The Happiness Connection  

Puzzle your way to happiness and health

Puzzling effects of jigsaws

How many of the gifts you received in December of last year do you remember without having to pause to think?

If you struggle to think of any, you’re not alone. Unless there’s a reason for it to stay top of mind, out of sight really can mean out of mind.

This year, one particular present bucked that trend in my world. I received a murder mystery jigsaw puzzle from my sweetheart. As soon as I opened it, memories of spending time with my mom washed over me. Not because of the subject, but because of the activity.

When I used to go back to my parents’ house for visits, my mom often had a jigsaw spread out on the dining table. We’d spend hours chatting as we tried to complete the complex picture.

I hadn’t indulged in this specific activity in years, but when I excitedly opened the box and got started, I was hooked. On my next visit to Costco, I saw a display of jigsaws and bought myself another one. My collection has now grown to almost a dozen.

I’ve been averaging about a puzzle a week. Sometimes I only spend a few minutes during the day, other times I may be there for an hour or two. The 1,000-piece puzzles seem to be my sweet spot. They’re challenging yet not overwhelming.

I love the time I spend on this activity, but it’s brought with it some unwelcome thoughts. They mostly revolve around time-wasting. Shouldn’t I be doing something more productive?

Whenever I voice these concerns to my partner, he shuts them down by pointing out that it’s important to quiet my often overly busy brain and have time to simply be. It’s hard to argue with his perspective, but I needed more. Is there any other benefit to this activity?

It’s well documented that Sudoku, crosswords, word searches, etc. can help keep your brain healthy and active. But what about jigsaws? I went on a hunt to see what science had to say about this specific type of puzzle. It turns out that jigsaw puzzling goes beyond entertainment. It helps cognitive, physical, psychological, neurological, and social skills.


This has to do with the processes of the brain and includes memory, problem-solving, and the ability to concentrate. When you work on a jigsaw, you formulate theories and then use trial-and-error to test them. This process can significantly improve problem-solving and critical thinking, not to mention short-term memory and virtual-spatial reasoning.

The typical human brain has two sides. The left is responsible for logic while the right takes care of creativity and intuition. In order to complete a jigsaw or other puzzle, you have to engage both sides of the brain. This enhances cognitive functions as the two sides are required to connect and communicate.

Improving cognitive skills improves productivity, attention to detail, and mental agility.


The act of moving pieces is good for fine motor skills and improves manual dexterity. This is especially important if you’re very young or elderly.


This is the area my partner immediately identified as beneficial for me as it relates to the human mind and feelings. Spending time with a jigsaw puzzle helps reduce stress and anxiety. It quiets the mind by distracting you and providing you with an opportunity for an almost meditative state. Studies found that spending just 30 minutes a day for eight weeks working on jigsaw puzzles can significantly reduce anxiety levels.

They also discovered jigsaw puzzling can increase your feelings of happiness and satisfaction. The act of finding two pieces that fit together releases dopamine. This is the neurotransmitter that’s responsible for regulating mood and increasing optimism. The more successful you are, the more you want to continue so you can get even more dopamine.


Your nervous system or the signals between your brain and the rest of your body is probably the area of benefit that gets the most attention when it comes to doing puzzles of any sort. Research shows working on puzzles, including jigsaws, may actually delay Alzheimer’s and dementia. This is because the activity promotes neuroplasticity or the ability to make new pathways in the brain when old ones have been damaged or pruned from lack of use. This process may happen more easily when you’re young, but it occurs regardless of your age as long as you encourage it.


Working together on a jigsaw can be a rewarding social activity. It fosters collaboration and a sense of achievement. It was a strategy I used when I taught elementary school. I always had a puzzle table where students could go when they’d finished their work.

If you want more family time, try my mom’s strategy and start a puzzle. Invite everyone to participate, but don’t apply any pressure. You may be surprised at the results. There’s something alluring about joining in on the quest to complete the picture.

So, it seems my new hobby isn’t a waste of time. In fact, I’m doing myself a favour every time I settle down to find the right place for a few more pieces.

If you haven’t completed a jigsaw puzzle for a while, or ever, I encourage you to give it a try. You may be surprised at how much you enjoy it. And if your brain suggests you’re wasting your time, enlighten it by sharing all the ways you’re helping both it and the rest of your body to be happier and healthier.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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