"Jigsaw puzzles are hardly new. They’ve been around since the 1700s, and have evolved from hand-cut wooden educational tools to a huge industry targeting children and adults alike. They have certainly stood the test of time, providing education and hours of peaceful time passed. What studies are now showing is that these “toys” have lasting benefits both to our health and basic well-being.
We were likely all exposed to jigsaw puzzles in our youth. As toys they are used to teach words, shapes, colors, and geography, and provide focused, quiet time for children and parents alike. They’re used in schools to educate, in waiting rooms to passify, and are thought to develop fine motor skills in children and prepare them for reading.
Research is now showing the quantifiable benefits of carrying this activity into adulthood. Studies, like the notable MacArthur study, have shown that keeping the mind active with jigsaw puzzles and other mind-flexing activities can actually lead to a longer life expectancy, a better quality of life, and reduce our chances of developing certain types of mental illness, including memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s Disease (by an amazing third).
But how does this simple toy accomplish such amazing things? Most likely it is due to the simultaneous use of both sides of the brain. The left brain hemisphere, our analytical side, sees all of the separate pieces and attempts to sort them out logically. The right brain hemisphere, our creative side, sees the “big picture” and works intuitively. Both types of thinking are required in order to successfully piece the puzzle together. In exercising both sides of the brain at the same time, we create actual “connections” between the left and right sides, as well as connections between individual brain cells. These connections increase our ability to learn, to comprehend, and to remember. In addition, completing a puzzle, or even just the successful placement one piece, encourages the production of dopamine, a brain chemical that increases learning and memory.
The connections made while working on jigsaw puzzles aren’t limited to our brain cells. Exercising both sides of the brain simultaneously also allows the brain to move from a Beta state, the wakeful mind, into an “Alpha” state, the same mental state experienced while dreaming. The Alpha state is where we tap into our subconscious mind. Jigsaw puzzles naturally induce this state of creative, focused meditation, where connections can be made on deeper levels.
The jigsaw puzzle is a metaphor for life. Challenges we face with our jobs, relationships, and health can leave us confused and overwhelmed. These challenges are easily likened to the fragmented jigsaw puzzle, with so many disconnected pieces and no clear starting point. By physically piecing a jigsaw puzzle together while in a powerfully creative meditative state, we are shifting the focus in our subconscious from confusion and inundation to proactively working on the solution. We become “rewired” to take a more balanced, holistic view of our lives, considering all the little pieces, but also how they fit into the big picture. We begin to make connections between things that may have previously seemed unrelated, such as relationships between our emotions and our state of health. Patterns begin to make sense as we focus that positive energy and apply it within our own lives. As the jigsaw puzzle takes shape, the different parts of our lives start coming together to form a sensible picture.
Jigsaw puzzles are a unique activity that allows us to achieve a state of creative meditation, while providing a fun activity that imparts a sense of accomplishment. The benefits to the brain are becoming more and more clear. Perhaps even more powerful are the effects on the subconscious in helping us piece together this puzzle we call life."