Earlier this year, I was sleep deprived and exhausted and decided one random trip to Walmart that I was going to paint a lion for my son’s nursery. I got my canvas and starter set of acrylics, and some sponge brushes (I don’t know the real name). I used my son’s pajamas as a guide for painting the king of the jungle and actually felt pretty good about the result.
Not only that, but it was the most relaxing experience.
Thankfully, there’s a new coloring craze in our midst that promises the same kind of relaxation that I found in painting. Adult Coloring Books like these are all the rage this Christmas, and because we discuss all things books here, I wanted to make sure you, my reader, were aware of the benefits of coloring as an adult.
Coloring is a favorite pastime of many, but most of us think that kind of play must be confined to our childhoods. We’re too busy, too important, and spread far too thin to have time for something as pointless as coloring, right? This sentiment reminds me of an essay Freud wrote called “Creative Writers and Daydreaming,” where he discusses this very idea:
As people grow up, then, they cease to play, and they seem to give up the yield of pleasure which they gained from playing.”
There is a kind of deep pleasure or joy that comes from any light-hearted activity. This happens when we share a meal with a friend and “play” at conversation. C.S. Lewis says friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another, “What! You too?”
In the book His Needs, Her Needs: How to Build an Affair-Proof Marriage, the man’s second most important need is recreational companionship. That’s pseudo-psychobabble for someone to play with.
Starting with Freud in this essay over a century ago, we are continually reminded of how important play is.
Surprisingly, Freud’s essay predates Peter Pan who decides to stay in Neverland. Wendy and her brothers, on the other hand, choose to return to London and grow up. It’s funny how this is presented as a decision with two opposing outcomes. All of us seemingly have the same choice: we can remain a child concerned with childish things, or we can forsake our childish desires and grow up. Peter Pan perfectly portrays this dichotomy.
But there is something really strange about this once you become a parent. Everything I am learning about education talks about the importance of play in my son’s cognitive development. When I say everything, I mean everything. According to John Medina, author of Brain Rules for Baby, children who play are more creative, better at language, better at problem solving, less stressed, better at memory, and more socially skilled.
Not only that, but when I read about teaching my son before he reaches school age, almost everything mentions “making it fun.”
So it makes sense that the very word “school” comes from the Greek word skholē, meaning leisure. Leisure! You mean school is suppose to be relaxing? Learning is suppose to be fun? I can’t wait to tell my students that one.
And I think intuitively, adults know we are missing something.
As we get older, fun changes. We look for new names for it, like “exercise,” or “meditation.” The most central idea of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Albert Einstein is the prevalence of Einstein’s “thought experiments.” Thought experiments? Oh, you mean he played with ideas? Fascinating. It’s all making sense. One of the most brilliant men in history understood the importance of play.
And that is Freud’s point. If we don’t find a way to play as adults, then we are going to end up with all kinds of neuroses, that’s old psychoanalyst speak for “stress.”
Play is a good thing, a really good thing, and we need to stop drawing that silly line in the sand that says play is for children and not adults.
I mention all this because you are going to start hearing more and more about this new adult fad of coloring. You’ll start to read articles about how this activity relieves stress, promotes relaxation, and is just like meditating.
All of that will stroke your adult ego and give you the permission you need to indulge in these coloring books, but what I hope I’ve helped you realize is that at the end of the day, play is really important.
So whatever you think is fun and whatever relaxes you, whether it’s reading, painting, coloring, playing hide and seek with your children, enjoy it because it’s helping dust off the parts of your brain covered in cobwebs.
Consider jumping on the band wagon or giving the gift of play to someone else this Christmas.
My favorite coloring book
My favorite colored pens
Now tell me, what do you do to “play” in your life?