How do I relearn how to play?
November 3, 2015 3:15 PM   Subscribe

I have recently realized that I engage in pain-numbing activities instead of joy-bringing activities in my spare time. I feel like I've totally lost my childlike ability to play--to do something simply because it brings me joy. I have no hobbies and no real non-work-related interests. I'd really like to discover what brings me joy, but I have no idea where to start. How did you discover what form of play is best for you?

I like my job a lot, but then I go home and just waste my time doing...nothing. I want to start doing something! I have a strong desire to develop a hobby or interest that I do just because it makes me happy. But I have absolutely no idea what sort of hobby would bring me joy, and I'm hoping you all have some tips on how I can decide what to add to my life to reignite my sense of joy, curiosity, and wonder.

I am coming out of lengthy crisis period in my life (life-threatening illness). While I was in that period, all of my energy was focused on cleaning up the crisis, so I developed pain-numbing habits. No regrets on that; those habits got me through the crisis.

Now I want to replace those with joy-bringing habits, but my pre-sickness joy-bringing habits no longer appeal (just grew out of them). I have so much extra emotional bandwidth now that that period's over, and I want to devote some of it to doing some stuff that makes me really happy--I just don't know what that is anymore!

I've seen this and this. Good advice there, but hoping for a little more guidance.
posted by suncages to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
Try sending out an email to all of your friends paraphrasing what you've said here; you want to spend your leisure hours doing something that brings you joy, you're not sure what that is, and if they have any suggestions or things they like doing, you'd love to tag along. Affirmatively put yourself out there and look for invitations.

Then, here's the important part, accept the invitations. Unless you have an honest-to-god scheduling conflict, say yes to whatever is offered. Photography, art house movies, whitewater rafting -- whatever it is, you've got to be game to try it. And if you really like what you've tried, keep doing it. If not, keep putting out feelers for new experiences until you find something that clicks.

Most of the things I'm passionate about I knew pretty early on after seeing them done that they would be a fit for me, but I knew it for sure after the first couple of times I tried them. You're only going to get that certainty by trying [insert thing here], and the best way to do it is going to be in the company of friends.
posted by craven_morhead at 3:33 PM on November 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you want to do things that will make you happy, and you're not sure what that is anymore, try a lot of things. Look for short/ free intro classes and workshops. In a pinch, look up youtube videos. Without knowing more about you it's hard to say what this might be for you, but I'd suggestion joining a choir, learning a musical instrument, improv, dancing, volunteering, writing, hiking, kayaking.

Craven_morhead has a nice idea about exploring this with friends. However I want to encourage you to do things on your own if necessary. I have done a lot of fun things with my friends, but the things that bring me the most joy have usually been the things I sought out on my own -- of course, I sought them out because I already suspected they would bring me joy.

Also, you say you've outgrown things that you used to enjoy in the past. And maybe you did .. but be aware that sometimes a long dormant hobby can come roaring back to life, with a new twist perhaps, and can bring immense satisfaction when it does.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 3:43 PM on November 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do you live someplace where cheap community education style classes are available? In my state, it seems like each school board maintains its own community ed calendar.

Get a hold of your local calendar (online or in print), flip through, and sign up for a few random classes. The educational quality will vary, but it should be enough to give you a taste for whether you like swing dancing or mushroom foraging or painting enough to pursue it more seriously.
posted by sparklemotion at 3:47 PM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

One potential source of inspiration: your childhood. What did you enjoy then? Art? Sports? Star gazing?
posted by reren at 4:11 PM on November 3, 2015 [9 favorites]

Do you know any toddlers? Playing with experts might help spark some ideas. My friend's two-year old reminded me how much I like coloring books.
posted by three_red_balloons at 4:25 PM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Tired and stressed brains do not do much of anything well, let alone imagination or creativity.

So you perhaps need to compile a list of really easy things to do, that are playful. An example would be colouring - You can just sort of mindlessly apply colour to the page.

If that works you can go on to something like Zentangle patterns which don't require your to call it a failure if it's not realistic or ends up looking quite different from what you planned.

Similarly if you want to try doing things like getting into puzzles, start with kids puzzles, so that they are not difficult enough to challenge your brain. What kinds of puzzles? Mazes, jigsaws, get the boat from one side of the harbour to the other side of the harbour -whatever kinds of puzzles sound fun.

If you visit the dollar store there will be all kinds of cheap kits to make things. They will make quick short term projects.

