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What Angry Birds can teach you about bouncing back

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A few weeks ago, after playing endless games of Cribbage (which I love) on my smartphone, I finally got bored and went to the apps section to see what else I could download to play with. I tend to be the word puzzle kind of game player, but I was tickled to see Angry Birds pop up on the menu of available games. I had heard about the game, but I have an Android phone and Angry Birds was only available on iPhones. Until recently, apparently.

Click, click, download done. I quickly figured out the simple rules and just as quickly was hooked along with the millions of other Angry Bird players. (And somewhat to the annoyance of Andrea and our dogs who get just a little tired of the sound effects.)

Angry Birds

If you haven’t played Angry Birds, the premise is pretty simple. The good guys are a group of colorful and pudgy birds. The bad guys are the green, round-faced, grunting pigs who have stolen the birds’ eggs. The aim is to wipe out the pigs in a progressive series of scenarios so the birds can get their eggs back. This is done by launching the birds from a slingshot toward the pigs who are invariably hiding in some kind of protective shelter. Most of the birds have a secret weapon like an egg-bomb or super-speed but there are a limited number of birds to use in each round so you have to figure out the most expedient way to use the birds to knock down the pigs’ shelter, pop the pigs, and rack up points. You have to get all of the pigs in order to move on to the next round. (Note: No actual pigs or birds are harmed in the playing of this game. Nor does it make you feel like doing so.)


So, I’ve been playing a lot of Angry Birds. And doing crossword puzzles. My favorite way to relax is to do a crossword puzzle. Being a glutton for punishment I don’t choose just any crossword; no, I do the NY Times Sunday crossword, known as one of the more difficult newspaper puzzles. I’m on my second volume of the NY Times Sunday Crossword Omnibus, each volume containing 200 puzzles. I don’t always get every puzzle, but I’m getting much better and am thrilled when I complete one correctly.

Can you learn anything from games?

A few days back, I started wondering: What is it about these games that I like so much? As I thought this through, I realized what I like about them are things that actually help to build resiliency.

1. Feeling satisfied with a job well done.

Each time I hear the birds “woo-hoo” in victory or fill in the last boxes of a crossword, I feel a sense of accomplishment and efficacy. It’s just a small thing and not one that’s likely to change the world in a significant way, but celebrating the small achievements in life like this is a way to increase your sense of competency so that you have more confidence in your own abilities when bigger issues arise. So, the next time you advance a level in your favorite game or finish something that was hard, stop and tell yourself, “Hey, I did that! Great job!”

2. Learning to see things from a different angle.

Most people are surprised when they hear me say this, but I tend to not see the forest for the trees. I can get very bogged down in the specifics of what is presented to me and have a hard time seeing the big picture. Thus, I always value activities and moments when I think of something in a different way. (Sidenote: I enjoyed Roger van Oech’s A Whack on the Side of the Head for this very reason.)

Crossword puzzles have been great at teaching me this skill. The more difficultcrosswords resized 600 crosswords are often built on puns within the clues or the theme of the puzzle. For example, the theme of last night’s crossword was “The Other Half.” The trick is to figure out the long answers in the puzzle that reflect the theme so you can more easily solve the puzzle. So, one of the clues was “Classic doll.” I filled in enough of the other answers to see the beginning of the long one was “Raggedy _ _ _ _.” Raggedy Ann? No, there were four spaces left. Raggedy Andy? Well, the ‘A’ worked, but not the rest of the letters. I paused and looked at the theme, “The Other Half.”

Hmmm. I made myself think about other options for this clue and answer given the theme, rather than only seeing Raggedy Ann or Raggedy Andy. The Other Half . . . aha! How about “Raggedy Amos”? Yes! It worked. Amos as in the other half of Amos ‘n Andy. The rest of the long answers came more readily after that.

Angry Birds has been a pleasant surprise in the “different angle” arena as well. It’s very easy to get locked into the idea that one must always use the birds’ secret weapons to achieve the goal. But, sometimes when I can get myself to think of doing something else, I just use the bird itself to crash into the pigs’ shelter, rather than having it explode or use super speed, methods that had not been working in past attempts.

One of the discoveries I get most tickled by is when I find what seems to be an obstacle actually helps to win the game. Maybe there is a rock or a wall between the bird and the pig and I can’t see how I’m going to be able to get the bird to the pig. Then I, finally, think about trying something totally out of the norm, and I shoot the bird at the obstacle. Sometimes, to my delight, the bird bounces off the barrier and right to where I need it to go. Success! I love it when I can open my mind a little and find that obstacles can be a springboard to success.

The next time you get stuck on a problem, stop, look around, and ask yourself if there is another way to see the problem that might generate different solutions.

Takeaway points: Games are fun but they can also be a delightful way to learn two important aspects of resiliency – the importance of celebrating any achievement, no matter how small, and the ability to look at things from a different angle.

My favorite takeaway from games is how much they have taught me to get a different perspective on things. I’ve learned a lot about life this way. Have you learned life lessons from games?

Photo credits to gkdavie, dtweney, and lgepr.

If you’d like to gain a different perspective on your life, I’m available for individualized therapy sessions. Call me at 650-380-6985 or email me.


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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.