything a little more fun; when trying new things and being vulnerable, Play is a way to keep our resistance down.

In other words, Play keeps us open. It keeps things light. It keeps the risk low. So if you want more joy in your life, get out of your head and Play!

How do you bring play into your life? How do you find your playful self when things begin to become more rigid? One fun way we’ve found is to incorporate some guidelines used in improvisational theatre. Here are a few:

1. Accept all offers.

For a story to unfold in improv, you have to say “yes” to whatever detail of the story that your partner offers, no matter how ridiculous it might seem. Anything other than an exuberant “yes” prevents the action from moving forward. That’s called blocking, and makes for really bad improv.

Notice that the world around you is making you “offers” much of the time. It might come in the form of noticing the people around you and talking to a guy in line at the coffee shop. The “offer” might look like noticing some new way of doing something you never thought you’d do.

Practice hearing and saying “yes” to “offers.” See where they take you. Just like in improv, you might want to play it safe, stay in control, and not allow yourself to be vulnerable. But the rules of improv encourage you to just “go there.” Notice what offers your partner is putting out there. How might you say yes and see what happens.

2. Focus on the present.

In improv, the focus is on whatever happens to the players right there on stage, not whatever the characters might have gone through in the past or future. You have to listen to what’s said and not said so that you can react. The sly look, the angry tone, the suggestive touch each require the player to ask, “How does it make me feel and how can I express that onstage now?” Likewise, when you are walking through life with a playful attitude…you have to be here now…noticing, taking it all in…this is where the play happens. Not in the past or the future…play happens in the now.

3. Let go of the inner critic.

There’s no time to think about what to say or do in response to your partner in an improv game. You have to simply react and be spontaneous. The surprise of what comes out makes improv fascinating to watch just as the surprise of what comes out in play makes for unexpected and possibly delightful experiences. There’s no “wrong” way to do it…let go of the critic and play.

4. Make your partners look good. 

Improv is a team activity based on collaboration. When you take the focus off of yourself and focus on helping out the other actors, the acting comes more easily, and the scene is more successful.

When you’re moving into an attitude of play, take the focus off of yourself. Flip that “I” thinking around and ask, what impact can I have on my partner? There are so many ways to contribute…. focus there and play will naturally emerge.

5. Be changed. 

For improv to be interesting, the characters in the scene have to experience some type of change. You have to allow yourself to be changed, and let the other actors change you. You’ll go on a journey, get into trouble, experience the consequences, be surprised by a turn of events, and have an a-ha moment.

The path to finding your play is an exciting one if you let it be. Be willing to go the shadowy places that you’ve been avoiding and the glittering places where fear comes up too. Being vulnerable and open to possibility allows you to be changed.

“What do most Nobel Laureates, innovative entrepreneurs, artists and performers, well-adjusted children, happy couples and families, and the most successfully adapted mammals have in common? They play enthusiastically throughout their lives.”

– Stuart Brown, Institute of Play

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