image description: A header illustration featuring a puzzle pieces over a candy background
image description: A header illustration featuring a puzzle pieces over a candy background

Illustration by Sidra Dahhan

Playing As An Adult: The Missing Puzzle Piece

Being childish as an adult might not be as childish as you think.

May 8, 2023

Before I begin, I would like to share an anecdote about my time at NYU Abu Dhabi. While most of my time at this institution has been incredibly positive, there have also been a fair share of negative experiences. One thing that has stood out to me over the past few days is that some of the consequences of campus life have been detrimental to my mental health, even debilitating. I found myself being more anxious and less content, and I have begun taking myself awfully seriously. As an 18-year-old first-year student, the sternness in my voice and the formality with which I conduct some aspects of my life should be mildly concerning. I do not think this only applies to myself, though; I believe that it is part of the NYUAD culture. We are expected to grow up so incredibly fast that some of us might not even know how to integrate a semblance of balance in our lives. From being children in high school, we became legal adults at university almost overnight.
I, personally, want to go back to being innocent and childlike in nature. Every picture on my Pinterest board is people running around on the beach, building sand castles, dancing to music, painting their nails, and braiding hair. It takes me back to summers as a child. A lot of us have forgotten the importance of play. I often find myself reminiscing about those feelings of contentment and simple joy that I found during those times in my childhood. Why have we stopped playing as adults, and do we face any repercussions because of it?
Being playful as an adult is one aspect of growing up that society neglects, despite it being shown to have several benefits. A study has shown that adults who have a sense of play are seen as having more desirable characteristics. They make others around them feel good. They make people laugh, ease tensions, and tend to spark creativity within a group setting. The researchers also asked the participants to use adjectives to describe people who are playful, and the words used were: spontaneous, creative, fun, and silly. They also concluded that due to those characteristics, and other observations, such as their lively nature, sense of humor, and appreciation of beauty, they increased higher rates of overall well-being.
While this is but one example and one study, there are others to support this claim, one of them being this 2013 study. Another study expressed the importance of making physical activity ‘fun’, as well as another exploring the positive impact of play in adults with Type 1 diabetes. All of these studies support the same claim that maintaining a childlike sense of play, energy, and enthusiasm toward life has tremendous benefits.
Many people might be so detached from this state of existence that the next feasible question would be, ‘How do I achieve, or go back to, playing?’ I believe that observing life through a child’s lens is one that requires a complete mental shift. I, for one, need to stop taking life so seriously. I need to incorporate more laughter into my life, the one where I bounce off of my friend’s joke and create a chain of jokes that ends in both of our stomachs hurting. Instead of going on a run, I could play tag, cops and robbers, or some frisbee with my friends. My roommate and I have a blowup mattress in our dorm, and we have taken it upon ourselves to flip from the mattress onto her bed several times one day. I also love jumping on people, squeezing their cheeks, and making them laugh with silly faces. I try to include as many ridiculous conversations as possible throughout my day, because that is the most effective way to remind myself and others that the world is weird, and we should be laughing at a lot of it.
I have become so tired of being considered an adult these days. Quite frankly, there are too many expectations, the world is too cruel, and people don’t laugh as much. It is an exhausting way of living. That is why I am going back to being a child and embedding a sense of playfulness and spontaneity into my everyday life.
Dana Mash Ai is Deputy Columns Editor. Email her at
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