Life lessons, jigsaw puzzles and COVID-19

Life lessons and jigsaw puzzles

Life lessons come in all shapes and sizes. They pop up when we least expect them. In January, 2020, anyone with half an eye on the game might have been able to predict that COVID-19 would become this year’s, or this century’s, BIG THING. It would become the greatest of life lessons for everyone

Click here for a definition and more information about COVID-19.

In January, we called it the novel corona virus. Members of my family started talking about possible outcomes. They spoke gloomily about how Australia might be affected. I usually listen to my wise family, but chose to ignore their predictions. Perhaps that fear numbed me.

I’d been intimately involved with a viral epidemic about sixty years ago as a nurse working in an infectious disease hospital. You can read about my experience of the poliomyelitis epidemic in my post, ‘Poliomyelitis epidemics in Western Australia’.


Suddenly, however, the epidemic in China became a reality. Before long, my daughter advised John and me to self-isolate and wash our hands. Both eighty+ and vulnerable, we took notice. Our apartment became our retreat, our fort.

Definition of social isolation

Soon after that, what had been an epidemic in one or two countries became an pandemic affecting the world. The government told the population of Australia isolate and practice social distancing. Only essential workers, those who had to go to work or education and those who cared for vulnerable members of the community had an exemption.

The message, ‘Stay home, wash your hands, practice social distance,’ became a mantra. State premiers said previously unimaginable things:

‘Stay home! Go away! We do not want tourists here! We do not want cruise ships in our ports!’

People began to heed the message. They retreated from each other and into their houses and apartments. Pity those who had no home to go to.

Some people see social isolation as a bonus, a time to create and work on masterpieces or to enjoy their own company. For most it creates problems, different for everyone. Fear or panic. Boredom. Loss of motivation. Irritability, especially with those we are cloistered with. Learning how to cope with unusual, challenging situations presents a life lesson.

Finding things to enjoy, alone and together together, helps relieve some of the stress of isolation.

One of our solutions is to assemble jigsaw puzzles

There’s something familiar and comfortable about a jigsaw puzzle. Since the beginning of the year, John and I had already completed three. We were ready for more.

Jigsaws can also be challenging . There are parallels between a good puzzle and life lessons

They’ve been around since the eighteenth century. At first, they were considered children’s games, but everyone can enjoy them. A jigsaw can be a good way to fill in an hour or two, especially during this time of COVID-19-induced isolation.

They’re fun and rewarding to put together, and can be done alone or with others. They come at various levels of difficulty. Children might need a bit of help from an adult until they get good at putting pieces together.

In the olden days, grandparents and grandchildren often found doing a jigsaw together rewarding and enjoyable. Here’s to the return of those good old days.

Jigsaws are mostly inexpensive. They’re recyclable – they can be given away or swapped with other people. The only other equipment you need is a large enough surface and good light to put a jigsaw together.

Life lessons to be learned from a jigsaw puzzle

If you want to solve a problem, assemble a jigsaw or learn a few life lessons, here are a few ideas.


Everyone hopes to succeed at what they do. But if the foundations are shoddy, the end product will almost certainly be shoddy as well. If you had a grandfather like mine, you’ll remember the adage, ‘Poor previous planning leads to poor performance’.

John and I set our puzzles up where we can see them and work on them easily. We don’t have space for a large table we don’t use for other things. Instead, we use a light-weight board that we move from dining to coffee table to the top of the fridge.

Our board is a piece of rigid art foam with a timber border that John glued around the edges. The total cost was around $A10. It’s about 20 centimetres larger than the biggest jigsaw puzzle we think we’ll ever make. We aim low. I don’t expect we’ll ever graduate to jigsaws much larger than 1000 pieces.

One of my daughters and her husband once put together a puzzle with 5000 pieces. It’s a picture of a beautiful Degas painting – a piece of art. They did it on the dining-room floor in the years before they had children.

A word of caution: do not set up a puzzle anywhere that it can be raided by babies or dogs. Chewed pieces of cardboard do not retain their shape. And pieces permanently lost cause much frustration.

You can also buy mats made so that the puzzle can be rolled up and put away between session, but we like our current puzzle on view where we can add piece if we spot one as we walk past. It amazes me how often I see something I’ve been looking for when I’m not ‘looking’.

The only other equipment needed is a good light. It’s hard to match colours without that.


With a jigsaw puzzle, that’s pretty easy. Just tip all the pieces out of the box and sort them. The quickest way to solve any puzzle or challenge involves working out what you know it involves, before you work towards a solution. As you work on it, different aspects become clearer.

You can get an initial feel for what’s involved in a particular jigsaw puzzle by handling the pieces as you put them back in the box, coloured-side up.

