Coloring Yourself Curious: Exploring the Adult Coloring Craze

Have you heard about the “adult coloring craze”?  Believe it or not, adults young and old are getting out their colored pencils and buying coloring books like never before.  In the process, they have helped to fuel an emerging, multimillion dollar industry of adult coloring books.

In January of 2016, five of the top 15 best-selling books on Amazon were coloring books for adults. The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and other widely distributed publications have all printed stories about adult coloring within the past year. 

What, you may wonder, makes for an “adult” coloring book? According to Johanna Basford, author of the ground-breaking Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book, the difference lies in the artwork. Adult coloring books are more “sophisticated – no images of a car or a bunny with a bow in its hair,” she says.

Basford might well be regarded as the inventor of the entire adult coloring genre. Her Secret Garden has sold two million copies since it first appeared on shelves in 2013. The follow-up, Enchanted Forest, has proven to be just as popular, selling a quarter of a million copies in its first month of publication last year. 

The illustrations in Secret Garden feature highly detailed, outdoor scenes based on the artist’s expansive home garden. These intricate landscapes are inviting to the eye, and many find it hard to stop coloring them. In keeping with the book’s title, Basford has populated her scenes with “secrets” that colorists can uncover as they go. Secret Garden includes a catalogue of hidden items to be found throughout the book, lending an element of pursuit to each page. 

While Basford’s designs would probably not hold the fleeting attention of a child, their intricacy is the main draw for adults. Katie Blanchard, Director of Programs at Youville House, recently took time after a busy day to color in a page from Secret Garden. “When I first looked at the page it was a bit overwhelming,” she says. “I didn’t think I’d be able to sit still for it. But after about ten minutes my mind calmed down and I got really engaged in filling in the shapes.” 

Just one page can require multiple sittings and hours of focused activity to complete. Like a jigsaw puzzle, the finished product can be a source of genuine accomplishment. 

Explaining the Trend

As more adults rediscover the simple appeal of coloring, professionals are weighing in on the psychological underpinnings and health benefits of this trend. According to Scott Bea, PSYD, a clinical psychologist with the Cleveland Clinic,  “Coloring draws attention away from yourself and helps you stay in the present moment. In this way, it is very much like a meditative exercise. When your mind is focused on a simple activity and not disturbed by thoughts and appraisals, your brain tends to relax. The fact that coloring has a predictable outcome also can be relaxing. It is hard to mess up, and, even if you do, there is no real consequence. As a result, adult coloring can be a wonderful lark, rather than an arduous test of your capacities.”

Julie Beck, associate editor of The Atlantic, believes that engaging with interesting patterns is inherently relaxing. Beck’s article, “The Zen of Adult Coloring Books,” documents her own conversion from skeptic to a full-fledged colorist. She writes that adult coloring books are part of today’s “trend of meditation and mindfulness that’s been going for some time now, one response among many to the high levels of stress many adults are living with.” 

Psychologists tend to agree with this meditative take on the coloring craze. Dr. Ben Michaelis, a clinical psychologist in New York, says that “it’s the repetition that’s key to the relaxation response.” Michaelis and others have cited Carl Jung, the father of analytical psychology, in connection with adult coloring. Always ahead of his time, one of Jung’s relaxation exercises for patients was to “prescribe” them intricate mandalas to color. 

The Social Aspect of Coloring

In addition to helping people relax, coloring lends itself to social interaction. A Minnesota woman named Jenny Fenlason had no trouble starting an adult coloring club. “I thought coloring would be a fun way to get together and do something that engages a little bit of your creative side, but allows you to talk,” she told Minnesota Public Radio. “I threw out the idea and a lot of people were interested.” Fueled by social media, her coloring club has since expanded, with chapters springing up in Las Vegas, New York, and even London!

Last month Youville, a group of residents formed their own coloring club. Supplied with colored pencils and a few pages from Basford’s acclaimed books, they spent a recent Wednesday afternoon collectively contemplating their work as it emerged on the page. 

