Keys to More Contented Living, Part 1: PLAY!

I try to keep things simple for my clients, believing that life enhancement need not be some version of rocket science or require one to empty out his or her pockets. We can make noticeable improvements by turning our attention to some free and accessible areas just waiting to be tapped. So, when asked about some simple ways to improve one's current situation, I always return to three main points, which I'll spend some time outlining in a three part blog series in the coming weeks.

It's my belief that when someone experiences the feeling of life being out of balance, typically it can be traced back to some imbalance or scarcity in one, if not multiple, of the three areas I'll be writing about. Finding balance with and putting energy into these three areas are surefire ways to move toward more contentment, so STAY TUNED. To start off the series, the first topic is PLAY!


As adults, most of us forget how to truly play. Read the opening to The Little Prince (one of my favorites!) for more on this. Children are the best, but oft ignored, teachers of this precious pastime. Why does this matter? Researchers are now linking stress to many major illnesses, both psychological and physiological in nature. For many years, mysterious physical and psychological pain has been mystifying all types of clinicians. What we now know is that many of the symptoms we haven't been able to explain can be linked to stress. Interestingly enough, no drug on the market is being prescribed that can match the positive effects of a simple behavioral intervention. It turns out, PLAY is the antidote to stress. It can literally undo the harm and fatigue caused by too much stress hormone release. Sadly, however, without our awareness, we slowly lose touch with the childhood activity known as play and turn to the pressures, responsibilities, demands, and competition that run rampant in our adult lives.

Simply put, play is light-hearted, spontaneous, imaginative, flexible and creative activity that exists outside of the stress of rigid time limits, competition, and/or hard and fast goals. Ask adults how they play, and they will quickly respond with things like: going to the gym, writing, running, cooking, gardening, painting etc. While these all might be considered play, it could be beneficial to subject the activities we do to the qualifications listed above, and see how they fair. With further scrutiny, I typically find that what most adults consider to be play, is actually another source of stress, guilt, self-harm, and worst yet, sometimes even shame. For example: "I don't make it to the gym enough...I'm just so lazy" "I'd like to sell more of my art, but it's not that good" or "I used to be really good at guitar, but I hardly have time to practice now." In many cases, the things we think we do to relieve stress are actually increasing the stress in our lives. This is not say that competition, pressure, and goal-setting can't be healthy and promote other types of personal growth. It's just that activities that revolve around these things shouldn't be filed under the category known as play, and they probably are not serving to counter stress in the way that play activity could.

One of the easiest ways to get back in touch with play is to watch your own kids, or friends' children play. If this isn't an option for you, I invite you to ask yourself these questions as you engage in your activity and try to determine if it counts as play in the way I've outlined here:

Am I smiling while I do this activity?

Is it impossible to do the activity the "wrong" way?

Will I feel better about myself after the activity concludes?

Am I doing this activity because I want to, and not because I feel I must?

Does this activity allow me reprieve from the pressures of everyday life?

If you can answer "yes" to these questions, you're probably onto something.

Give yourself permission to play more and you will reduce the stress in your life!