Play is powerful. I’ve written before about the importance of play for adults. Many of us dismiss play because we assume that once we become adults, it’s time to get serious, get to work and chip away at our to-do lists.
But play actually makes us more productive (in addition to providing us with more joy). That’s because play moves us.
According to Marney K. Makridakis in her excellent book Hop, Skip, Jump: 75 Ways to Playfully Manifest a Meaningful Life, “When it comes to the intersection of play and productivity, the secret is quite simple: what moves us is what moves us, which simply means what moves us emotionally is what moves us to action.”
Play is never “still, stuck or stagnant; it somehow always moves. So when it comes to manifesting a meaningful life, play works.”
Play is a creative and fun way to discover what a meaningful life looks for us. What does a meaningful life encompass? How can we create it?
Here are five playful activities from Makridakis’s Hop, Skip, Jump to help you answer such questions.
1. Define what meaning means to you.
Meaning is personal. Its definition is different for every person. To find out your unique description, take out crayons and a piece of paper. Draw a huge circle. In the center write “My Meaningful Life.” Then fill the entire page with words, doodles and phrases that signify a meaningful life to you. Write with all kinds of colors; write big and small.
After you’re done, write a list of goals that will help you move closer to the words, doodles and phrases inside your circle. Write them in the format of “I want to …”
Then revise each goal to say “play to.” In other words, “I want to get a new job” becomes “I want to play to get a new job,” writes Makridakis.
2. Play your ABCs.
A stands for actions. B stands for beliefs, and C stands for choices. According to Makridakis, beliefs and choices “create an environment where action is inevitable.” All three “turn your ideas into life-size motorized toys – dreams with legs, wheels and wings.”
Create your own ABCs. Makridakis shares this example in her book: “I want to apply for this new job. I would need to believe that I would be seen as a good fit. I choose to believe that I am right for this job and to go for it!”
Then create your own ABCs using the same format: “I want to ___________. In order to complete this, I would need to believe ___________. I choose to _____________.”
3. Hunt for shiny treasures.
Imagine that you own a metal detector. Every time it lands on a shiny object, it goes “beep, beep, beep.” However, this metal detector is inherently “woven with your soul. Without any effort from you, it lights up when you light up, and leads you to the play portals you may not have noticed,” according to Makridakis.
Go through your day, and see where your detector beeps. Also, keep a treasure journal to remind you where you find your shiny treasures. If you aren’t hearing the “beep, beep, beep,” venture to new places, and do new things – new stores, new routes, new websites, new magazines. “Eventually, something will spark.”
4. Create a science fair project.
Makridakis introduces readers to the sighentific method, which she defines as “the playful process of studying the things that make you sigh, breathe, relax, and have fun.” It, too, includes a question, hypothesis, test and analysis.
Pick one activity, interest or idea that’s currently capturing your attention. Get a poster board and big markers. Draw a border around your board with fair-themed images: roller coasters, cotton candy, carousels. In the middle of the page, write out your four-step process:
- Question: a question about your current interest or idea
- Hypothesis: what you’d like to look for in your experiment
- Testing: what you’ve noticed about your experiences with this interest or idea
- Analysis: what this awareness shows you
Makridakis shares this example about an interest in handmade paper:
- Question: What do I need to know about handmade paper?
- Hypothesis: There is something here I need to look at.
- Testing: I really like the process of making paper. But I don’t know what to do with it after I make it.
- Analysis: I want to look for someone who can use my paper. Maybe I could trade my paper for some help around the house.
5. Dare to dream.
Write down the biggest doubt you’re having about a dream you’d like to come true; the biggest doubt that’s holding you back. Then create a “dare” to counteract your doubt. Makridakis defines dare as “solely based on your experience, not outside results,” and “an inner positive challenge that is unique to you.”
She shares theses examples: Your dream is to write a book. Your doubt is “I’m worried about what other people think.” Your dare is: “I dare myself to write a book and tell my truth, and only my truth.”
If your doubt is “I could never fill a book. It feels too hard; I don’t think I could do it,” your dare is: “I dare myself to write one paragraph a day.”
Play can be seriously productive. We can use the power of play to discover what a meaningful life looks like for us and to take steps to actually create it, one dream, one treasure at a time.