Be Good to Your Heart: Celebrating American Heart Month

In 1963, Lyndon Johnson became our first president to designate February as “American Heart Month.”  At the time, heart disease accounted for over half of all annual deaths in the United States. President Johnson noted in his proclamation that “over one-half of the ten million Americans afflicted by the cardiovascular diseases are stricken during their most productive years, thereby causing a staggering physical and economic loss to the nation.”

Johnson – who himself would die of a heart attack at the age of 64 – knew that we could only begin to fight heart disease by starting a national conversation about its dangers, its prevalence, its underlying causes and risk factors.

Every year since Johnson’s first proclamation, U.S. Presidents have declared February “American Heart Month” and urged Americans to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle. This decades-long conversation has helped inspire millions to pay closer attention to health and has arguably contributed to our increased life expectancy. However, heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death for both men and women, accounting for one in three deaths nationwide. The conversation continues. We know today that the heart is a complicated organ, and that a surprising number of one’s life choices have an impact on its health.

What is Heart Disease?

Cardiologists define heart disease as a range of conditions that affect the heart’s ability to function properly. This includes diseases of the cardiovascular system as well as the heart itself.  The most common form of heart disease is coronary artery disease, characterized by the buildup of fatty deposits called “plaque” in the arteries that feed blood to the heart.  Narrowed arteries can result in inadequate blood flow to the heart, leading to chest pain, fatigue, dizziness, or shortness of breath. Other symptoms might include a feeling of numbness in arms or legs, pain in the neck, jaw, throat, or back. A heart attack occurs when an artery becomes completely blocked.

Perhaps the scariest aspect of heart disease is that it can progress over decades without noticeable signs or symptoms. Often people are not aware that they have a problem until they experience a frightening coronary event. The good news is you can start acting now to improve your heart health and reduce your exposure to risk factors.

Check your Blood Pressure 

A low blood pressure is one of the most reliable signs of a healthy heart.  If your blood pressure reading is below 120/80, you can consider yourself in the “heart healthy” camp! Anything higher means that you are at risk for hypertension. A reading over 130/90 means that you are at risk for a coronary event. If your blood pressure is high, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor about ways to lower it.

Pay Attention to Diet

Avoid foods that are high in fat and cholesterol. Limit your intake of red meat, heavy sauces, butter and other fatty or oily foods.  Limiting salt in your diet will help keep your arteries healthy and blood pressure low. Most processed packaged foods, such as microwaveable meals and potato chips, include high amounts of sodium.  Instead of eating another bag of potato chips, turn to natural, high-fiber foods like fruits and vegetables.

Quit Smoking

Smoking causes many health complications and greatly reduces life expectancy. In addition to numerous types of cancer, smoking is also a major cause of stroke and heart disease.


For older adults, simply engaging in light physical activity like gardening or walking has been shown to have positive effects on heart health. More strenuous exercising also improves cardiovascular health. Be aware of your physical limitations and consult with your physician if you are nervous about your fitness level. Both Youville communities offer morning exercise classes such as Yoga, Broadway Seated Dance, Balance Challenge and Stretch & Flex.

 Stay Connected to Your Faith Tradition

Spiritual routines such as prayer and meditation make us happier and healthier. An often-cited study funded by the National Institute of Health found that those who prayed regularly were 40%  less likely to have high blood pressure. A report in Psychology Today stated that concern for others expressed in prayer “seemed to be contributing to the stress-buffering effects of prayer.” Many other studies have linked prayer and altruism to clearer thinking, lower blood pressure and reduced stress (stress is a significant risk factor for heart disease).

Like prayer, meditation has helped many to achieve a calmer state of mind, reduced stress and clearer thinking.  Many studies have demonstrated that meditation inhibits the body’s production of cortisol,  a stress hormone that is detrimental to heart health. Two popular schools of meditation are mindfulness meditation, a technique that involves focusing the mind on the present, and mantra meditation, one that involves the mental repetition of a word, sound or phrase.

Youville House in Cambridge and Youville Place in Lexington offer a variety of opportunities to stay spiritually engaged. Catholic Mass is held regularly at both communities. Residents at Youville Place can gather for Centering Prayer every week, while Rosary and guided meditation are offered at Youville House.

The heart is clearly a complicated organ! As we’ve seen, it responds to physical exercise, diet, and even spiritual practices. This month, try incorporating all of these elements into a heart-healthy lifestyle that works for you. 

