Do you remember what it was like to play as a child? A time when you had no worries and completely enjoyed the now? Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and for a moment remember one of your best childhood experiences and try to relive it. Remember what you were doing, the sounds, the people (if any), and the smells. For many, those memories bring about feelings of joy and nostalgia.

Some of my favorite memories include riding my bike around the neighborhood, telling stories around candlelight when a storm would take out the lights, dancing in public, playing cards outside, and running through the woods pretending to be Indians. One that especially stands out is pretending with my brother, Daniel, that we had super powers. We would say “power of cheetahs” and thought it made us super fast or “power of monkey” and we would climb trees, swing from vines with grace, and jump to the ground.
It makes one wonder,

“Can I truly experience that type of joy again?”

Of course I am not looking to jump out of a tall tree, for as an adult I fear that if I land wrong I may experience prolonged pain or break something. However, most of the limits that we place on our joy are based on much lesser fears. For example, I have heard many people say:

“I have always wanted to dance in the rain.”

So why haven’t they? It isn’t that hard to step outside of your house when it is raining and shake it like you mean it. Are they afraid that others would judge them? Well they’re probably right, but if they’re not hurting anyone and having a great time, then who cares?

I was at the DMV a couple of months ago, and we were being told that it may take an hour and a half before we got helped. People were mad, frustrated, and complaining. All of a sudden, this young lady joins the line with her headphones on and just starts dancing. When I say dancing, I mean it was like you in your room as a teenager when nobody was watching, except she was not a teenager and everyone was watching. Some people were making fun of her and questioning her sanity. It was as if she was from a different planet.

Almost everyone was miserable, but the woman dancing was in pure joy.

The lady in line next to me looked at me and said, “If she only knew that she was making a fool out of herself.” I looked at her and told her, “I think she doesn’t care, but I bet you many people here wish they had her courage to find joy anywhere.” She looked at me with an awkward grin, confused, because I did not join in on discouraging the dancer’s behavior.

People do not fully experience joy in their lives because they have ADD (Adventure Deficit Disorder).

They are not living life; they are letting life live them. So the question for you is, “Can I truly experience that joy that I did when I was a child?” Of course you can. You just need to eliminate that limited belief that says because you have more responsibilities you cannot take time for joy. Maybe, just maybe, as we grow older we are incorrectly taught that there is something wrong with playing.

How much time each week do you dedicate to playing? How many people in your life do you share your joy with? At the core, every person has an inner child that is longing to come out and play once in a while. So, what would adult play look like? Well, that depends on you and what you consider fun. If you don’t know how you would play then this is an opportunity to rediscover your inner child. Below are some of the more interesting ways that some adults play.

Flash Mobs
I was watching a presenter at one of the TED conferences whose company Improve Anywhere influenced the flash mob trend. It has organized groups of people (sometimes hundreds of people) through social media who convene at a specific time to sing a song, dance, or just freeze in place. The goal is to give unsuspecting bystanders at that location a unique, positive experience that gives them something to talk about. At the same time, it allows for people to break away from their routine. It is astonishing that the people who participate are from all walks of life and range in age from teens to people in their 70s. The one thing that brings them all together is the desire to play a game, just like they did when they were little. You may think these people have a lot of time on their hands, but realistically we all take time for what we enjoy, whether we prefer to spend it in front of the TV or participating in something like this.

Playing Pretend
I think all of us, at some point or another, have played pretend. I still dress up and play pretend with my daughter when she asks me to. I have even gone out with her in my Halloween costume in January to do grocery shopping because she wanted us to wear them. I don’t want her to grow up thinking that being a responsible adult means you have to stop playing. I was talking to a friend a few months ago and she was telling me that she has a group of women who get together every week and play pretend. Each person pretends that she did something that week that she wished she had, such as saying that she traveled to Fiji, got an award, or had a particular experience. They express it to the group as if they actually lived it. She says that each get-together is life changing and filled with so much joy.

It may sound crazy, but I have personally used this activity with people through counseling, workshops, and even people who are juvenile delinquents or who are about to be released from jail.

Playing pretend, for kids and adults, is a way to open the mind to different possibilities, as well as a way to make sense of the world.

Playing a Game
Playing games is a great way to release and experience joy, whether it’s a card game, board game, or one you make up. It can also be therapeutic. I have created programs and volunteered for programs such as Challenge Day, where high school students play games to develop trust, so they can then open up and see how similar they may be regardless of their differences. I have also used games with families and couples to help them reconnect and strengthen their bonds. It’s not only humans that benefit from play; most animals play games with each other to develop bonds.

Taking Time in Nature
I remember the first time that I took my daughter on a canoe ride. She was rambunctious when we arrived, but halfway through she was lying with her hand touching the water and for the next half an hour did not say a word as she was mesmerized with her surroundings. Looking at her, I knew that she had found her inner joy. It was not until a firefly landed on her hand that she spoke to me to tell me she had a new friend. For many of us, nature provides that inner peace and joy. Connect to nature, take a bike ride, go to the beach or mountains.

Do whatever brings you to that quiet, joyful place.

True joy is not about feeling excited or having a specific experience. It is about being present and letting go of the fear of being your true self. Find your inner child and let them out to play. The more you can, the more you will find that your life will be transformed.

Author's Bio: 

Joeel A. Rivera, M.Ed., Ph.D. (ABD) holds a Master’s Degree in Counseling and is currently completing his dissertation for his Ph.D. in Psychology. Joeel’s extensive career as a relationship coach includes certifications in P.R.E.P, a 30-year research-based program for couples, Nurturing Father’s curriculum, and Parenting 21st Century. Joeel is now taking a select number of Life, Relationship, and Entrepreneurship Coaching clients. Contact Joeel at joeel@transformationservices.org