I accept that, and I’m genuinely overjoyed that so many people have found this way to de-stress. But it just isn’t for me. I guess my sense of relaxation is less tied to the visual and tactile senses that coloring stimulates. I’d rather spend the time reading. And for pure relaxation, I’m actually extremely accomplished at just staring at the wall and letting my mind wander.
In the United States, credit is usually given to the two coloring books by Johanna Basford, Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest, but an article in Publishers Weekly gives the credit to the French, in particular, to Art-thérapie: 100 coloriages Anti-Stress, published by Hachette Pratique in 2012. The publisher, realizing the the French people led the world in popping anti-depressants, decided to add Art Therapy and Anti-Stress to the covers of their coloring books, and before you could say 64 colors, a million French people were coloring between the lines. More specifically, a million French women started coloring, as the publishers in that country say most sales have been to women.
There is evidence that coloring can indeed help us de-stress. Psychologist Gloria Martínez Ayala says
The action involves both logic, by which we color forms, and creativity, when mixing and matching colors. This incorporates the areas of the cerebral cortex involved in vision and fine motor skills [coordination necessary to make small, precise movements]. The relaxation that it provides lowers the activity of the amygdala, a basic part of our brain involved in controlling emotion that is affected by stress.
Along with the gardens and forests of Basford and her imitators, mandalas are one of the most popular coloring books. Mandalas, of course, have a long history of promoting focus and relaxation in Eastern religions, and Psychologist Carl Jung was encouraging patients to color mandalas over a century ago.
But as with any craze in our modern consumer society, the originals have given rise to specialization and to bizarre offshoots. Secret Paris: Color Your Way to Calm appeals to people stressing out about when they’ll be able to afford their next trip abroad (Secret Paris will soon be followed by Secret Tokyo and Secret New York.)
There are also plenty of coloring books that cross the line from merely whimsical to downright wacky. Are you ready for the Hipster Coloring Book and the Dapper Animals Coloring Book And, of course, there are some that interpret the phrase ‘adult coloring book’ in a slightly different fashion: The Fetish Coloring Book, anyone?
Indeed, coloring books may very well decide our next presidential election. As far as I know, the Hillary: The Coloring Book has the political field to itself right now. I see no Mike Huckabee Coloring Book, no Jeb Bush, no Rand Paul. If Hillary Clinton does indeed become our next president, future historians my well point to the fact that she, alone out of all the candidates, tapped into the zeitgeist of Crayon-Americans.