Ever since I was a kid, one of my favorite pastimes was puzzling. Jigsaw puzzling. Being the home body that I am, jigsaw puzzles were the perfect thing to do over summer vacation, especially on those days where you didn’t feel like changing out of your pajamas. Extra points for rainy days.

I fondly remember working on jigsaw puzzles on breaks or over those long summers. Starting with the easy 50 piece ones, then 100, then 500, and reaching the 1000s by middle school. From then on, my goal was to complete at least one 1000 piece puzzle every summer. Having a jigsaw puzzle going on was perfect for those educational lags in the year, as it kept your mind busy and sharp. It was a perfect solo and group project for the family, as progress could be made by one or multiple people at a time. Lastly, it was inviting, as it’s hard to pass a puzzle and not have the desire to complete at least one piece, since it’s such an easy source of that “I did it” feeling. There were so many great lessons I learned that were about topics bigger than just a jigsaw puzzles, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. This is a step-by-step approach to how to complete a jigsaw puzzle, and the lessons one will learn on the way.

When starting work on a puzzle, what is the first thing you do? Past opening the box and smelling that waft of cardboard smell with the dust falling out of the bag as you dump the pieces on the table, what do you do? I start separating the edges from the middle pieces, then grouping pieces by discernible areas (sky, grass, large objects etc). This makes tackling the puzzle much easier, as you break it down into smaller and smaller puzzles. So, instead of one 2000, you actually have four 500 piece puzzles. In order words, divide and conquer. This can be applied to so many of life’s challenges, whether it be cleaning the house before company arrives, preparing the thanksgiving feast, or checking off all the things on the to-do list. Making large ordeals into smaller, more bite-size pieces, makes finishing the meal so much easier.

Once the pieces are separated into their respective piles, you will want to lay them all flat so that every piece can be seen from a birds-eye-view. This will help you in the search for that one particular piece, as we are visual creatures, and need to see the shape and colors of each piece, to compare to the void we hope to fill. When solving a problem, it is best to get all the information that you can in order to make the most informed decision. However, as any puzzler can tell you, just because the color and size appears to fit doesn’t mean it is going to.

Looks can be deceiving, so it takes a lot of trial and error to find the right combination of pieces. Most of the work of a puzzle is seeing which pieces fit together. Some are easy, with a recognizable image so that all you need to do is fine the other half of the face, or a flat side so you know it is a border piece. Others aren’t as simple, like the sky with the ever so similar gradients of blue, or grass where every blade looks like it belongs with the next. This translates to how I walk through life and find my own happiness. Some things are black and white in what goes where. Food, water, shelter, family, those all fit pretty easily in the big picture. But this new job? This new or old friend? This new experience? Where do these additions fit in with my idea of happiness? There’s always a place for everything, just not where you might think it would be. All one can do is continue to work at it until you find its home. Once every place has a home, you’ve completed your puzzle.

Life’s puzzle may seem much more complicated; the way I see it, it is as simple and straightforward as a jigsaw puzzle. You just don’t know how many pieces there are, and they are constantly changing shapes. Nevertheless, the lessons apply. Tackle parts one at a time. Look over what you know, and prepare for the unexpected. And never give up. Some may seem like they fit at that moment, and later on you’ll find it no longer fits. Keep testing out each piece, and sooner or later, you’ll get lucky.

Next time you find yourself at home on a rainy day, stay  in your sleepwear, brew a nice warm cup of tea, grab your comfiest blanket, and start a puzzle. You never know what you might learn on the way.

 

Photo credit: Watercolor vector created by Freepik

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