Playing for the Long-term

James Titchener / @mistertitchener

Nice. We've officially solved for self-help:

Delay gratification.

Easier said than done. Biologically we're designed to satisfy our desires else starve or fail to make babies. We're lucky to be free from life on the savannah, but our evolutionary wiring hasn't caught up to the new game we're playing for—happiness.

I'm making a value judgement here. Now that most of us have survival down pat, I think the game is maximizing happiness and minimizing suffering for ourselves and our conscious companions. But not everyone is optimizing for this game. Even those who believe they're playing within the ballpark of what I've outlined are really playing another game entirely.

This latter camp is where I find myself more often than not, although not intentionally. I slip into the biologically programmed games of satiating desires and seeking status, but I only realize my discretions in hindsight.

Understanding our collective foibles can help steer us toward the games that are truly worth playing, but recognition alone doesn't get us all the way there. Without action and practice, values are worthless. What we want are virtues, and I think playing for the happiness of the world (yourself included) is the foundation of a virtuous life.

So how do we put our values to work? And how do we learn to live by principles, like delaying gratification, that help us to this end? 

After coming to terms with the raw deal we've been handed by Darwin, we need to learn to not only see when we've slipped into playing short-term games, but to take effective steps in favor of patience when we do.

I haven't found a better tool for addressing this than mindfulness practice. Mindfulness and meditation can take many forms, but to me it's the act of recognizing the character of your experience and the context in which these experiences are playing out. With the goal being to do so for as many moments and for as long as you can manage.

In recognizing the character of your experiences, it can become obvious that satiating desires is not all that it's cracked up to be. The satisfaction that comes from fulfilling a desire passes away at a rate that most would find shocking if they paid close enough attention. And without fail, after a desire is fulfilled, a new one arises. And so the cycle of craving resumes.

And in recognizing the context of experience as being free from the ego that so unendingly craves for more, you can effectively stop playing these inherently unsatisfying games, if only momentarily. Existing from the space of awareness in itself is enjoyable. And while you're not free from pain in this space, you can be free from the nagging desires to be rid of it.

This is another one of those things that are easier said than done, but with patient practice, I think this (often difficult) work can pay dividends in the long-term. The trick is consistency. The great part about mindfulness practices like those taught by teachers like Loch Kelly is that they can be done anytime, anywhere. True mindfulness persists throughout the entirety of one's life, not just the few minutes a day spent practicing deliberately on a chair or cushion.

If you're one of the many that find meditation spooky or thoroughly unenjoyable, there're other means of playing for the long-term. But rather than give you an exhaustive list, I'll close by offering a way for you to frame the problem for yourself.

Returns compound over a lifetime—be it financial or otherwise. So what are the playgrounds that offer continual positive outcomes that increase in their degree with time?

How can you invest for your happiness and that of others like Warren Buffet has with his money? 

Where are the 1,500,000% returns to be found in your life?

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