During this stage, set aside all pieces with straight sides. They’ll be the frame for the picture and make a logical place to begin.

Put the four corner pieces to one side. Put them in the right place when you start to make the frame.


Remember, the problem is the problem. It doesn’t need to bleed into the rest of one’s life. With defined edges, all problems in life or in play become more manageable. There’s also a sense of achievement when you define the boundaries clearly.

Group the pieces with straight edges roughly into colours. Look at the shape of the pieces as well as the colours. Starting with the corner pieces start to fit the pieces together one-by-one.


In my family, there are two schools of thought about checking the picture closely to work out where pieces go. Some say, ‘No, that’s cheating’, while others (including me) think it’s perfectly OK. 

We are in awe of the family we heard about who can put a whole puzzle together starting with all the pieces face-down. All can be revealed only when every piece is in place and the jigsaw puzzles are ceremoniously turned over.

One of the important life lessons I’ve learned is that it’s really hard to solve any problem until you know what the solution might look like.

I think it’s fine to keep the lid of the box handy so that everyone can see what the task consists of. Seeing how the picture will look when finished works as a goal to be reached. We’re much more likely to achieve goals which are concrete and clearly set out.

Life Lesson 5. SORT THE PIECES

A pile of jigsaw pieces makes an awesome, if not an overwhelming sight. Sorted into logical parts, problems become manageable. You don’t have to do the whole lot at once.

The obvious first way to sort the pieces is by colours. We sort ours onto paper plates because they can be handled easily and stacked neatly when not needed. This much organisation may not suit everyone, but it does help keep bits that go together in one place.


Simple, simple, simple. Just begin to put pieces together. It doesn’t matter where you start. As the mother of six children, all closely spaced, I learned that I could be easily overwhelmed by a messy house. I also learned that if I picked up the first thing, and kept repeating that, eventually the house would be clean and tidy again.


A large jigsaw puzzle can appear quite daunting. But, like most puzzles in life, if you work on the smaller parts the whole usually sorts itself. That’s one reason for working one small section at a time.


It’s interesting to watch how some people desperately want pieces to fit. They pat and bang until the pieces get jammed and need to be pulled apart forcibly, often damaging the pieces.

Life and jigsaw puzzles are similar in so many ways. Never try to force things. It doesn’t work!

Life lesson 8. TAKE YOUR TIME

Savour the occupation. No jigsaw needs to be finished immediately. Take breaks. Come back tomorrow or the day after.

In life, also, do not try to rush to find solutions to problems. Too hasty resolutions can be wrong, and often don’t stick. Go gently. Remember, you are probably in this for the long haul.


The point of assembling jigsaw puzzles is that it’s a process to be enjoyed, not a product to be finished. The activity is the fun. Rejoice when a piece you find a piece you’ve been looking for.

Enjoy the moment when you find a piece you weren’t looking for, but somehow you know where it goes.


Savour small successes in your jigsaw and in life. Be grateful when a small part of one of your life lessons falls into place.

Celebrate when you finish the puzzle. Enjoy the moment and admire the completed work. Leave it where you can see it. Most of us forget to celebrate the small victories in our lives and often regret it.

We can learn much from jigsaw puzzles.


Definition of COVID-19 from the Health Department of NSW

Another of my blogs, Covid -19 and social isolation

Why I love jigsaw puzzles Jigsaw puzzles – my life-long love affair

6 replies on “Life lessons, jigsaw puzzles and COVID-19”

    1. Yes, doing a jigsaw is one thing I’m doing, but haven’t got a lot of motivation for writing seriously. My poor novel on the back burner. Again! I hope that my energy comes back soon. There are a lot of people in the same situation, and that’s a comfort.

      1. OMG – i thought you had given up doing them – i must have encouraged you to re-start!!

        1. I think I’d given up after three very quickly after Christmas, Elizabeth. But now they seem like one way to enjoy time together. John also likes doing them.

  1. An amazing post Maureen Helen; so totally insightful and wise. I am fascinated how you have woven your wisdom into this subject. It is a fascinating Blog post and has taught me a lot, just like the jigsaws you discuss, teach us. I will definitely share it to my sisters, though as they are not on social media I will email them the link. Congratulations Maureen and thanks for sharing your wisdom. Its lovely and we are all the richer thanks to you Maureen. Many thanks Tricia

    1. It was quite a fun piece to write, Tricia. I’d half written a draft before the social isolating and distancing came into force. That is, before we were aware of COVID-19. It seemed quite trite. But when I thought about the parallels between pretend puzzles like jigsaws and life, the lessons became very clear. Thank you for sharing with your sisters and for being so enthusiastic about my writing. Mxx

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