You know your own sense of humour. Do you like puns, or bedroom farce, or satire? You should be able to find some serial that fits your sense of humour, whether it be a web comic, a tv show or a set of books. Once you find one you like, check on line for the fandom. Fandoms play with their original material in creative and playful ways.

There are books of games, and gaming stores that might give you ideas of games you could play either alone or with others.

Look for active types of play too - Hopscotch is a good aerobic activity. Consider anything of that sort. You want to learn to move impulsively, to break into dancing when there is music in the background, to leap the last two feet to the curb when walking across the street, to take an extra moment to walk on a railing.

Can you remember any of the games you played as a kid? Did you collect action figures or collector cards?

Do you know anyone with a dog? Ask if you can go with them when they walk their dog and then play with the dog too.

There are probably things you do that are chores and you do them on a regular basis, for example cooking or laundry. If you cook, play with your food. If you are making pancakes try to trickle the batter out in the shape of a rabbit. If you are making meatloaf poke pieces of onion into the meatloaf to make a pattern and then drizzle it artistically with ketchup - fool around while doing your day to day tasks. When doing laundry practice throwing items from a distance into the laundry basket as you pull them out of the washer. When mopping the floor mop alternate tiles and play stepping stones.

Basically, experiment with if you can find a way of playing with everything you do and go out and get new materials to start experimenting with things you never did before.

Set yourself goals, little ones like one twenty minute craft project a week.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:30 PM on November 3, 2015 [11 favorites]

Wow, ostro had a potentially useful comment in one of the previouslies you linked: why not sit down with the Pleasant Events Schedule (.pdf) and a highlighter, and see if any patterns suggest themselves?
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:05 PM on November 3, 2015 [25 favorites]

I know a bunch of people who are basically big kids -- and I mean that in a good way. I know people who collect action figures (they can afford to do so). Or play Magic: The Gathering or other board games. I have friends who totally still love Legos and are always buying new sets. I have a friend who is constantly watching movies and reviewing them. I know people who just love reading and go through a book every day or two. Other people are constantly drawing or making art. Even video games counts here. I know people who are also runners or play in kickball leagues or whatever.

What do you like? Me, I like crafts and Legos and reading comics and watching documentaries. I will also "color" sometimes and make books and do origami. I also like goofing around on the guitar (electric guitars -- even with an amp -- can be cheaper than you expect).

My main thing with most of what I do -- failure is always an option. If I make a book and it sucks, oh well, it was fun. If I make terrible noise on my guitar, who cares? If that origami project failed, big deal -- it's just paper. Letting myself just enjoy what I'm doing -- regardless of the end result -- is always satisfying. (I also take that into account in more physical things -- so I couldn't do that yoga position. Whatever, I tried. Did I not run for as many minutes as I wanted? Well, I still ran for a few.)

I also play a lot of "casual" games -- I think Puzzle & Dragons is stupid fun, but most "match 3" games are. They're usually just frustrating enough and I feel OK at quitting any time. I find them to be really good stress relief, honestly.

Just try things you may be interested in -- like, don't spend thousands of dollars on a new hobby, but buy some craft kit and try it out. Play a board game or card game with friends. Try rock climbing at some gym or take a dance lesson. Download a game or two on your tablet or phone. Watch a movie you're interested in. Try out that book everyone is talking about. If it doesn't stick, it doesn't stick. You can try something else. You'll get there.
posted by darksong at 7:45 PM on November 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

Improv! Find a class and exercise your creativity and meet people and have fun.
posted by bendy at 8:14 PM on November 3, 2015

I go through a much smaller cycle that looks like this, on a smaller scale. I get overwhelmed, drowning, fighting to get through weeks - and then suddenly I have free time and I don't remember what you're supposed to do with it.

For me the change is less about finding an activity that brings joy, and more about remembering what joy feels like. Going for a walk and really admiring the way sunlight is on leaves. Spending time with a friend telling stupid stories and re-hashing old inside jokes and just enjoying the feeling of laughter. And then from there I can remember, "oh yeah, I like learning things" and find a thought-provoking book to read, or "oh yeah, making things" and find some cool sort of knitting pattern for a scarf...

So, definitely try different things, spend time with people you haven't had time for in a while, go and seek out whatever it is that you remember being really really wonderful. But don't expect the activities to be magic. You're going to have to look for that kernel of joy and remember how to really feel it, not just using it to not feel something else. Good luck, and I'm glad you have the opportunity.
posted by Lady Li at 11:04 PM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Music. Take a class - singing, guitar, drums. Dance - contradancing has lively music and cheerful people, or ballroom, or whatever Adult Ed. has on offer. Sing - in church, with the radio, with or without a group. Even when I'm terribly depressed, I go dancing, and the music and movement bring me to a happier place.

