Life Can Be Puzzling

Adam - 02135, Massachusetts
Entered on March 4, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe that we can learn to enjoy life’s minor difficulties if we stop seeing them as obstacles on our path to eternal bliss and start seeing them as the very source of life’s enjoyment.

I used to work with a guy named Frank. Frank loved one thing above all else, a good puzzle. So just about everyday he would stop by my desk and show me a puzzle. They were usually photocopies from books, or a sheet that was torn from a puzzle-a-day calendar. He had several on his desk. These puzzles were just about anything that required a solution, a math equation, a letter jumble, a ‘what is different about these images’. Usually I’d be able to work them out in a minute or two, but if our workday was slow he would bring out a big gun, one from his personal-stash. When he brought one of these by he would immediately walk me over to a whiteboard and hand me an erasable marker. I would write the problem down and start to think. Frank would study the expression on my face and would giggle if he saw me touch my fingers to my lower lip, the telltale sign that I was hopelessly confused.

When I started solving his puzzles I was frustrated easily. Frank could read this on my face. He would have tell me to ‘massage the data’ and gesture with his hands like he was packing a snowball. It became his catchphrase and after a while all he would need to do was produce the sound, ‘ma’ and I would finish the line for him. What he meant by ‘massage the data’ was ‘play with the puzzle’; ‘look at the facts from a different angle’. I learned it was good advice after a few successes and soon I wouldn’t need the reminder. If I felt myself getting frustrated I would get over it by taking what I knew about the puzzle and organizing it so I could see everything I knew at a glance. When markers weren’t enough I would use other office supplies: pieces of paper, tape, paper clips, chairs, whatever was handy and could symbolize a piece of the puzzle well.

I got better at solving his puzzles but some were still difficult. When I would get close to finishing an especially tricky puzzle Frank sometimes became so excited that he would manically blurt out the answer. But whenever he did this I felt disappointed. I knew I had been cheated out of the thrill of discovering something for myself. But I didn’t get too upset because I learned the answer isn’t everything. If I just collected answers all I would know today was trivia. Instead, by working through Frank’s puzzles step-by-step, I learned techniques for solving any puzzle. And I discovered a ‘puzzle’ doesn’t have to be on a sheet of paper torn from a calendar. They are everywhere I look for them.

I’m not looking for problems though. My thesaurus may think ‘puzzle’ and ‘problem’ are synonyms but I’ve learned better. If Frank came to my desk and asked me to ‘Work on these math problems’ I would have asked him to leave, but he didn’t he said, ‘Checkout this math puzzle!’. What’s the difference? Our perception. Problems need to be solved before we can go back to having fun. Puzzles are fun to solve.

I’m not convinced that every situation in life can be enjoyable with the puzzle perspective. It’s probably impossible to turn the death of a loved one into fun. That kind of grief will forever be a problem that you have to endure before time will allow you to enjoy your life again. But doing your taxes, organizing your closet, or refinancing your house are all puzzleable. So with a minor shift in my perception I’ve come to genuinely enjoy life’s minor difficulties. And as for life’s inevitable major problems… I get through those the best I can.