Key Teachings

  • Play means to “amuse oneself, to rejoice.” The practice of grateful living invites you to play as an expression of your thanks.
  • Societal pressures often force kids to “grow up,” which can lead to less joyful adults. Play is important for awakening to your life with a celebratory spirit.
  • Play opens you to the rhythm of life and liberates you from structured time.
  • If you are struggling to find joy, play.

Throughout adulthood I have been fortunate to have exposure to many great theologians, spiritual thinkers, and practitioners across a wide spectrum of traditions. While the content of their message is very important to me, I have a simple litmus test to determine how closely to listen and whether I should take them seriously. While others might be interested in titles and positions, I want to know if they can play. The practice of grateful living has shown me that the last person I want to listen to is a pious stick-in-the-mud.

Play means “to amuse oneself, to rejoice.” How in the world can we learn about life from a philosopher, theologian or really anyone who professes anything if they don’t know how to rejoice? In fact, how can we fully learn from a practice that doesn’t emphasize play? 

Depending on one’s cultural context or childhood, play can feel scary and burdensome. Rather than embracing the amusement and fun of play, many children and teens are told to “grow up,” putting them at risk of becoming less joyful adults. While societal pressures may discourage the joy of play and call it childish, that was long ago debunked by the Presbyterian minister and children’s tv host, Mr. Fred Rogers.

If you are struggling to find joy, then make space for play, where you’ll also encounter happiness, gratitude, and delight. 

Fred Rogers’ work with children reminded adults that our playfulness is never lost. He said, “the child is in me still and sometimes not so still.” We simply have to listen to that playful spirit that exists within. It is there and never leaves us because life itself is playful. As Matthew Fox says, “Creativity is at the heart of the universe, and play is at the heart of creativity. Without play, there is no true celebration of life.” Cultivating play is important to our well-being because it is our creative expression of joy. If you are struggling to find joy, then make space for play, where you’ll also encounter happiness, gratitude, and delight. 

A playful spirit attunes you to the moment and allows you to respond to it with joy and openness. Br. David says, “Play is the highest form of research.” A scholar himself, Br. David doesn’t say 8-10 hours a day in the library is where you need to go to learn about joy and the grateful life. Play is how we learn.

What happens in this joyful act that makes it so important and something worth holding in such high regard for learning?  

  • Play is an invitation to say yes to the moment with open-heartedness
  • Play liberates you from structured time and attunes you to “the now,” making time more expansive
  • Play opens you to the rhythm of life, like a dancer who dances with no destination and simply moves from moment to moment
  • Play awakens you and makes you more alive with a full body and full heart experience
  • Play fosters connection and belonging 
  • Play is celebratory and births delight, making it our alleluia to life

However you play, it is an act of celebrating your embodiment during the short time you have to give thanks for this gift of life. 

Play is an action born from the attitude of your heart, and there are as many ways to play as there are ways to rejoice. Your playfulness with others, the extra awkwardness you add to dancing the jitterbug just for fun, a sport, a hobby, a practical joke, humor, and all the ways you amuse yourself, are just a few portals to play. However you play, it is an act of celebrating your embodiment during the short time you have to give thanks for this gift of life. 

The practice of grateful living — in its attunement to the now — is like the next door neighbor knocking on your door and asking you to come out to play. Answer the invitation, and you’ll find it’s a good day to rejoice.

Reflection Questions

  • What feelings and thoughts come up for you when you are playful?
  • Where in your day can you play at least once?
  • What is one task in your life where play can transform the very act of how the task is completed?

Photo by Sash Sriganesh

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Joy Well-being
Joe Primo, Grateful Living

Joe Primo, Grateful Living

About the author

Joe Primo is the Chief Executive Officer of Grateful Living. He is a passionate trainer, community-builder, and program developer whose accomplishments in the field of grief made him a leading voice on resilience and adversity. Grateful living became a pillar to his work since his first introduction to Br. David Steindl-Rast in 2005. An entrepreneurial leader, Primo designed, built, expanded, and led Good Grief, Inc., the largest children and family bereavement organization in the Northeast, from 2007-2022. His TED talk, “Grief is Good,” reframed the grief paradigm as a responsive resource. He is the author of “What Do We Tell the Children? Talking to Kids About Death and Dying” and numerous articles.