What if you could approach daily life with the same mindset you have when engaging in a favorite playful activity that makes you feel fully alive? What aspect of your life would benefit from a more playful approach — one that’s less intent on a particular outcome and more open to spontaneity, discovery, and joy?

The core principles of grateful living — joy, belonging, imperfection, awe, and hope — can all be cultivated through play. Br. David Steindl-Rast reminds us that it’s only when we play that we truly celebrate the gift of being alive, here and now, in this current embodied form. In this sense, play is a powerful manifestation of gratefulness. It’s a practice of noticing, savoring, and saying yes to the possibilities that exist in our daily lives. 

The Practice

Step One: Close your eyes and bring to mind an experience of play when you felt fully alive and present. 

Maybe it’s the last time you danced, took an adventurous walk, or spent the evening cooking and listening to your favorite music. Or perhaps it’s a memory from childhood when you were free to play without thought of time, purpose, or outcome. Allow yourself sufficient time to call forth a positive experience of play, whether recent or long ago.

Bring this memory of play to life by considering the following:

  • Where were you? Were you alone or with others?
  • What was your sensory experience of play? What did you see or hear, taste or smell? 
  • Was it structured play or open? Were you aware of the passage of time?

Step Two: Make a list of the qualities that this experience of play evoked in you. 

While play can take limitless forms, there are key qualities that set play apart from other activities. Play typically does not have a purpose beyond itself; it is the purpose. Play often connects us to others, building new relationships and nurturing long-standing ones. Play taps our imagination, creativity, and problem-solving skills. Sometimes it takes courage. And it is fun! 

When you consider the experience of play that you recalled in step one, what qualities did it evoke? Make a list of three insights. It might look something like this:

  • When I was playing, I was more able to laugh at my mistakes.
  • When I was immersed in play, I was liberated from my task list…I was smiling!
  • Because it was play, I was more comfortable taking risks and being vulnerable.

Step Three: Identify something in your life that would benefit from a more playful approach. 

While play is often an activity, it is also — perhaps most powerfully — a mindset or way of being. It is an approach to life. When you learn to relinquish certainty, invite spontaneity, and become fully present — all aspects of play — you open the door wide to greater happiness, new learning, enriched relationships, and delight. 

For this third step in the practice, identify something in your life that would benefit from a more playful approach. Is it a daily task like driving your kids to school or cooking meals? Is it a work project? An important relationship in your life? Perhaps the desire for your own improved well-being? Take your time to identify a specific area of your life where the playful qualities you named above could be applied. 

Building on the examples offered in step two, your reflection might look something like this:

  • I’m looking to deepen my connection with a family member, and I’m realizing that if I could laugh at myself a bit more easily, it would soften this relationship.
  • I’ve been longing to propose a new project at work, and approaching it more playfully would allow me to be more vulnerable.

Choose something that is actionable, something that you can experiment with in the near future.

Step Four: Reflect

As you practice applying what you experience in play to other areas of your life, take time to reflect on any changes that occur in your sense of well-being, in your work, in your relationships, and in your own heart. We hope you’ll find that play is not only for fun but is a key ingredient of greater meaning and joy in your daily life.

Photo by Loren Joseph

Silhouette of a woman jumping in the air with arms open against a blue and pink sunset sky

This practice is part of a series that explores play both as an activity and a way of being that can bring new meaning, joy, and aliveness to your daily life. The full series will be available in our upcoming 5-Day Pathway, Reclaim Play.

Have you signed up for our 5-day Pathway?

How might your life be enriched if you could take a more playful approach to your work, your relationships, even your own growth? Join us to explore play as both an activity and a way of being — bringing new meaning, joy, and aliveness to your daily life.

Sheryl Chard, Grateful Living

Sheryl Chard, Grateful Living

About the author

Sheryl Chard is the Director of Education at Grateful Living. She is a lifelong educator, passionate about designing innovative and beautiful spaces in which people are inspired to learn and grow. She has spent nearly three decades teaching and leading in schools and organizations, creating transformative learning experiences rooted in both scholarship and heart. In 2013, she founded the Sofia Center for Professional Development, whose professional offerings support and honor educators in their sacred work.


When not engaged in this work she loves, Sheryl can be found connecting with beloved family and friends, traveling to new places whenever possible, creating ritual and ceremony, or camping by a river several miles down a mountain trail near her home in New Mexico. Throughout all, she embraces the lifelong learning and blessings offered by aspiring to live gratefully each day, by over and over saying grace.