Play your way into a happy and balanced life

I HAD to interrupt my previous series post to put up a post about Play – inspired by a Carnival of Play that PhdinParenting just hosted. As an afterthought, I realize that the concept of PLAY is very similar to the concept of powerful “microexperiences” – looked at from a slightly different perspective.

When I watch my 2.5 year old play her favorite games, I wonder what makes it play. Most things she LOVES doing are what I consider to be chores – emptying the dishwasher, folding laundry, dusting, walking the dogs …

And then I look at my own life – spending hours and hours of my life on my blogs and my startup – just because it is something I really enjoy, something I love to do….

When I think of what is common between the two – my daughter and I – I wonder why we do the things we do …. what motivates each of us to do these things that another human might never consider doing

It just seems that for one reason or the other, we do these things that we do because they give us a sense of sheer enjoyment. A sense of engagement and joy that could only make what we are doing an act of “play”.

As I sort my daily activities into 2 buckets of WORK and PLAY, I see the characteristics of my PLAY bucket starting to form –

  • Play is a change of pace. Play is an activity different from the one we are doing. Sometimes that is all play is. Play for way too long and even play starts to seem like work!
  • Play is productive, play is fun.
  • Play is anything we enjoy.
  • Play energizes
  • Play rewards
  • Play is spontaneity
  • Play is something that causes flow – a flow of energy within us – an activity that consumes so well that it almost seems effortless.
  • Play is an activity that “pulls” us  – it is an activity that we indulge in because we want to – not because we HAVE to

My daughter loves any activity where she is my little helper. She LOVES the feeling for a group activity – learning from me, doing with me and gaining that appreciation. I entice her with nothing else that a fun activity together – together being the key word. She will do anything with me as  long as I am already doing it and am excited about it …

There in lies the secret – She is willing to convert any activity as play, as long as she-gets-to-experience-togetherness. At this point in her life, that characteristic is mostly what defines “play” for her.


What does all this mean? How can understanding “play” make our lives better?

Understanding what constitutes PLAY in our own lives is very very critical to living a sane life from one day to another. To me, it is the difference between being able to care for my little ones with a whole lot of patience versus being a horrible mother at my wits end. With work, it is the difference between someone just doing her job and someone doing a damn good job and being passionate about it.

And at times like today when I am home alone with my kids and HAVE to take care of them, I can plan my day to insert elements of play for both of us – for the kids AND for me. Cleanup time (I hate, they love), naptime (they hate, I love), food time (they hate, I hate) all need to be planned right to make it enjoyable for all of us.

This is my take – the ability to understand our own internal drivers that cause us to perceive an activity as play, will let us choose the right activities and the right careers for ourselves. In the BIG scheme if things, it lets us decide what our limits are, what  we need on a day to day basis and what kinds of jobs we are more suitable for. In the microcosmic view, understanding “PLAY” in our lives gives us quick fixes for bad days, irritating times and even teach us some about how to get along with people and get going with the things we just cannot escape from.

So here is a rather quick way to find and incorporate PLAY into your life –

Step 1: Find YOUR play equation

The nature of PLAY = actions + experiences + results

This is what you do – Choose a few activities you LOVE and come up with a bunch of words for each of the categories – actions, experiences and results that cause you to love that activity.

What are your actions?

What is the experience?

What does it leave you with? What are the results?

What is it that you love BEST about that activity? Your actions, your journey, the result?

Once you have done all of that, you will start to see a pattern with what kinds of things you really love about what you consider PLAY. As you see in the table below, for me, the Experience is most important, followed by the result. All/most PLAY for me involves learning and should always result in a calmer me and calmer kids.

Try to do this and see what patterns you see emerge.

Step 2: Now USE the PLAY formula

Now that you have answers to that, choose one of these model –

1. Insert Play into activities – insert pockets of playtime into an activity. These could quite literally be coffee or your figurative shots of caffeine for your long and/or boring activity that you see as work.

2. Evolve activities into Play – Just don’ t enjoy your job? Time to change it completely or evolve it into a job that incorporates your play elements.

Companies invest thousands of dollars into getting people to socialize in informal environments, because that helps people let their guard down some and have a good time while getting to know each other better. While right in theory, this rarely works as every single person’s perception of play varies widely from another person’s perception of play. So if you are managing a bunch of people, be sure to talk to them about what they consider fun before you go too far deciding what might be god for everyone …

As time goes by, I fear that my daughter’s perception of what is play and what is a chore will change – be it due to life experiences or be it due to the pressures… How do I teach her to keep the play going? How do I teach her to find play in what the things she has to do or find ways to incorporate play into her work. I think it is about teaching her some truths and secrets….


