Think back to when you were a child, before responsibilities began to creep into your periphery. What was the thing you would do for hours on end? For me, I would climb trees and dream up stories. Now, as an adult, I write those stories. And you know what? I never tire of my job.
How you used to play as a child gives you insight into your play personality—the archetype that reveals your intrinsic motivations in play. According to research by Dr. Stuart Brown, there are eight different types of play personalities: the joker, the kinesthete, the explorer, the competitor, the director, the collector, the artist/creator, and the storyteller.
The theory breaks down these play personalities like so: The joker loves being the class clown and delights in nonsensical play. The kinesthete needs to move and physically play, just for the sake of moving. The explorer loves to indulge in new experiences whether physical, mental, emotional or relational. The competitor thrives on winning and being the best. The director loves organizing and dictating, often taking the reins in directing the flow of play in groups. The collector loves to curate their collections whether experiential or material. The artist/creator finds joy in making things. And the storyteller is interested in unlocking stories and tapping into imagination.
“The idea of fun or happiness is much more complicated than anybody would have guessed when they scratched the surface,” says Joe Killian, a founding member of The New Games Foundation, and play instructor at The Omega Institute. Despite the complexity and depth found in the research of play and happiness, Killian doesn’t think there is any need to be daunted. “We’ve all been kids so we all have a basic education in play.”
Knowing and understanding your play personality can help you unlock not only what you are passionate about, but how that passion can manifest in your adult life. While it may not be possible for everyone to find a job that aligns perfectly with their preferred method of play, everyone is capable of finding ways to integrate play into their adult lives, which can help create a more fulfilling life.
You may identify with a few different play personalities, but one or two likely stand out the most. Mine were quite obvious: I am an explorer and a storyteller. I didn’t have to become a freelance journalist to fulfill my playful heart’s desire (though I must admit, it’s nice). I could have been perfectly happy spending my free time hiking while writing short stories and poetry on the side of a nine-to-five grind. What is important is finding a way to reconcile what you must do and what you want to do—and then carve out room for play.
“Play is important for adults because it is a pathway to the soul,” says Killian. “There is no method or guru or teacher but in play, you can elevate your mind, body and find your true soul for moments in there.”
Looking back to the way you played as a child and searching for a throughline can illuminate the areas of playfulness you can expand in your adult life. Find the activity that allows you access to a flow state. Maybe you made mudpies in the backyard as a child and now you enjoy baking cupcakes just for the hell of it—embrace your inner creator/artist. Maybe you were the kid who always took the leading role when playing house, and now you love nothing more than organizing school fundraisers—give yourself permission to be the director. However your play personality appears in your life, give it space to bloom. And don’t stress about it. It’s just a little fun.