Why winning at world feels like you’re winning at life 

Wordle. It’s everywhere. Even if you haven’t succumbed personally, those little green and yellow squares are likely to be all over your media feed.

And Wordle is obviously a great game - a simple concept, shareable, visual, easy to grasp but challenging enough to get a sense of satisfaction from succeeding. But is there more going on in our minds that explains why it has caught everyone so powerfully at this moment in time particularly?

One of our core needs as human beings is a sense of efficacy and control. Put simply, to feel like we are having an impact, getting somewhere. That we are effective and our presence in the world matters and makes a difference. Flip that the other way and those days when we feel useless, unproductive, like nothing we do changes anything for the better, and out of control - those are really tough days. 

And we’ll all recognise that feeling because the pandemic has produced plenty of those days for many people. Whether it is the isolation and limitations of shielding, the physical impact of long covid or the frustration of just not being able to do the things we want to do the way we want to do them - we’ve all faced moments where we’ve felt that fog of gloom and despair sink over us. 

Our need to feel effective and in control is actually built into our instinct as human beings.

Psychologically speaking we know that feeling out of control is linked to triggering feelings of despair and low mood. Frustration is one of the most difficult emotions to manage, and without a healthy outlet, it can turn inward, feeding self hatred and depression. And self efficacy, we know, is one of the most important factors in influencing general emotional wellbeing - particularly in times of challenge and change.

There’s another fascinating perspective on this from our biblical knowledge of the way people were created. In the story of creation in Genesis, God creates a world full of amazing potential - but first there’s a moment of swirling chaos and disorder. It’s God speaking into that which brings out the creative beauty, and order that comes out of disorder. God creates distinct separate things like light and darkness, land and sea, day and night - and in those spaces life flourishes. And when he creates humans, one of the first commands given to them is to ‘subdue’ the earth - an ancient Hebrew word which means to bring it under control, to maintain that order. 

We're designed to reflect the nature of God

As human beings, we were designed to reflect the nature of God who created us. And there’s something in our instinct too to love and desire order in place of disorder and creative beauty in place of chaos. So when we see ourselves having that impact it feels good. And when we know our attempts are being thwarted or useless, or life just feels chaotic and crazy or ineffective - we struggle. 

Back to Wordle. Coming out of possibly the most chaotic and out of control two years we’ve ever experienced - facing continued uncertainty and unpredictability, this little game offers the chance to start your day with a moment of success, feeling effective - a moment where you feel like you’re winning at something. And it really does lift your mood. You see, we can play with our love of efficacy and control to help when other things are tough - little things we can do like this will create a little lift, a surge of neurotransmitter magic that can help get us through a difficult day. 

A few top tips!

Not a fan of word games? Don’t worry, neither am I. And honestly I have no desire to play Wordle (sorry to all those loving it!). But there are other things you can do to get this feel good lift when you need it. Think small - tidy something up, sort something out, achieve something small. On the really tough days, just doing something in a way that feels like you did it really well, properly and carefully can really help. A really good hot drink (coffee, hot choc, whatever you love most!) in the best mug, made just right … or taking the time to have a really nice hot bath and really doing it properly. Radio on, or book to read, or candles lit or whatever works for you. Some of my roughest days in the various lockdowns were rescued by sorting out my spice drawer, or cleaning out the fridge! Or think even smaller - wearing your favourite socks that actually match (!) … your favourite chocolate bar in your bag and a plan for when you’ll grab 5 quiet, calm minutes to eat it … a scheduled 5 mins to bounce around WhatsApp prayers with friends…. finally posting that letter you’ve been meaning to sort for ages. 

The best thing about Wordle is that it is small enough, but successful enough to sit somewhere in most people’s day - and give them the boost they need. What could you plan today that does the same?

Dr Kate Middleton, 13/02/2022
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