Youville Centenarians Celebrate Life & Longevity

Youville centenarians Charlotte Taylor, Roberta Macdonald and Sumiko Jarmain-Otani toast to life and longevity at Youville House.Did you know that Youville House in Cambridge has three residents that are over the age of 100? A few weeks ago, we paid tribute to our three centenarians with a special “100-year Happy Hour.” Seated at the table of honor were Sumiko Jarmain-Otani (102 years old), Roberta Macdonald (101) and Charlotte Taylor (101).  Accompanied by family members, staff and fellow residents, the three centenarians were in good spirits as they enjoyed champagne, hors d’oeuvres and a room full of friends.

As the theme was “celebrating 100 years of life,” Dinah Olanoff, Youville’s Senior Director of Marketing and the Master of Ceremonies for the event, recounted historical events from the last century. She asked each centenarian if they had any advice to share about living a long life. This exercise proved that there is no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to living a long and satisfying life. Sumi claimed that she had always “taken things easy,” whereas Charlotte remarked, “I don’t think I’ve ever taken anything easy!” When it came time for Roberta to offer advice, she seized the moment (and the microphone), delivering a heartfelt speech on the importance of family. “The thing about family is that they are always there, and they are all yours!” she said. She also touched on the importance of avoiding unnecessary anxiety: “You can worry yourself to sleep at night over something, but when you wake up, your problems will still be there.” 

We hope you enjoy these pictures from the afternoon! 

An Introduction to Tai Chi for Arthritis

Youville House and Youville Place will each host a special presentation in February, introducing the Tai Chi for Arthritis program. Led by Phyllis Rittner, a certified Tai Chi for Arthritis instructor, these presentations will introduce the basic concepts of Tai Chi, Qigong, and the application of these ancient disciplines in treating the joint pain and stiffness associated with arthritis.

Developed in 1998 by Dr. Philip Lam and a team of medical experts, Tai Chi for Arthritis uses a 12-step “Sun Style” Tai Chi, along with modified Qigong based exercises. This method has been recommended by the Center for Disease Control as an alternative therapy for arthritis that may reduce chronic pain, improve balance and increase flexibility. According to Rittner, this program “caters to a wide range of physical abilities. No one is ever excluded due to physical limitations as everyone participates according to their own comfort level through individual modifications.”

A free, weekly Tai Chi for Arthritis course may be offered at Youville following this presentation, based on the level of interest expressed by residents. If you are interested in what Tai Chi can do to alleviate or reduce your arthritis, register for one of the talks below:

Youville Place: Wednesday, February 11th at 2:00 PM

Youville House: Friday, February 13th at 2:00 PM

About Arthritis

Arthritis affects joints throughout the body, in a variety of ways. Symptoms can range from slight joint pain and stiffness to severe physical disability. Approximately one in five U.S. adults live with some form of arthritis.

The most common forms are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage in a joint wears away causing the bones to deteriorate. In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks the lining surrounding the joint, known as the synovial membrane. The resulting inflammation of this lining causes pain, bone erosion and in some cases joint deformity.

Other than age, a variety of risk factors have been linked to arthritis, including family history, obesity, and repetitive physical strain on a joint. While there is no cure, there are many different ideas about how to alleviate the painful symptoms.   

To Orfeo ed Euridice: A Sunday Adventure for Two Music Lovers

Sunday evening is not the easiest time for two seniors to get into The Memorial Church at Harvard University. All but one of the gates in the yard are locked, and arranging for a cab to drop one off at the right spot can be difficult.

This did not stop Youville House residents Marcella and Gerrard from attending a performance of Orfeo ed Euridice at Memorial Church, on Sunday, October 19. Part of the fun and intrigue was in figuring out how to get them there – a challenge solved with the Youville House Volvo and a special permit to enter Harvard Yard at the Widener Gate. With these ingenious solutions, the residents were able to make their way down ramps, up elevators, to their reserved seats.

