Little Victories to Get Us Through

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During isolation, a lot of people have unexpectedly put down their phones and turned to more analog activities such as coloring and solving puzzles. Perhaps we’re feeling nostalgic for those childhood times, or maybe there’s something deeper at play here.

Picture this: you’ve just spent a good hour coloring away at an image of a cat playing with a ball of yarn. You pause to admire the completed coloring page and feel the biggest smile spreading across your face. It’s been so long since you sat down, spread out some crayons and scribbled away. What could it be about coloring that brings us so much joy?

Executive director Martha Dorn, from the nonprofit The Art Therapy Project, explains:

“Coloring books have been shown to reduce stress and promote relaxation due to their inherent qualities, such as the ability to remain present and focused on the image and provide temporary relief from life stressors.”

Martha Dorn, The Art Therapy Project

Similarly to coloring, crossword and jigsaw puzzles attract your focus and keep you in the present moment. Although they can be a little more taxing and time-consuming – they provide us with a challenge that opens the door for accomplishment. When you’ve cracked a clue or fit two pieces together, you exclaim with excitement: “Aha! I got it!”

Carola Salvi, a research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, calls this a “moment of insight.” She explains that “an insight involves the brain’s reward system which is the same system that responds to food and other basic pleasures.”

Marcel Danesi, a professor of semiotics and anthropology at the University of Toronto, further explains that “puzzles give psychological order to the chaos we feel [….] when you’ve solved the puzzle, then life seems to work better.”

Check out this article from The Washington Post for a more in-depth look at why solving puzzles feels so satisfying. There are also plenty of coloring pages you can find online that are available to download for free. Or, maybe it’s time to bust out those board games and puzzles that have been collecting dust in the closet!

So, if you find yourself working away at a 2000 piece jigsaw puzzle, or on your 20th coloring page – keep at it! Little victories should be cherished these days, and sparks of excitement can help get us through these tough times.


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