Finding our way to play

While we often associate play with children, we play throughout our lifetime. We just might not call it ‘play’ as adults! Doing things you enjoy also counts as play and contributes to making you a better version of yourself.

One of the best ways to support our wellbeing as adults is to play more. One definition of play is that it is an enjoyable and voluntary activity, engaged in by both adults and children, characterised by a sense of spontaneity, creativity, and pleasure (Ginsburg, 2007). 

Play involves using imagination, physical movement, or mental stimulation to explore, experiment, and interact with the world. It can be something we do on our own or with others, allowing us to temporarily step back from our usual responsibilities and routines – we learn and relax doing it.

What play as an adult might look like

Colouring, painting, sculpting, drawing, writing, playing an instrument, making things, gardening, dancing, singing, being with friends, playing sport, hiking, volunteering, running, reading, doing puzzles, playing with your children, walking the dog, learning new things, cooking or baking, home-decorating, upcycling furniture, being part of a group you enjoy, immersion in cultural activities, skating, skateboarding, making videos, a keen interest in photography, travelling, bird watching, an interest in engines, having a collection you revisit often, embroidery, learning magic tricks, performing, making candles, hula hooping, doing crosswords, wordle or sudoku, jewellery making, practising make-up, nail art or hair styling, researching history or whakapapa, stargazing… and loads more!

The activities we enjoy as adults can often be connected to what we enjoyed as tamariki. The exploration of creeks for kakawai (cockabully), for example, may turn into a fishing hobby. That often gives us a clue if we’re a bit stuck in finding how we might play more as adults.

The wellbeing benefits of play

Play has been increasingly recognised as valuable spent time for adults and offers significant benefits for our wellbeing. These include:

  • Stress reduction: engaging in play activities can help reduce stress levels by distracting our attention from daily worries and responsibilities. 
  • Cognitive engagement: play activates brain functions, such as problem-solving, creativity, and strategic thinking. Engaging in playful activities can help keep the mind sharp and active, and will help to reduce the risk of our hinengaro decline!
  • Social connection: play often involves interacting with others, which builds social bonds and a sense of community. Participating in cultural activities, church groups or team sports can foster a strong sense of belonging.
  • Physical health: playful activities that involve movement can contribute to physical fitness and overall health. Sports, dancing, and outdoor adventures can help maintain a healthy lifestyle. They really are more fun than our perceptions of ‘exercise’ too!
  • Emotional wellbeing: play can create positive emotions, leading to increased happiness, joy, and a sense of accomplishment. Getting involved in recreational activities that bring pleasure supports our emotional wellbeing.
  • Creativity and innovation: engaging in playful exploration encourages creative thinking and innovation. In some creative industries, businesses actually provide staff with games and toys in the office to encourage them to play! This enhances their problem-solving skills and encourages thinking outside the box. 
  • Work-life balance: make time for fun activities during the week and on weekends. Including play in daily life will help achieve a better sense of work-life balance, reduce the chance of burnout, and make you feel more satisfied about life overall. 
  • Mindfulness and presence: play encourages being present in the moment and aware of one's surroundings. This can promote mindfulness practices that enhance mental clarity and reduce stress.
  • Personal growth: engaging in play can lead to personal growth by supporting us to learn new things, pushing us outside of our comfort zones, building resilience, and fostering a sense of accomplishment.

Tips to support oranga through play

  • When feeling like we need a wellbeing boost, we can look to do things we enjoy, even little things – making plans to meet a friend, sharing kai with the wider whānau, spending time at an exhibition, heading outside… find ways that feel like play!
  • Look at how play might become part of our mahi and with colleagues – walking hui, shared kai, shared learning experiences together...
  • Consider the things that brought joy to us as a tamariki or teenagers – dancing, skipping, crochet, guitar… because if we enjoyed it then, it’s likely we will also enjoy them now too.

As well as this, if you need some inspiration from experts, get involved in tamariki play! Take every opportunity to join tamariki in their games and play – they'll love having you as a buddy and you'll feel better too.


Ginsburg, K. R. (2007). The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. Pediatrics, 119(1), 182-191. doi:10.1542/peds.2006-2697

Proyer, R. T., et al. "The Virtues of Playfulness: The Relations of Adult Playfulness with Psychosocial Adjustment, Personality, and Personal Growth." Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, (2018).