The church was packed for the 300th anniversary of the opera’s composer, Christoph Willibald Gluck. The performance featured the Harvard University Choir; a guest orchestra, Grand Harmonie; and soloists Julia Mintzer as Orfeo, Amanda Forsythe as Euridice, and Margot Rood as Amore. The opera was performed to standing ovation.  It was a concert that had the two residents in awe of the talent so close to home and so easily accessible – with just a bit of creative problem-solving.

A 98-year old former child prodigy of piano, Marcella moved to Cambridge to be close to her son and family.  Gerrard, a longtime music enthusiast in his 80s, returned to the area to be close to his daughter. In the process, these two music buffs met at Youville House, became friends and now engage in their shared favorite pastime: critiquing concerts in Boston and Cambridge.

Usually, they manage to arrange all the details themselves and sail off to their events, eager for adventure. They report back on traffic, ease of getting a taxi for the ride home and have colorful stories to share for days. Their lives are enriched by their common interest and certainly by the central location of Youville House to cultural events nearby. They continue to engage their love of the arts, while proving that new friendships can arise even late in life.

-Ildiko Szabo, Community Life Coordinator 

A Summer Tribute to Nostalgia

Youville residents have a large fund of collective memories. These memories span across a succession of momentous eras, from the Great Depression and World War II all the way to our current age of information and technology. Youville residents have proven themselves capable of changing with the times. But the long chain of memories left in the wake of all that change remains a rich source of shared identity. It is certainly not surprising that a sense of nostalgia characterizes much of daily life at Youville.

A healthy sense of nostalgia can be psychologically and spiritually comforting on a personal level, while binding people together as a community.  Shared memories need only the slightest prompting to get people talking about the past. Such prompts may be conversational, or might involve the old movies or songs that shaped childhoods. If you have ever spent time at an afternoon concert or singalong at Youville, you might have noticed that almost everyone knows the same hit songs from the 40s and 50s. Songs by Sinatra, Doris Day, or Rogers and Hammerstein always get people singing together and recalling moments when they first heard these songs as children.

We did not always think of nostalgia as an occasion for communal bonding. When Joannes Hoffer, a 17th century Swiss doctor, first invented the term, he described nostalgia as a “neurological disease of demonic cause.” In later centuries, physicians and researchers associated nostalgia with depression, “immigrant psychosis,” and other psychological maladies. It was thought that people who longed for the past must be unhappy in the present.

Attitudes toward nostalgia have certainly changed since then. One social psychologist, Dr. Constantine Sedikides, has devoted a great deal of professional study to the topic.  His professional interest stemmed from personal experience. While residing in Europe, Dr. Sedikides began experiencing sharp feelings of longing for Chapel Hill, the college town where he received his education. This nostalgic yearning was not negative, but in fact had a certain irresistible sweetness that he tried to describe to his colleague. As he told the colleague, “Nostalgia made me feel that my life had roots and continuity. It made me feel good about myself and my relationships. It provided a texture to my life and gave me strength to move forward.”

Sedikides devoted much of his professional research to studying the link between nostalgia and well being, and came to some uplifting conclusions. Acording to John Tierney, who wrote about Sedikides in a 2013 article for The New York Times, “Nostalgia does have its painful side – it’s a bittersweet emotion – but the net effect is to make life seem more meaningful and death less frightening. When people speak wistfully of the past, they typically become more optimistic and inspired about the future.”

While nostalgia may lead to feelings of sadness, it just as often enriches our experience of the present. Poets in the throes of nostalgia have used it to their advantage. In his “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey,” William Wordsworth describes a nostalgic summer experience that reaches sublime heights. In the middle of July, the poet has returned to a spot in nature where he used to gallivant as a younger man. The place is fondly remembered for many reasons, but most of all because of its strong associations with his sister. In spite of a five year absence from the area, he has continued to think of those sacred acres a few miles below Tintern Abbey––

in hours of weariness, sensations sweet,

Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;

And passing even into my purer mind

With tranquil restoration: - feelings too

Of unremembered pleasure

The poet’s reminiscences have provided him with an enduring sense of connection to his own past. Like Wordsworth, we can benefit from our own reminiscences. The ability to wax nostalgic is the privilege of a well-lived life, an enjoyable practice that never stops yielding emotional dividends.