You gotto do what you gotto do STUFF -There are some things in life we HAVE to do. Like it or not. Chores will never go away -So transform these – sing along while you clean, do things with company, focus on the results and treat it as an opportunity to learn.

You don’t have to do this STUFF – Teach them to get creative and find other ways to do it. Chuck these activities and choose activities that are better for us, keep us energized and in the flow.

I think understanding this basic truth  gives us the strength and ability to control and enjoy our lives to the highest degree possible.

What do YOU think? Is your work day filled with PLAY or does even PLAY seem like work to you?

How have you transformed your WORK into PLAY?

Creative Commons License photo credit: H Images (Photography by Paul Hagius)

  • Vered – MomGrind

    The problem is, even ‘play’ can become ‘work’ if there’s too much of it. Blogging felt like ‘play’ at first, but lately I’ve been so busy, it sometimes feels like ‘work.’

  • ankur kakkar

    i remember that when i was a kid, my father used to try and incorporate ‘play’ in the textbook lessons that he taught me.. it was so enjoyable that i never felt the burden of studies and what is more i even managed to top my class sometimes !!i learnt to distinguish different colours by watching the coloured stripes that appeared on doordarshan , i loved drawing and that helped me to learn about so many basic facts of life and nature, i loved watching sachin bat and calculating his runs helped me hone my math skills, i loved listening to stories which helped me build my language skills.

  • J.D. Meier

    Fantastic models and examples!I’m a fan of play and I love the reminder that one person’s chores are another’s play.  Mindset makes all the difference.One thing that helped me is thinking of my work as practicing my craft.  I like honing my skills.  I play at it and I make it a game.

  • Maya

    Hi Vered,That is exactly what I meant when I said this –  “Play is a change of pace. Play is an activity different from the one we
    are doing. Sometimes that is all play is. Play for way too long and
    even play starts to seem like work!”I think we all enjoy something SO much that we do it TOO much and then, what we loved about goes away, doesn’t it? My answer is in two parts – Practically, are you getting something else out of this to compensate for this different feeling about blogging? Lot of $,  building a great brand for yourself etc – that will eventually let you make blogging PLAY again? In that case this change is one that will be well worth it. Then you can look at it as something in the Gotto do pile and survive it for now. Philosophically, no matter what you do, I (my opinion) believe we should really find a way  to change our Work into Play sooner than later, cause we should be living mostly for the present. When i am unhappy with something in my life for too long, I strart to become a person I don’t like very much 😉 – and that is usually my first sign to slow down and change it up :) And I looked at your twitter profile – you ARE a prof blogger – no wonder it has become WORK :)

  • Stacey / Create a Balance

    As a life coach, I think play is an important aspect of living your best life. Play allows for us to lighten up and it helps us to think of ways to turn work as a game. Like any game we play, we need to balance play time with rest time.

  • Tricia

    Great post, Maya. I struggle with this balance and I find that too often I am consumed by one or the other instead of creating a gentle ebb and flow that combines work and play. I love the way you’ve illustrated this thought process, and I know I can make application for both my son and me.

  • Ramkumar

    This post really resonates with me. Yes, I find myself *needing* plenty of nuggets of Play scattered through the day in order to get through the routine and the grind. It is a key survival skill for me. I find myself inserting pockets of play into work all the time (and luckily I work in settings where I am able to do so). Two examples: I have a Rubiks cube at my desk that I twiddle with every once in a while – it takes my eyes off the computer, and it is a context-switch for my brain.  Also – the chore of washing dishes gets transformed into the most exciting activity when I couple it with listening to baseball commentary on the radio.It is a lot more difficult (but likely more rewarding) to evolve entire activities into play.. Left to themselves, often times I find that things go the other way. Activities that were fun (“play”) in the past suddenly start to seem like”work”  – and so on.  Therefore, it probably pays to actively think about how I construct my day, and mix it up, instead of passively doing what needs to be done and/or what seems easiest. It is certainly in the mind; and it is a relative thing too; an activity that seems like work in one context can seem like play in another, depending upon when and how it enters my day, and what the rest of the mix looks like.

  • Family_Matters

    First, this is an interesting way of looking at it. Second, aren't kids a great inspiration? My youngest daughter can turn anything into a game and come out of any boring activity with “OK, now let's play”.

    I've found that blogging and pretending to be in front of a whole bunch of readers makes it fun for me. Also, the whole promotional bit is like a hunt – you look for other good related blogs, you interact, you follow from one to the next and discover great stuff, like this post and the play carnival.

    [I started reading your post in a bad mood, Maya, and now I feel better, so thank you for that]

  • thinkmaya

    Yes, indeed, blogging has given me a great community of like-minded people :)
    And I am so glad my post shooeed away your bad mood !

    Thank you so much for stopping by!

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