I went to Paris this weekend with my daughter, complete with cobblestone streets lined with adorable little shops and flower boxes in the apartment windows above. No, we didn’t fly there. We were transported through the simple magic of a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

Beyond toilet paper, hand sanitizer and paper towels, one of the hottest items of 2020 has been good old-fashioned jigsaw puzzles. I love that. No electronics. No wires. No sound effects. Purely analog. Cardboard pieces in a cardboard box. They’re even environmentally friendly.

It actually has been a fascinating phenomenon. It is no surprise that my mother-in-law always has a puzzle going…or that my mother has started doing puzzles in tandem with a friend. They’re both “old,” and puzzles are from their generation. Puzzles also have always been a preferred toy for young children to help them learn about shapes, colors and spatial relations. The fascinating thing is that puzzles have now crossed all age groups and even have become extremely popular with Millennials and Gen Zers. This is huge!!  For these generations raised in high-speed, high-stimulation environments, the enjoyment of slow, quiet puzzles is extraordinary.

Not interested in doing a puzzle? Maybe you should reconsider. Even my husband, who hates board games, joins in for puzzle time. He intends to stay just for a few minutes to maybe add a piece or two, but soon he gets hooked with the need to find just one more match or fill one more gap.

Aside from an endless choice of images from which to choose, puzzles provide great food for the brain and the soul…

  • Calming meditation: The quiet focus of putting together a puzzle acts as a calming meditation, quieting the mind and easing stress and anxiety.
  • Spatial relations: Doing a puzzle helps support spatial reasoning because you have to envision how a given piece will fit into a certain spot or what a piece to fill a specific gap might look like.
  • Connecting the two hemispheres of the brain: The left side thinks in a methodological way to solve the puzzle, while the right searches creatively for shapes and colors, imagining where a certain piece may fit.
  • Short-term memory: While it doesn’t seem a long distance from the puzzle board to the box of unused pieces, short-term memory is required to link together the gaps in the puzzle and the hunt for specific patterns in the pieces.
  • A break for the eyes and the brain: Puzzles provide an important break from the strain of blue light and the sound effects emitted from our screens.

There’s one other lovely part to doing puzzles with someone else—the quiet conversation. I have always found that car rides encourage conversations that would not occur in the hustle and bustle of life. In the quiet of a car, my kids shared thoughts and news of their lives and my husband and I have shared tales of our past. Puzzle time provides a similar environment for conversational sharing.

Want to hop on the puzzle train? You can get them anywhere. They’re quite inexpensive and, as I mentioned above, there is an endless array of designs to fit every taste and interest, including color sphere puzzles, which have been very popular among young adults and teens.

Or you can check them out of your local library just as you would check out a book. And there are assorted puzzle-exchange groups on Facebook where you can swap used puzzles with other puzzlers…and a giant website called Jigsaw Puzzle Swap Exchange that allows members to borrow puzzles from its collection, swap puzzles with other members and attend swap meets.

With gift season upon us, here’s a great idea. Make your own puzzle using a high-resolution photograph. Having this done can be a little more expensive depending on the size, but a puzzle takes on a whole new personal meaning when it is an image of a favorite trip, your cat or dog or a family photo. Both Shutterfly and Snapfish have puzzle options in their giant catalogs of photo gifts, but there also are specialized puzzle-making websites, such as PuzzleYou.com  and FineArtAmerica.com.

As you plan your upcoming holiday time, think about adding a puzzle to your celebrations. And while you’re at it, that dining room table that isn’t being used for large family gatherings right now may be the perfect spot to leave a puzzle out for “five-minute meditations” throughout the day.

Sarah Hiner, president and CEO of Bottom Line Inc., is passionate about giving people the tools and knowledge they need to be in control of their lives in areas such as living a healthier life, the challenges of the health-care system, commonsense financial advice and creating great relationships. She appears often on national radio and hosts the Bottom Line Advocator Podcast,  where she interviews leading experts to help people be their own best advocates in all areas of life.