Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Zero Sum Game

By Susan Esther Barnes

I remember, when I was a teen and I felt like my life was a mess, I thought that somehow each of is allotted only a certain amount of happiness in life, and that if we are happier in part of our life, we’ll necessarily be less happy in another part. So I remember making a deal with God, saying, “Ok, things suck right now. Go ahead and let the first part of my life be awful, because I know later on it’ll all balance out, and I’d rather be unhappy now and happy when I’m old, than the other way around.”

Over the last several years, as I experienced large changes in my life and everything seemed to be getting exponentially better, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. “Things can’t really stay this good for long,” I thought, but then I’d also think, “On the other hand, most likely I’m in the second half of my life now, so maybe now I finally get to enjoy all the happiness I ‘paid’ for in my youth.”

During services this morning, I kept thinking about the man who recently told me he’s looking for a good way to kill himself. I kept thinking, “My life is so good right now, in so many ways, and his isn’t. If only I could take some part of my happiness and give it to him. I have more than I need; it would be worth it to have a little less if it would help him.”

Then suddenly it dawned on me: That isn’t the way happiness works. The more good feelings and caring I have shared with others over the last few years, the more happiness and caring has flowed back to me. It’s like throwing a little yeast into dough. Sprinkle some around, and before you know it, it starts expanding. When I try to give this distressed man some of my caring and happiness, I don’t have less. I have more. For the first time in my life I finally understand it’s not a zero sum game.

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