Healthy Mind

20 Joyful Activities To Make Play a Priority in Your Self-Care Routine

Mary Grace Garis

Photo: Getty Images/mixetto
This isn’t your standard New Year’s plan. No restrictive diets, no weekly weigh-ins, no “whole new you” for this new year—because, hey, you’re pretty great already. These four expert-led plans—designed to help you move your body, eat more veggies, get a better night’s sleep, or show yourself some loving care—are all about developing healthy habits that better align with your goals. Get the Program

I haven’t watched The Shining in a while, but I do remember enough to know that the whole “all work and no play” thing did not bode well for Jack Torrance’s mental health. And, in fact, one could argue that life right now doesn’t feel too dissimilar from a horror movie plot of being boarded up inside during a winter like no other. The Shining aside, though, it’s still worth noting that a number of us are juggling many roles at once, not leaving enough room for joyful activities. And, as Mama Glow founder and Well+Good council member Latham Thomas pointed out in her 2021 Renew Year plan for increased self care, prioritizing playtime is important.

Of course, what constitutes play is subjective and means different things to different people. In light of this, Thomas recommends soul-searching by filling in the blanks of “Time flies when I’m…” or “When I was little, I always…” But if those prompts yield little by way of new ideas or inspiration, you may have lost touch with your inner child. If so, no worries. Check out a few ideas for joyful activities to play more in the new year, rounded up below.

20 joyful activities that’ll help you embrace playfulness each day

1. French braid

This is my go-to self-soothing practice when I find it difficult to focus or need to settle some jangly nerves.

2. Pick up some knitting needles

Two of my pals have gotten super into this form of occupational therapy during quarantine.

3. Buy a tie-dying kit (and then jazz up all your solid-colored garments)

This might not be a feasible everyday practice, unless you want an on-trend wardrobe of all splattered sweats (and good for you, if so!). But, if you love the look and want to have more of it in 2021, invest away!

4. Get back into your favorite cartoon show

Cozying up with a comforting binge-watch can fill your social tank almost as much as dealing with, you know, non-animated people. Plus, watching some Sailor Moon or SpongeBob makes me think of simpler times.

5. Scrabble

Board games are a sound idea across the, uh…board. Bonus: you can play it online!

6. Play dress-up with the fanciest garments in your closet

Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I’ll just dive into my wardrobe and re-enact the opening credits of Sabrina the Teenage Witch (the ’90s version, to be clear).

7. Make friendship bracelets

Like knitting or braiding, making friendship bracelets is a form of pattern-making that can keep your mind sharp. Plus, the finished products are super-giftable, and your camp counselor would be so proud.

8. Play charades

If you can rally a group of friends for a weekly game night, this is another option you can do virtually.

9. Download Stardew Valley

Harvest Moon had a big moment when quarantine hit, but I’m still plugging the role-playing game Stardew Valley. If you’re sad because the gardening trend never quite worked for you (i.e. you have a graveyard of succulents on your windowsill), this option can give you the farm of your dreams.

10. Pick up a coloring book

There are adult coloring books out there, but find whatever makes you happy, and treat yourself to a 96-pack of Crayola crayons.

11. Create a “me” altar

This idea comes from joy strategist Grace Harry, and it’s basically about creating a space that’s a celebration of your best self. Whether that includes a rose quartz, old love letters, or a photo of you from 2015 where you look undeniably hot, be sure to preach at the church of you.

12. Make fancy hot chocolate

Very specific, but my brother and I make a game out of embellishing our cocoa with extra treats. If you’re interested, try this avocado-infused chocolate beverage.

13. Play 20 questions with the people in your life who feel most familiar

Also per Harry, try to “interview” the people in your household or quarantine pod with the same curiosity of an alien who knows nothing about this person. You might dig up some fascinating new intel about your favorite folks.

14. Make up a home Olympics circuit

Make micro challenges for the people in your household, or your squad on Zoom, like like wastebasket-ball or thumb wars, and see who gets the gold.

15. Get really into role-play

I don’t mean sexually (though it can be sexual, of corse), but more so just an elevated form of playing pretend. Atmosphere-setting YouTube videos can really help out with this—like some café ambiance when I’m making my morning coffee, or this romantic Manhattan restaurant video for when I’m swirling spaghetti (even if it’s just with my parents).

16. Have an ’80s dance party

I always slap “dance party” on my things-to-do lists because movement is so good for your well-being and it’s just the most-fun-ever.

17. Experiment with your boldest makeup shades

That turquoise glitter eyeshadow that’s never been touched? Slap it on, and watch your mood boost.

18. Read your favorite YA novels

Akin to reading cartoons, the nostalgia factor of reading YA can help you feel swaddled and safe.

19. Play with your quarantine dog

Whether you already had one or you got one as a mid-pandemic panic move, a few pets or a game of “fetch” will make both of you happy. 

20. Hula hoop

Hula-Hooping is the best. Put it on my headstone.

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