Play, Playfulness, Wonder and Whimsy

Embracing a Playful Life: An Interview with Paige Hankla

What if all of us could live a more playful life? I believe we can.

This week I got to interview my friend Paige. I met Paige years ago and knew instantly I wanted to get to know her better. She has mastered the art of embracing a playful life.

Paige is the mastermind and magician behind a big flow festival here in Kentucky called PlayThink.

What is PlayThink?

PlayThink is a multi-day festival (it’s sober, too!) in which people of all ages come together and . . . PLAY. There are workshops on all sorts of playful arts like hoop dancing, aerial arts, juggling, yoga . . .

. . .and stilt walking, just to name a few.

All pictures in this post are courtesy of Paige and/or PlayThink.

People can attend these classes or they can just play. In addition, people can come and camp at PlayThink for multiple days, or they can just attend for a day. I got to attend a few years ago and spent a happy afternoon chatting with friends, hula hooping, juggling, and talking with a bunch of groovy women in a tent.

The Importance of Play

I had met Paige about a year before this, but it was fun to watch her in action at PlayThink. You can learn a lot about embracing play just from watching how Paige lives her life both at PlayThink and in life in general.

For example, recently I had the privilege of taking a hula hooping class from her, just before the Coronavirus hit. I’ve been hula hooping for years. But I learned more about hooping from Paige in a month and a half than I have in the last ten years.

And I had a blast doing it. Our hula hooping class was about about hooping, of course. But it was also about feeling free and peaceful in our body and creating a nurturing, joyful space around us. That’s what embracing play does for us.

I have always been deeply fascinated with play, and I also research and write about the philosophy of play.

Last year, I got to travel to beautiful UC Santa Barbara to deliver a paper on play.

Discussing play in the academic setting is awesome. But such discussions are incomplete without the embodied experience of play. That is why Paige’s work is so important. While I write about play (and play, too), Paige lives a playful life. And she invites others to do the same. She shows them how.

So, this interview is about her life, her work, and some cool projects she has going on right now that I want my friends to know about. Perhaps you will get involved and learn to live a more playful life, too.

S (Shelly): When I think of how to describe what it is you do, I think of you as a play expert or play consultant. So, I was wondering, how do you define play?

P (Paige): I’m not sure that play has one definition. It probably has different definitions for different people. But for many people, play is the root of pleasure.

Play is pleasure, joy, skipping, jumping, and laughing. It’s the way you amuse yourself with challenge. I think everyone’s life should be based on how they best experience pleasure.

So, for architects, building is pleasurable, and they are playing. For authors, it’s writing.

Our play is our passion, our spark, and our ability to bring it into all areas of life.

S: Tell us a little bit about some of your various play projects you have going on right now.

P: I am coming up on the 10th year of PlayThink—my play baby. PlayThink introduces the idea of bringing joy and play and flow into your everyday life. When you do that, you slow down time, you connect with yourself more, and you connect with others.

Play opens up connections in your brain so that you can feel that every area of life is good. It encourages serotonin, dopamine, and all those feel-good chemicals.

Saving the World Through Play

PlayThink is my version of saving the world. I help people understand that if you can play like this for one weekend, you can bring this type of play into your everyday life.

Also, I feel like the world has really separated adults and children. PlayThink shows us that we can play with people from a lot of different ages. It brings together families into a cohesive unity.

Visionary at Play

In addition, I’ve started a coaching business called Visionaries at Play that helps people tap more into their playful or creative side. It helps them understand how they can ditch their 9 to 5. And it also helps them reignite their spark so they grow their passion and use it to ignite play in their every day.

I want to help people have a life of purpose, magic, and spark and to make great money doing it.

The more fun I have, the more wealth I have. And I just don’t mean financial wealth, although that is a big part of it. The more fun I have, the more friends I make. And the more fun I have, the more joyful every part of my life is. I want to teach others to do that, too.

If we could all have more of this attitude, what an amazing world that would be.

We’re changing the view of what success is and of what brings us happiness. The problem is that we need to change the way we think about life because we are really stressed out and living according to other people’s standards. But we can create a new culture in which people can follow their passions and still have money.

We don’t need the 9 to 5 life anymore because it’s hurting us. It’s going to take deconditioning and unschooling because it’s a struggle to recalibrate and let go of pre-existing notions.

To play all day and to make it your way of life is an act of massive rebellion.

Kentucky Yoga Festival

My other projects is the Kentucky Yoga Festival. I started it after I realized PlayThink was turning into a teenager, and it was getting really big and was stressing me out a bit.

So, I created Kentucky Yoga Festival for myself. It’s small, and I get to dance all weekend.

PlayThink comes first, and there’s about 2,000 people there.  Kentucky Yoga Festival is three weeks later. It’s small—about 200 people—so I get to play a lot. That’s my medicine. (You can read more about Kentucky Yoga Festival here and here.)

