I truly believe that playing is an essential part of a happy life and, on a more practical level, I also believe that it is an essential part of a productive, useful life. The second part of that statement really appeals to my Puritan work ethic, so I’m going to go with it. I’m not just telling myself whatever feels good, I’m helping myself become a better, stronger, more useful person when I play.

When the days, weeks and months go by and suddenly I realize I haven’t played in a really long time, I sometimes can’t think of anything that feels like play to me.

That’s when I go back to the five senses.

Touch: What feels good to me? A long, hot shower comes immediately to mind. I know that doesn’t sound like play, but we’re talking getting back to basics here and it’s a good place to start.

Hearing: What sounds good to me? Music feeds the soul. And it gives us a way to experience strong emotions in a structured, safe way. When the sad song ends, so do our tears. On the other hand, a happy song like “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers can have me bouncing around all day.

Sight: What looks good to me? Nature! Trees, rocks, sky. Bright light. Sometimes just looking out my window at the tree branches swaying in the winter wind is enough to change my perspective.

Taste: What tastes good to me? Oh, so many things. Today, a pineapple smoothie makes me smile and feel like I’m on vacation.

Smell: What smells good to me? I used to wear perfume every day, but since I had my son, that sort of went out the window. But taking half a second to spray a little Happy (by Clinique) on my wrists really does make me happy every time I smell it.

Play doesn’t have to be a board game or a roller coaster ride. It can be more subtle than that and still create a feeling of well-being and possibility. Not that I’m against board games or roller coasters (or the Spider Man ride at Universal Studios in Florida—I love that ride!) Even if we can’t get to a Florida theme park, we can still play the day away.

What do you do to play?