5 Mental Benefits of DIY Projects

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Should you buy or DIY? There are plenty of obvious benefits to building something with your own two hands — it's often cheaper, and you can customize it to your heart's content — but it turns out that the good things about getting your hands dirty extend to your mind, too. Here are five brain-related reasons you should go hands-on — and one way you can do it right now with Makers United at the Museum of Science and Industry.

They Can Make You Happier

Whether it's knitting a scarf or building a robot, hands-on creative pursuits can boost your mood — both in the short term and for the long haul. Working on a DIY project can lead to a state of "flow," where you feel intensely engaged in the activity and feel a deep sense of pleasure and satisfaction as a result. This extends beyond the work period, too: In a 2016 study that had more than 600 people keep diaries of their daily mood and creative activity, researchers found that participating in a creative activity was associated with a boost in happiness and a sense of meaning the next day.

They Can Reduce Stress

If you've ever called a favorite DIY activity "meditative," you're onto something: Researchers have compared the flow state that occurs with focused hands-on activities to the deep concentration and heightened awareness of meditation. That can have big effects on the body's stress response, including reductions in blood pressure and heart rate and slower respiration. A 2010 study found that gardening led to a bigger decrease in the stress hormone cortisol and a bigger boost in mood than reading did, and a 2014 study found that after participants spent 10 weeks producing art, their brains had made new connections related to stress resistance.

They Can Sharpen Your Mind

When it comes to your brain, the cliché "use it or lose it" tends to apply. Challenging your brain by learning new things and exercising all of your senses, the way you might by picking up a new hands-on skill, can help stave off cognitive decline in your later years. A 2011 study found that engaging in craft activities like quilting and pottery was associated with decreased risk of mild cognitive impairment in seniors, to the same degree as reading and playing games.

You Value Them More

There's a phenomenon known as the IKEA effect where people tend to treasure an item more if they've put it together themselves. In a 2012 study, researchers recruited college students and had half of them assemble a plain black IKEA storage box. The other half received the box fully assembled. Then they were told they could bid on the box — if their bid was higher than a randomly chosen price, they got to purchase the box. Those who made the boxes were willing to spend 63 percent more than those who got their boxes fully assembled. If you're trying to decide between buying and DIYing, go the hands-on route. It'll mean more to you in the end.

They Can Boost Your Sense of Self

In 2012, the same researchers tried their IKEA effect study with a twist: Before giving participants the box, they had some write an essay about their most important personal value. That act of self-affirmation pretty much eliminated the IKEA effect, making them no more likely to make a higher bid on their DIY box than someone who had received a box fully assembled. That suggests that it's a feeling of competence and the strengthening of one's sense of self that leads people to put greater value on the things they create. No surprise: Whether it's assembling a bookcase or putting paint to canvas, making something yourself is certainly something to be proud of.

Want to get hands-on? Makers United at the Museum of Science and Industry can help you connect with your inner maker while building a dynamic piece of wearable technology. The beginner-friendly guided workshop runs through January 5, 2020. Get your tickets here.

Written by Ashley Hamer July 2, 2019
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