The surprising psychological relationship between playfulness and joy


Positive psychology focuses on doing more of the “good” in life versus dwelling on the “bad.” Rather than focusing so much on the source of a problem, it can be just as helpful (if not moreso) to shift the focus away from the negative and instead to what we’re really great at and what is working for us. A key component here is to boost the amount of joy we experience regularly in our lives - and we’ve done the research behind why this works so you don’t have to. 

Here are some incredible ways that joy works to change your life for the better. If you’re someone who likes to know “why” something works - this article is for you. Check it out! 

First, joy increases playfulness, which:

Makes our relationships more positive...

When we’re feeling good (such as experiencing a positive emotion like joy or gratitude), we’re more likely to help others, think flexibly and outside-of-the-box, generate fixes to our problems, and are more able to control our impulses. Our self-discipline is better and our actions are more intentional and responsive, rather than reactive. Playfulness allows us to both continually learn and increase our knowledge as well as nurture our social support circles by promoting our attachment to others. We feel more drawn to connect meaningfully with those around us when we’re feeling good.

Helps us be more creative and open-minded...

To elaborate, generally, the more positive our day-to-day well-being is, the more options (read: opportunities) we feel we have. When we’re stressed, anxious, or downright panicked, often our decision-making has one goal in mind: to avoid a certain consequence (or cascading set thereafter). We don’t always feel as if we have many choices at all, much less good ones! The more positive our mental state is, the more clearly we’ll think and the less fearful we’ll feel. It makes sense then that the more freely we’re thinking, the more creative we’re going to be. The more positive our mental state is, the more open we’ll be to new thoughts and behaviours (in other words, growth!). 

And is linked to higher life satisfaction! 

The more joy we experience regularly, the more playful we feel. This means that we’re able to take ourselves less seriously - in the best ways possible. We can be silly, kind, loving, and relaxed in ways we struggle with when we’re feeling more negative emotions like stress, anxiety, or humiliation. Because we’re better able to make choices that align with our purpose, values, and goals in life, it’s likely we’ll feel more fulfilled by our life. 

Joy also makes us better able to cope with various life stressors 

The more joyful we are, the less we feel ‘stressed out’ by various things. To start, think about your mental state as a collective combination of all the different parts of our lives, both positive and negative (e.g. our social, romantic, and professional lives, financial and physical health, our families etc.). The more ‘positive’ sources we have in our lives, the more the scale (our mental wellness) will lean towards that direction. In short, the regular and intentional choice to incorporate more joy into our lives helps to offset the negative feelings of stress that arise when our boat gets rocked and life gets tough. Stressful situations don’t feel quite so catastrophic and all-consuming when we have other positive sources of emotion to lean on as a buffer like our social circles and self-care practices.

The bottom line is that we treat each other more altruistically when we feel more positive emotions (like joy) and we make better, more considerate decisions. We are kinder and more compassionate to those around us (and ourselves). We’re more likely to take steps towards our goals when we’re feeling good mentally - our dreams (both short-and-long-term) seem much more daunting when we’re upset, stressed, or anxious, versus when we’re full of hope, calm, and self-confidence. The more we can nurture our mental wellness to have more fun, be more playful, and trigger more joy on a regular basis, the better we’ll feel. Being an adult doesn’t mean you can and should stop “playing” - it’s essential to spend time doing things just for fun.  Hint: kids are absolute experts at this - and we adults could learn a thing or two from them once in a while.