Adult Coloring Books

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To me, an elementary school teacher, it was a familiar sight. The group sat at tables sharing boxes of crayons as they colored pages of outlined animals and castles. Everyone was coloring so nicely, I almost forgot they were grown-ups. And, though this coloring book meet-up I happened to see was at a coffee shop, it didn't look all that different from art time at a pre-school.

Coloring books, once the domain of kindergarten crafts and rainy day pastimes for bored kids are now actually one of the hottest activities for grown-ups. Book stores are filled with them. On Amazon, five of the 10 best-selling books are adult coloring books, and the New York Times best-seller list of games and activities is dominated by coloring books for grown-ups.

With a coloring book and a box of crayons, anyone can be an artist. I can't draw a thing - my horses, cows and dogs all look exactly alike, and houses lean towards one door, two windows, and a triangle roof with a curly-cue of chimney smoke. But give me a complicated picture to color, and I'm Picasso. And in today's world with too much information, so many demands on time and energy, there's something relaxing about switching the brain to soothingly repetitive neutral for the inconsequential decisions of coloring. Should the castle be magenta or burnt sienna? Which green for the tree, granny smith apple or mountain meadow? And I'm not the only one who's noticed the calming effects of coloring. Therapists and mental health experts have compared this grown-up coloring craze to yoga or meditation, with similar benefits in mindfulness and reducing anxiety.

Friends find grown-up coloring kind of dumb. One pal joked she prefers her mindfulness and reducing anxiety to come in a cosmopolitan. Yes, I know it's silly, and no, I'm not hanging my crayon masterpieces on the fridge. But, for millions of people, completing activities like coloring pages, Sudoku or crosswords puzzles are tiny triumphs, and these small accomplishments honestly help find a way to connect all the dots in life. And, in the end, discovering what gets you through life is what it's all about - whether it's coloring pictures, or coloring outside the lines.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.


Richard Swerdlow works for the San Francisco Unified School District.