by Megan McDonough

Forrest Gump famously said, “Life is like a box of chocolates.” When I got my Christmas present, I came to the conclusion that life is more like a jigsaw puzzle.

For Christmas, you see, I got a very challenging puzzle. That’s what I asked for from my husband (I’m really at the point in life where I don’t need or want any more stuff!). On Christmas Day, I unwrapped it: a close-up shot of a beautiful bouquet of flowers. But they were all the same flowers—the same yellow, pink, and red hues throughout the 500 pieces.

Starting was easy: Find the border. Straight edges always make for a clear delineation. The fast progress was exhilarating!!

Then I moved to the only out-of-of focus area of the puzzle. Luckily, that also included background purple to help identify the location. Next, the stems stood out.

Now I’m on the middle section. It’s all repeating patterns. One piece might go in three or four different areas. I’m lucky if I put a single one in place in during a sitting. When I do fit two pieces together, I yell, “Success!” My husband laughs at my enthusiasm.

The puzzle is front and center on my kitchen table. Yes, it’s annoying, and I’ve had to move it a few times, but it’s like a magnet calling me back again and again.

As I’m doing the puzzle, I’m beginning to recognize subtle shades. Oh, this bright yellow goes over here. This muted yellow goes over there. This small white streak is a petal turned over.

Even though it’s not done, I can see the general placement of where things go. I’m getting a finer and finer appreciation for detail and variance.

This is a lot like life, don’t you think?

We start life learning fast. I remember, when my children where young, how they changed from one day to the next, making massive leaps in growth and development. Every day, I noticed something new. They were building the borders of the puzzle of life … How do I walk, talk, and become me?

Then comes school … life feels a bit out of focus but, with the help of teachers, parents, and care, we learn to put the pieces together.

As we grow into young adulthood, the puzzle continues. Figuring out who we are, and the work that fits us, is a process of seeing what fits together … trying this piece next to that.

I don’t know about you, but life is still a puzzle for me. I do notice that I see finer and finer subtleties within the whole, and I can recognize patterns and designs more quickly. But I have not outgrown the unknown. Life is still a mystery to me. Perhaps the puzzle is only done when we die. When that last piece slips into place as we exhale our last breath, we can see the magnificent whole.

I’m committed to using my time here to understand how best to approach this puzzle of a life. Not to figure it out, but to stay with it. To be present. To yell in success when two pieces fit together, and to sit back and take a breath when it’s frustrating.

Life is not like a box of chocolates—you pick one, eat it, and it’s gone. No, each individual piece is a journey celebrating wholeness.

While I was writing this, my husband was heating up his morning coffee. As he did, he yelled, “Found a piece!” Just as in life, puzzles move faster when you have help.

Looking for guidance and a like-minded community to support you in putting pieces of the puzzle together? Find out about WBI’s Introduction to Wholebeing Happiness course, January 29–March 2.

Megan Megan McDonough is CEO of Wholebeing Institute, an educational organization co-founded with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar. WBI is committed to spreading ideas and practices that can help individuals and groups live life to its fullest.

Click here for a course listing.