Adult Play and Playfulness: A Qualitative Exploration of its Meanings and Importance


Understanding how individuals flourish is critical to understanding adaptation to daily life stressors or the stress of major global and historical life events such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The present qualitative study explored the meaning and functions of play and playfulness in the lives of adults.  A total of 837 adult participants (Mage = 23.52, SD = 6.28) provided detailed answers to the question “What does it mean to you to be playful?”  Using thematic analyses, five main themes emerged: A Positive Outlook, Activities, Relationships, Humor, and Experiencing Life. From these themes we propose that adult play and playfulness are ways of experiencing life that are often motivated by the experience of positive emotions, humor, and engagement in activities that promote relationships and that relate to positive mental health outcomes.  Our findings show the integral role that being playfulness provides in adults’ lives, and provide guideposts for future research on play and playfulness as essential strengths that enable individuals to thrive and make meaning and emotional connections with others in their lives.


adults, play, playfulness, positive emotions, thematic analyses

How to Cite

Lubbers, K., Cadwallader, J., Lin, Q., Clifford, C. & Frazier, L. D., (2023) “Adult Play and Playfulness: A Qualitative Exploration of its Meanings and Importance”, The Journal of Play in Adulthood 5(2), 1-19. doi:







Kathy Lubbers (Florida International University)
Jeanne Cadwallader (Florida International University)
Qiyang Lin (Michigan State University)
Christopher Clifford (Florida International University)
Leslie D. Frazier (Florida International University)



Publication details



Creative Commons Attribution 4.0


Peer Review

This article has been peer reviewed.

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