All the physical events took a break in 2020, but we still fully intend to do all of them in the future.

S: You’ve developed what I would call a ludic[1] lifestyle, which is a lifestyle marked by pleasure, play, wonder, curiosity, and joy. How did you develop this lifestyle in your personal and professional life?

P: It was probably inspired by my parents and growing up. My mom was a nurse, and my dad was a self-employed historian. As a family, we would travel around to these gatherings where people would come to relive the 1700s and 1800s. They were historical reenactments.

And when I was young, my dad took me to Rainbow Gatherings a lot.

Both my parents helped me incorporate play into our day and make it a priority. Even today, my dad travels all over the nation and even to places like Africa. He makes it a priority.

Play Examples

I had all these really good examples growing up in my parents. But they actually encouraged me to go the other way—to go to school, to get a typical 9 to 5 job. There is a perceived insecurity in working for yourself, and I think that’s why they encouraged me to go the typical route.

I’m trying to change that belief. We can set up a system that is just as stable and secure but allows us to be free.

What you are calling a ludic lifestyle, I call a freedom-based lifestyle. We are stuck in a lifestyle where we are continually controlled by work, bosses, and money. I couldn’t do that anymore because it was killing me.

We weren’t meant to live that way. Instead, we were meant to live in connection with ourselves and with each other. It’s pleasurable and playful to be in control of our own life. That’s what my coaching business, Visionaries at Play, is all about.

I am helping people tap into their spark and monetizing it. That makes the work better for everyone else.

S: Why is play important? Why do adults need play just as much as children do?

P: Some of it comes down to basic chemical and hormonal balance. If we are not playing, we are not allowing good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine to flood our body with good feelings.

Think about it. If we don’t have good nutrients or good relationships, we can’t feel good about our life. And if you are not prioritizing pleasure, what are you getting pleasure from?

For example, if you don’t play with your kids, are you enjoying having them there?

And if you don’t play with your partner, do you enjoy your relationship?

If you don’t play with the aesthetics of your home, are you enjoying your home?

The point is that if we don’t prioritize pleasure, are we enjoying our life?

If play isn’t a priority in your life, do you enjoy your life?

Look at what is happening in our world. Suicide rates and crime rates are rising, and I think there is reason for it. If people don’t play, we don’t have connection or pleasure, and it leads to all sorts of problems.

Unfortunately, culture sets things up so that we don’t have time to play. I want to change that.

S: What happens when play is not a regular part of our life?

P: When you don’t have play in your life, you’re dying. Depression and anxiety set in, and both of those things destroy our mind and emotions.

There is a wide range of nutrients wen need to take care of our minds and bodies, and play is an essential nutrient.

S: Tell us a bit about your PlayThink University.

P: PlayThink University is an online extension of the live event. I am taking several of the instructors from the live PlayThink event and having them offer online classes on mindfulness, movement, play. We have classes on slinkies, hula-hooping, staff play, and ukulele, just to name a few.

Covid has thrown us all for a loop, and we are feeling a bit disconnected. PlayThink University is an amazing answer that especially allows our children (but adults, too) to be in safe, curated, playful, educational spaces with like-mined people.

S: What are some simple ways people can start to play more?

P: Put it in your schedule. Set an alarm, and say to yourself, “Alright, at 9:20 am, I am going to take a walk in the woods. Before lunch, I am going to sit down with my kid. Or every hour on the hour, I am going to have a five-minute dance party.”

Whatever is joyful for you, put it in your damn, daily schedule.

Prioritize it because it is good for your mental and physical health. So, if cooking a meal is playful and pleasurable for you, plan to cook a meal every day.

It’s a big picture version of self-care. You set yourself up to do it because you know it’s good for you.  Sometimes we need to trick ourselves, but then we enjoy it. We need to set our self up to do healthy habits. Play is a healthy habit.

S: Is there anything else you’d like to share before we go?

P: I think every person on the planet has a special gift that lights them up. In all my events, my goal is to guide any human into their visionary or creative potential.

The problems is that we have been taught to live other people’s expectations, and I want people to live their own beautiful, playful, joyful life.

I have helped hundreds of people tap into their purpose. Our puprose is not just financial profit. It is a profitable life. For example, my time is my biggest asset. If I don’t get to use my time the way I want, is it really living? Being in charge of my own time is one of the most important ways I live a profitable life.

I want to awaken people to the idea that their life is not already set up for them.

So, they get to choose.

They get to take the wheel.

And if you don’t know how to drive, I am here to teach you.

Note: You can follow Paige on Facebook here. 

And you can follow PlayThink here and PlayThink University here.

Paige has also started a new FB group called Visionaries at Play that you can join here,

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You might also like this post:
My Cross-Country Hula-Hooping Adventure

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[1] Shelly’s Note: The word ludic comes from the Latin word ludus, which means games or play.

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