If you could take something that relieves anxiety and stress, is good for your mental cognition, makes you happier and has no side-effects, would you consider it?
Fine, now go and buy a jigsaw puzzle.
Not one of those tiny ones you do with young grandkids. We’re talking a 1000-piece monster. The tougher the better.
At the start of the lockdown in Victoria, my sister gave me a jigsaw puzzle. It’s called Birds in Fern and it’s a brute. Of the 1000 pieces, more than half of them are green and you don’t know whether they go up the top, down the bottom, left or right.
I spent days doing it and, without the help of my 25-year-old still-at-home son, I would still be doing it. Or perhaps I would have given up.
Then my dear friend Pam gave me her favourite jigsaw. It’s called a Wasgij (jigsaw spelt backwards). It didn’t look too difficult until I read the box more closely. “Don’t puzzle what you see. Puzzle the future.”
Soon I realised it doesn’t have a picture of what the finished puzzle will look like. Trust me, this changes everything.
For example, you can get all the red pieces together and you might, let’s say, connect 10 of these pieces. But which way is up and where in the puzzle do they go? You have no way of knowing until you build other little clusters and eventually discover a way to connect one cluster with another cluster or with one of the border pieces.
When you do this, you’ll give a little cheer. I guarantee it. It’s impossible not to.
And herein lies one of the medical benefits of jigsaws.
Medical experts have determined that with each piece connected, you get a tiny hit of dopamine. This helps soothe the brain. And when you finish, the tiny hit is huge, enough to send you into a little jig.
We’re also told that jigsaws exercise the left and right sides of the brain at the same time, improving mental speed and improving short-term memory. Studies have also connected jigsaw puzzles to improved cognition in the elderly, making them ideal for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
And when you finish them, they make great gifts. Just make sure you haven’t lost any pieces because a 999-piece jigsaw might have fatal consequences.
So before you rush out and buy a jigsaw, be aware of certain pitfalls.
Don’t do it on a table you expect to use any time soon. A tough jigsaw might occupy a flat area for days, weeks or even months, so choose your work area carefully.
Make sure grandkids can’t get to it. If five-year-old fingers get in the same room, you can guarantee they’ll find their way to the jigsaw and you can guarantee a piece will get lost.
If you go more than 15 minutes without connecting a single piece, walk away. Return in an hour or so and you’ll immediately connect three or four pieces in seconds. It works every time.
Don’t let anyone else touch your jigsaw. A jigsaw shared is half as satisfying as one done all by yourself.
Out of curiosity, try to time yourself. The world record for a 1000-piece jigsaw is a fraction over one hour, but this was by two people, so they wouldn’t have enjoyed it half as much as you will by yourself.
We’re told a 1000-piece jigsaw should take between three and 10 hours, so if you time yourself, you’ll get a better idea of where you stand in the overall scheme of things. I think it took me 22 hours all up to do the Wasgij, which puts me in the ‘moron’ category.
But while I may be useless at jigsaw puzzles, I can at least tell people, when they ask what I do with myself, that I’m a dissectologist. Then walk away quickly before you add that a dissectologist is a person who enjoys jigsaws.
Do you love jigsaws? Did you rediscover them during our various lockdowns? Do you find them calming?
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