Unlock the Magic of Games: 3 Ways to Transform Routines into Play
Did you know that play can actually make us smarter? For example, playing Avalon can train your memory and logical reasoning skills, while playing Werewolf not only hones your acting abilities but also activates the parts of your brain responsible for verbal and nonverbal communication.
Of course, real life isn't a game, and we sometimes get bogged down by trivial matters or overwhelmed by work stress. That’s why it’s important to add the magic of play to even the most routine parts of life. Here are three fun ways to boost happiness and reduce stress by adding play in unexpected ways!
Play Boost #1: Become the Hero of Your Own RPG
We all have routine tasks that require plenty of time and energy but bring us little satisfaction, especially regular housekeeping chores like washing dishes or doing laundry, or errands like shopping at the supermarket. Except for folks who are lucky enough to be able to outsource these tasks to paid helpers (or unpaid family members!), there’s just no getting out of them, at least not if you like living in a clean house with a full fridge. However, if we apply the magic of play, perhaps these tasks can feel like less of a slog, and can even be enjoyable!
Start by imagining yourself as both a hero in a text-based RPG and the player who’s controlling the character. As you assess your daily tasks, treat your home as an unexplored kingdom, and each task to be completed as a challenge your character must defeat in order to claim the treasure. This treasure could simply be a clean home, or even a prize you reward yourself, like an episode of your favorite show, or a hot bath with candles and a book.
As you explore the kingdom, make decisions on behalf of your character, just like you would in an RPG. For example: “Hero walks into the kitchen. Hero sees dishes in the sink, a full garbage can, and a dirty floor. What should Hero do next?” Talking to yourself like this keeps you focused on your tasks, and even makes it fun to complete them!
Play Boost #2: Use Cheats to Add Little Drops of Playfulness
There are lots of low-effort cheatts you can use to bring a bit of playfulness to basic tasks. This might be using colorful pens for notetaking, replying with funny memes instead of text in a Slack group chat at work, or starting a quirky themed challenge game (e.g., no saying 'um') during a group activity.
You can also use this method for more complex tasks, like preparing a meal for your family or group of friends. While this activity can be stressful and tiring, try these cheats to gamify the process:
- Use your favorite 3-minute K-pop song as a timer, and aim to beat the “clock” while chopping ingredients
- Instead of using matching dishes, challenge yourself to set a 100% mismatched table
- Pretend you’re on a cooking show, and that you’re being scored on plating, so make it beautiful!
- Challenge yourself to have zero dirty dishes by the time you finish cooking, clean as you go, and declare yourself champion when you succeed
What other little tweaks can you make to turn ordinary tasks from boring to engaging? Keep a list of ideas, and switch them up each day to keep things exciting!
Play Boost #3: Recharge with Recovery Potions
You’ve managed to get all of your tasks done, but it’s important to also give your brain and body time to recharge. Still, lots of people find it hard to “turn off” after a bout of productivity, and that’s why we all need a list of go-to “recovery potions.” This is a reference list of items and activities that bring both material enjoyment and spiritual satisfaction.
On the material level, for example, you might be the kind of person who delights in a sugary sweet donut, or a celebrity gossip magazine. Put those on the list. On the spiritual level, perhaps you take comfort from activities like reading a paperback in the sunshine or journaling about the things you’re grateful for. Put those on the list, too. Keep adding to your list as the days go by, and you’ll have a nice collection of “recovery potions” to revive you when your mood or energy bars are low.
By the way, if you’re a journaler, here’s another potion for your list: reviewing your past entries to bask in fond memories or remarking on your personal growth. (Not a journaler yet? Try this article for practical tips on how to start journaling and how it can benefit your mental health and creativity: Dear Diary: Why Should I Journal and How Do I Get Started?)
Inspiration: Ignite Your Playful Spirit
As Walt Disney once said, "Happiness is a state of mind. It's just according to the way you look at things." As adults are essentially grown-up children, we can take Disney’s words to heart by looking at the world in a childlike way and treating the challenges of life like games to be played. We have the power to transform boring or difficult things into joyful ones by changing our perspective or mindset.
So, what’s your first move? How are you going to harness the power of play and turn a routine activity into play today? Commit to just one tweak a day, and you might be surprised at how much smarter, happier, and more fulfilled you'll feel as a result!