What if you’re playing the game wrong?
Mary said she’d be happy when she had the perfect man.
Joseph said he’d be happy when he could afford to live uptown, instead of noisy, smelly downtown.
Angela said she’d be happy when she’d published her first book.
Bruno said he’d be happy when he’d realised what his dream job was, what he wanted to do with his life.
Everyone has a ‘when’.
When I was young, my cousins and I used to play hide-and-seek. One of us would cover our eyes and begin counting downwards from 10.
3… 2… 1… “Ready or not, here I come!”
And then the seeker would go on a manhunt for the hiders. You know the game, we’ve all played it.
The rules at my grandmother’s house were that you could not hide upstairs, that that was off limits. Occasionally we would not be able to resist the temptation though, and as a hider we’d sneak upstairs and stash ourselves away.
We would laugh cheekily to ourselves. We broke the rules. After all, the seeker cannot find you in a place where they’ll never think to look.
In 1994 I had started playing a very different game.
In 1994 I had started playing a very different game indeed. A much bigger game than hide-and-seek. One where the rules were not clear partly because the game’s very existence was not clear.
How can you win a game if you don’t know you are playing? Well, step one is waking up and realising that you’re playing the game.
Step Two is learning the right rules.
Let me tell you more about this game, the bigger one. Everyone is distracted by what they see on the ground floor, their surroundings. They see a concrete jungle, an achievement playground, prizes, awards, great palaces they can buy, partners and friends they can win and collect.
People think they’re progressing, they think they’re moving up levels. On the higher levels you can upgrade almost anything about yourself, your boobs, your ass, your teeth, your six pack, your hair, your decorations, the people around you. You name it.
But this version of the game is a trick. It’s not the real game. It’s a diversion that most of us who are born in concrete jungles fall prey to.
The Right Rules. The Right Game.
The game we’re all playing is called life. And if you’re not born starving or afflicted by financial, social or political hardship, you’re not surviving, you’re simply playing a game.
No one really tells you the rules. They try, but your inexperience speaks louder than their warnings.
Much like when I was young, the seeker cannot find the hider if it never occurs to the seeker that the hider is upstairs. In the place they have decided, quite automatically, that they will not look.
Only in life there is not really an ‘upstairs’. But there is an ‘inside’.
We are all born distracted by the things we see, and this distracts us from the fact that the answer is hiding inside, not out in the world. Not in the things we do, achieve or accumulate.
It does not occur logically or naturally to those of us who are born in a concrete jungle that we should be looking inside.
So the rules of the game are that if you look outside you will lose. But if you look inside…
You will win.
What makes the game enjoyable?
When we played hide-and-seek as children, we craved the joy of finding our opponents. That’s the part we enjoyed. Or rather, the part we thought we enjoyed.
Did you ever open your eyes and find one of the hiders standing there right in front of you, because they hadn’t been bothered to play, to find a new hiding spot? Pretty deflating wasn’t it? Not very thrilling.
Finding them was not the real joy. You wanted a hunt. But you did not know that you wanted a hunt.
The game has tension
We so often fail to appreciate the tension, and that the tension makes the reward the reward. That’s why when children play video games, they will start the journey over or move on to the next game once the journey has been completed.
When my brother would blitz Crash Bandicoot or Jack and Daxter, he’d get bored and just start again. Though he already knew the journey.
The joy does not come from the podium moment. The Academy Award. The Nobel Prize. The Gold Medal. Rather it is built by the time that went into it… the journey is the re-ward. The A-ward is just the release of the tension that allows the elated, ‘pleasure’ experience.
This is why, once it has been obtained, the pleasure quickly fades.
Don’t hand-cuff your happiness to outcomes. To ‘when’.
Mary will not be happy ‘when’ she finds the perfect man.
Joseph will not be happy ‘when’ he can afford to live uptown.
Angela will not be happy ‘when’ she publishes her first book.
And Bruno will not be happy ‘when’ he realises a dream job.
All they will get is a release of tension.
Suddenly all the pressure is on the book, the job, the new suburb and the perfect man. But life is just a big collection of hide-and-seek in this way, continually finding one thing and then becoming bored because the game is over.
So the game is restarted again.
The lack of smooth sailing does not mean that the journey is a bad one.
This is just the tension that makes the journey.
Though now you ask, “Joe if all we ever have in our achievements is a build-up and release of tension, how will we get lasting happiness?”
Ah, but to ask this question is to misunderstand completely which game we’re playing. This is a different game. Many people play the external game, but few play the internal game.
Most people play hide-and-seek, looking for the solution at the top of the next tower or mansion.
But life begins when you start seeking within.
It doesn’t matter if you want the perfect partner, job, book or home, the answer is the same… you’ll be happy when you accept yourself, when you agree that you are enough right now.
What does this look like? It looks like asking…
Why do I want the perfect man?
Why do I want to live uptown instead of downtown?
Why do I want to write a book in the first place?
Why am I looking for one dream job?
And you keep asking why until you go deeper and deeper beneath the iceberg, until you confront the fact that you are and have enough right now, and that everything from this point is just a bonus.
You may not enjoy each and every day on your journey. But if you do not appreciate it, you will lose the game.
Why hand-cuff yourself to a sinking ship? When it docks, you dock. When it leaves, you go too. And when it sinks, you drown. Hand-cuffing your happiness to outcomes is to chain oneself, and forego one’s freedom to whatever the thing decides to do next.
Who do you think of when you read this? Would this piece ‘open a door’ for someone you know? Why wouldn’t you share it with them?
The best way to open a thousand doors for you is to concentrate on opening doors for others.