I do not think I have ever purchased a jigsaw puzzle until recently. I have always loved going to my brother Dave’s and sister-in-law Judy’s house because there always seems to be a giant puzzle on their dining room table. It’s fun to just go over and start working on it and then meander off. There can be one person working on it or five and there is never a set agenda like “I’ll work on the pink flowers” or “You work on the fluffy white cloud.” You are free to choose if you want to work on it or not. My earliest memory of working on a puzzle was at Brant Lake in the Adirondacks as a babysitter for my next door neighbors, the Suiters. We would spend an entire week in a lakeside cabin with a puzzle in the works. So thus far, my memories of working on a puzzle have always been a team effort.
Fast forward to a global pandemic in 2020. I started seeing friends posting completed puzzles on social media. I was envious. I wanted a puzzle. I wasn’t sure why. I had no idea if I could complete one on my own. I just knew I wanted one and I just had to give it a try. Whelp, there were no puzzles to be had. Target was out, Walmart was out and even Amazon was backordered. Puzzle sales are apparently 370% ahead of 2019. Finally, after about three weeks as well as a lost package, having to select another puzzle and purchasing a puzzle mat, I finally received my puzzle. It’s a circular 1,000-piece puzzle and I have to say, it was intimidating. But here I am some 10 days later, and I have finally put the whole thing together all on my own! It is a triumph! It’s been a unique experience. This is what I learned.
The benefits of putting together a jigsaw puzzle:
I was glad that I had seen (thanks, Dave and Judy) that it is possible to have a puzzle mat to keep whatever progress you have made in one piece. I was afraid that it might take me months to complete the puzzle. What if I had a dinner party or something, what would I do with the puzzle? I know one thing for sure, I was not going to not finish that puzzle just because of some dinner party (yes, I know I am not going to host a dinner party in the middle of a pandemic). I wanted to be prepared to store the puzzle come what may. I carefully considered which table to put the puzzle on, rolled out my puzzle mat and broke open the box. The puzzle finally arrived after I purchased the puzzle mat, but I knew I wouldn’t have started the puzzle without a way to safely store it. I imagine that if I had started the puzzle without the preparation, I would have been anxious about having to move it. I even thought about buying a card table so I would be positive that I would not have to take the puzzle apart before it was completed. It took me almost a month of preparation but I’m glad I was prepared.
Putting a jigsaw puzzle together helps with your short-term memory. It’s funny because your short-term memory is a muscle that you can practice. I can remember when I was a cocktail waitress some thirty years ago — I could remember everyone’s drink in the room. If one guy put up his finger for another drink, I knew right away that it was a “Dewer’s with a splash of soda and a twist.” Over the last week, I could scan pieces for specific colors and “arm” widths or corner pieces and remember what I was looking for (or sometimes not). As Jan Bowen wrote in her blog, “Short-term memory is enhanced as clues are retained for solving puzzles. Imagination is also stimulated as the bigger picture is incorporated.” As Brandpoint Content posits, “Short-term memory is enhanced as clues are retained for solving puzzles. Imagination is also stimulated as the bigger picture is incorporated.” I haven’t noticed the benefits yet but I do find I’m less worried about memory tasks I need to do like “pick up some bird seed” or “make sure to call Mom.”
Left and Right Brain
Having both regions of your brain collaborate is good for making better connections. It helps tap into tasks typically found in the right region like expression and creativity and the left region like logic and critical thinking. As Brandpoint Content wrote, “When you are doing a jigsaw puzzle, both sides are engaged, according to Sanesco Health, an industry leader in neurotransmitter testing. Think of it as a mental workout that improves your problem-solving skills and attention span. It’s no surprise that Bill Gates admits to being an avid puzzler.” I have to say that I frequently have been stymied on writing blog posts of late and once I started working on this puzzle, I felt more able and excited about writing.
I know I have been on digital and screen overload over the past two months of quarantine and exhausted from working from home. Having a hands-on activity that was sitting on my kitchen table for the past week and a half has been a terrific respite. If I was on back-to-back Zoom calls for three hours, I would go to the kitchen for a 15-minute puzzle break. It was nice to have something in a completely different room that didn’t require me looking at a screen or on a device. As Jan Bowen wrote, “Perhaps the busy hands, calm mind best explains the meditative impact puzzles have but research shows that puzzles do in fact simultaneously activate our brains while relaxing us psychologically. They put our brains into a meditative state.” There is the dopamine hit when a piece fits in place. With a 1,000-piece puzzle, that’s 1,000 hits of dopamine. I found that it settled me down and helped me slow down my pace.
Bowen posits, “I think we do puzzles because we have a relentless urge to create order out of chaos.” I have to agree. I think in a time where there is so much out of my control, having the ability to put order and pieces in their place is very satisfying. I was initially intimidated by the prospect of putting 1,000 pieces of chaos into order but the end result is very gratifying.