A new study finds that simple exercises can help make people more playful, which helps them feel more satisfied with their lives.
The new study from psychologists at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) in Germany found that just a week of exercises can boost a person’s playfulness, which then improves their mood.
Playfulness is a personality trait that is expressed differently in people, the researchers noted.
“Particularly playful people have a hard time dealing with boredom. They manage to turn almost any everyday situation into an entertaining or personally engaging experience,” said Professor René Proyer, a psychologist at MLU.
For example, they enjoy word games and mental games, are curious, or just like playing around, he elaborated.
But this does not mean these people are particularly silly or frivolous, according to Proyer. On the contrary, earlier studies by the MLU researchers found that adults can put this inclination to playfulness to positive use in many situations. They have an eye for detail, can easily adopt new perspectives, and can make even a monotonous task interesting for them, they explained.
Until now it had been unclear whether playfulness could be trained and what effect this might have on people, the researchers said.
That led them to conduct a study on 533 people, teaming up with researchers from the University of Zurich in Switzerland and Pennsylvania State University in the United States.
Participants were randomly divided into one of three experimental groups or a placebo or control group.
The people in the experimental groups completed one of three daily exercises for seven days. The exercises were intended to boost their playfulness.
For instance, one group was asked to write down three situations from that day in which they had behaved particularly playful before going to bed.
Another group was asked to use their inclination to be playful in an unfamiliar situation, for example in their professional life, and write down that experience.
The third group was asked to reflect more broadly on the playful behavior they had observed in themselves that day.
In contrast, the placebo group received a task that had no influence on the experiment, according to the researchers.
“All of these methods are based on established interventions of positive psychology,” said Kay Brauer, a researcher in Proyer’s group.
Participants in all the groups filled out a questionnaire before and immediately after weeks one, two, four, and 12 after the intervention, which helped the researchers measure various personality traits.
“Our assumption was that the exercises would lead people to consciously focus their attention on playfulness and use it more often. This could result in positive emotions, which in turn would affect the person’s well-being,” Brauer said.
And the tasks did lead to an increase in playfulness, the researchers reported.
They also observed a temporary, moderate improvement in the participants’ well-being.
“Our study is the first intervention study on adults to show that playfulness can be induced and that this has positive effects for them,” Proyer said.
The results of the study serve as a starting point for new research questions and practical applications, according to the researchers.
“I believe that we can use this knowledge in everyday life to improve various aspects,” Proyer said.
For example, special interventions in the workplace could lead to more fun or a potential to be more innovative at work. Or romantic partners could do similar exercises that might increase their satisfaction in their relationship.
“This does not mean that every company needs table tennis tables or a playground slide. However, one idea would be to allow employees to consciously integrate playfulness into their everyday work and, as a supervisor, to set an example for this kind of behavior,” Proyer concluded.
The study was published in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.