Jigsaw Puzzle: Pleasure or Pain?

When was the last time you put together a jigsaw puzzle? If it has been a while, allow me to recommend it as an inexpensive, pleasurable form of self-care–under certain conditions.

A Brief History of Jigsaw Puzzles: the World and You

It occurs to me that an individual’s history with jigsaw puzzles mirrors the world’s history. What do you think? Can you see yourself on this timeline? Where does your experience with jigsaw puzzles begin and end? A download of the infographic is available here.
infographic showing parallels between history of jigsaw puzzles in the world and individual's history with jigsaw puzzles

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Touchstones of Tradition and Nostalgia

The memories you have of your jigsaw puzzle making experiences will help to determine whether or not this is a good self-care activity for you.
For me, ideal puzzle making conditions are any of the following:

  • A grey day when it is teeming rain and I am cozy inside with a fire lit
  • A snow day when the world stays home and I am cozy inside etcetera
  • Christmas holiday when it is my tradition to put together a Christmas-themed puzzle
  • Evenings at someone’s cottage

Why Jigsaw Puzzles Are Boring

If none of the above resonates for you, if jigsaw puzzles are of no interest to you, enjoy this video. Laughter is one of the best forms of self-care.

Fits but it doesn’t fit–that’s the entire jigsaw puzzle building experience.

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Jigsaw Puzzle Strategy

jigsaw puzzle of nancy drew book covers
Although no statistics have been gathered on this topic, consensus seems to be that most of us begin a jigsaw puzzle by finding the edge pieces and building the frame. After that, methods vary widely.

I love the puzzle I completed as my self-care road test.First, the image rings my nostalgia bell, filling me with warm memories of a childhood spent with Nancy Drew. Second, the puzzle is loaded with distinct images and with words in different colours and typefaces, making it easy for me to find exactly the piece I need. I’m clearly an image and detail oriented puzzle maker. I’m also a flitter (I prefer ‘flexible thinker’). I go for an appealing piece first and then figure out where it fits in the puzzle.

My mom, on the other hand, begins with the puzzle and searches for one specific piece until she finds it. Her search method is based on shape and colour, no image. She detested this puzzle and didn’t even have any of the nostalgia connections to keep her going since Nancy Drew was from my era, not hers.

What is your puzzle strategy?

Challenge is in the Eye of the Beholder

Clearly, the puzzle you choose and the strategy you use helps to determine how challenging a puzzle will be for you. In general terms, however, a standard jigsaw puzzle is considered to be higher on the challenge scale if it has lots of small pieces, lots of identically-shaped pieces, large blocks of a single colour, or a crowded mix of similar objects.

If you are really interested in challenging yourself, you might want to try a jigsaw puzzle:

    • that is all white or gradients of a single colour
    • where the image on the box provides just a clue to the image you are assembling
    • that is double-sided so you’re not sure if you’ve got the right side up to work on it
    • in the shape of an animal; there aren’t straight edges to build the frame
    • that is three-dimensional
    • that has 33,600 pieces and takes nine months to assemble (although only 2:34 to watch)

Of course if you choose any of the challenges from the list above, you have veered far from self-care and are into the dangerous territory of “How quickly can I drive myself round the bend?” Just saying.collage of world as jigsaw puzzle with various coloured puzzle pieces around it self-care tip Put Together a Jigsaw Puzzle

What Makes Putting Together a Jigsaw Puzzle a Good Form of Self-Care?


I must confess that jigsaw puzzles do not pop immediately to mind when I think of self-care. But I reviewed the limited researchย and I observed myself while I was assembling the Nancy Drew puzzle, and I can see the merits.

As long as they don’t drive you crazy (see Challenge section above), putting together a jigsaw puzzle:

  • Allows you to chat with friends, listen to music or an audiobook, or subconsciously work away at a problem or issue
  • While you relax at a straightforward task with clearly defined goals
  • That provides great immediate feedback (the piece fits or it doesn’t)
  • Which releases dopamine (the feel-good chemical) in your brain in response to successes large or small
  • So that you stay with the puzzle longer, saying “Just one more piece” as the laundry piles up and the dishes remain undone.

That sounds like a good self-care activity to me!

Do you enjoy putting together jigsaw puzzles? Do you have a favourite theme? A great memory associated with a puzzle? A strategy that really works for you? Or perhaps an awful memory? Any and all experiences are welcome. Please share in the comments below.

5 comments

  1. I like jigsaw puzzles and have put together quite a few over the years although now that I think about it a great deal of time has passed since I opened a puzzle box. My favorite theme is cats. I find the detail in the fur and whiskers challenging. My favorite animal is cats as well and I collect all manner of things depicting cats; mugs, photos, books, so jigsaw puzzles with cats on them are a natural extension of that. My strategy is to do the edges first and then build inward from there. Satisfaction is placing that final piece right in the middle.

    I like using a felt mat that you can roll up to move the puzzle off the table when you need to. When completed I like to use the glue called Puzz-coat (I believe that is what it is called,it has been years since I have purchased any) that I used to get in craft stores. It would be better to just deconstruct the puzzle back into the box and store it that way but sometimes I like the image so much I need to keep it completed and frame it. In the box it is easier to donate and go out and buy new images to complete I suppose.

    I totally agree with the use of puzzles as self care while the dishes pile up and laundry remains in the hamper. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Hmm, I need to go to the store and look at puzzles now. Thanks for the reminder Karen. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I’m with you, Susan. The theme of the puzzle really matters to me. I can’t imagine doing one that is all white or gradients of a single colour. I’d have to say I don’t even especially like the landscape ones. I love puzzles with lots of interesting detail in the images like some of the Christmas toyshop puzzles or one I finished a while ago that was a tribute to fairy tales. I completely understand your love of all things cat, including cat puzzles, but admit that the detailed fur and whiskers would drive me a bit bonkers.

      1. I hear you about my cat fur and whiskers driving you bonkers, Karen but I don’t mind staring at cats and am naturally a detail oriented person so it works for me. The Christmas toyshop puzzles and the tribute to fairy tales ones sound interesting too. All white or gradients of a single colour are mega boring, to me anyway. =)

  2. I admire you for being able to work with that level of detail, Susan. As we’ve both said before, it’s being able to find puzzles in whatever theme that appeals to us that helps to make jigsaw puzzles a good self-care activity.

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