Animals. My dog is sooooo happy to chase the ball and bring it to me, so happy to be scritched, walked, happy just because I pay attention. Find somebody with a dog that needs to be walked, and make a new buddy. Also, exercise will help you have the capacity for happiness.

Laughter - funny movies, comedy shows, jokes.

Nature. Walking someplace that's not all city, looking at the stars, listening to waves or a stream, or leaves in the trees.
posted by theora55 at 12:03 AM on November 4, 2015

Do art. Make music, dance, write, make films, or do any of the standard visual arts (ceramics, drawing, painting, sculpture, etc.).

If you don't know how to do what you want to do, take classes and read books and watch videos and join groups and make like-minded friends.

If you freeze because you think you are not good enough, you're setting your sights too high to begin with. Aim low at first. Learn the basics by doing the basics over and over. Use cheap materials you can afford to waste.
posted by pracowity at 2:44 AM on November 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

highly recommend paper mache mask making to make you feel like you're five. flour and water glue, torn up strips of phone book or newspaper, and a balloon as the form. once that dries, pry it off, cut holes for mouth/eyes if you want, and tape on pieces of toilet paper tube or egg carton (or anything) to make features, and paper-mache over the new stuff. it's cheap and fun and you can definitely work your way up to more complex stuff.
posted by ghostbikes at 6:53 AM on November 4, 2015

Wow, I could have written this a few years ago. I quit my dance classes and theatre stuff in my late teens and for a long time I felt like there was something missing in my life. And there was. Grownups need play too! It's so important. A few years ago I was very depressed. I was overweight and didn't have any creative outlets. Since I rediscovered play and incorporated it into my life, I have learned some neat skills, regained a lot of lost confidence, and made some important friendships.

My most beloved hobby is hula hooping/hoop dancing. I have been doing it for about four years now and have started teaching classes and performing again. It's pure joy for me. I know it sounds cheesy but whatever worries or problems I have seem to exist outside that plastic circle. When I hoop, it's one of the few times in my busy life that I feel completely free and in control, while laughing, sweating, and dancing. This has also led to other creative outlets. Last year I decided to start taking dance classes again for the first time in 18 years.

Lastly, make art! I picked up a set of paints a few years back, hoping it would get me through a long winter. And it did! I mostly work with poured acrylics now, which is very messy and extremely fun! Back to Kindergarten I go every time I paint! I have even sold some paintings, which I wasn't expecting but was an added bonus.

I'm not specifically suggesting you try these activities, OP. But four years ago I was stuck in a cycle of work-sleep-eat and looking back on it, I am so much happier now that I get to play and be foolish on a regular basis. Compliments the boring adult stuff quite nicely. Basically if it scares me or I'm not sure I'm capable, I dive right in! Good luck.
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:31 AM on November 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

When I first got to college in the 1990s, usenet newsgroups were still a thing. I remember logging into the school system on my old Mac with its black-and-white screen and being confronted with a long list of every newsgroup in existence at the time, covering any topic that people would conceivably want to discuss. It was fun to pick out which ones to subscribe to and, to this day, a lot of my interests have remained consistent. Anyway, I don't think people use newsgroups much anymore but a similar list is still out there if you want to be reminded of some of the possibilities of potential hobbies and interests. Good luck.
posted by gentian at 1:11 PM on November 4, 2015

Urban sketching! Meet people, draw cool places and people, experience a steady narrative of improvement, can do it alone or with friends, have stuff to show people, meditative and also creative. e.g. Urban Sketchers Boston/NYC/SF

You can also do figure drawing (e.g. lots of museums offer free figure drawing classes). It's very rewarding being able to draw people.
posted by glass origami robot at 7:52 PM on November 4, 2015

My suggestion is that whatever thing you do, do it to an almost ridiculous degree.

My friend and I have a project that started out fairly simple, but has grown to a point that has us constantly exclaiming "I can't believe we're doing ________!" (where _______ might be calling up a restaurant several states away to talk to a chef about a dish she made once last year; getting up before dawn to go fishing; tracking down someone who will let us milk their goat; cooking in a tiara and ballgown; or mobilizing our friend network to find particular rare fruits).

This is pretty much the most fun either of us has ever had, and the more ridiculous it is, the more fun it is. And hey, if you're ever in San Diego, come cook with us sometime!
posted by exceptinsects at 11:41 AM on November 24, 2015

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