I used to be terrible at playing video games. But not in the way you might be thinking.
When I played video games, I often felt that I needed to maximize myself before I can begin to have fun. For example, Pokémon HeartGold came with an accessory called a Pokéwalker, a pedometer that granted experience points for your Pokémon and occasional bonus items as you took steps in the real world. When I played Pokémon HeartGold, I realized that one of the Pokéwalker routes gives you star pieces which you could sell for 4,900 Pokémon Dollars each. By going through this route over and over again, I amassed enough star pieces so that I had over 100,000 Pokémon Dollars before I even reached the second Gym.
Back when Pokémon Go was really popular, I spent hours obsessing over stats and trying to catch Pokémon with the perfect IVís and movesets. Any Pokémon that was even slightly less-than-perfect got transferred to what I can only assume was Professor Willow’s slaughterhouse.
In Fire Emblem, the max level your soldiers could attain was 20 (although you could go even farther sometimes with rare items). One of the gameís earliest levels had an optional Arena with infinite respawning enemies that you could fight for loot. I used the Arena to level grind them all to level 20 at the very beginning of the game.
And in the RPG Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga, there was a badge that doubled the amount of experience points you get from a battle if you took no damage. Every time I did a boss fight, I saved & reloaded until I somehow managed to beat the boss with no damage. Soon, Mario & Luigi became so overpowered that they were steamrolling Bowser’s most elite forces like they were Goombas.
This is how I both played video games and how I lived my life. When it came to gaming, I always told myself that I needed to be maxed out before I could start to enjoy the game. However, before I knew it I had already reached the ending and Iíd barely even begun to enjoy myself. The same thing happened in the real world. I’d look wistfully at all the cool things my friends were doing on Facebook and envy the flashy status symbols they owned that I didn’t. I felt that once I had all of the same things they had then I’d finally be okay. I would finally be able to have fun and enjoy my life.
As the board game in Jumanji says, there was a lesson I needed to learn. But first I had to go back a turn.
We live in a culture of scarcity
In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown writes that we live in a culture of scarcity. It’s ingrained in how we live and most of the time, we arenít even aware of it. We’re never good enough. Or never perfect enough. Or thin enough. We never have enough money. There aren’t enough hours in the day. Our very first thought when we wake up is that we didn’t get enough sleep, and our very last thought before bed is that we didn’t accomplish enough.
Throughout our daily lives, we are bombarded with constant reminders that we don’t have enough. When I walk outside, I see fancier cars, bigger flats/condos, shinier gadgets, flashier status symbols. All of it carrying an implied invitation to try and keep up.
Just look at that! Some people are rich enough to own boats. I can’t even cough up the 1,000,000 Pokémon Dollars to afford a bike.
This building is so much fancier than where I live.
And this car is a lot fancier than my car.
Very rarely will someone come up to us and tell us that we don’t have enough. Instead, we see all the finer things that we can’t afford and we’re allowed to come to that conclusion on our own. That we just don’t have enough. So, we do things that we think will ultimately make us happy. We think that:
– If I can just get this job then I’ll finally be okay
– If I buy this new gadget then I’ll be happy
– If I get a girlfriend then my life will finally be complete
– If I can start my own business then I’ll finally have freedom/income/lifestyle that I want
And if we’re lucky enough to finally get that thing we were chasing, we wonder why we’re not suddenly happy.
For me, it was getting a CPA license. I always imagined that once I had my CPA license, I would have it made. Everything would just magically work out then. I’d never have to worry about anything. I’d be okay. I thought that simply being able to put those three letters next to my name would make me happy.
Steven Zawila, CPA
So, I studied for the exam. I worked much more diligently than my friends to learn the material and I passed it faster than anyone else I knew. Finally, I could put those three letters next to my name.
…except I still wasn’t happy. There was no fanfare. No trumpets. No giant flag saying You did it, Steven! With the exception of those three letters next to my name, everything else was the same. I still didn’t feel like I had everything I needed to be okay. Even more surprising, I felt that I wasn’t any closer to having what I needed.
How do we come out from under the shadow of scarcity? It’s easy to think that the solution is to adopt an abundance mindset. In Pokémon HeartGold, I had more money than I knew what to do with even before getting my second gym badge. My maxed-out Fire Emblem soldiers were tanking axes to the face like rubber and making pincushions out of enemy forces just a few stages into the game. And my overleveled plumbers in Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga would have given Thanos a run for his money. Sure, in those video game worlds I had more than I knew what to do with. But it wasn’t fun.
In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown proposes a different solution. She writes, “The counter approach to living in scarcity is not about abundance. In fact, I think abundance and scarcity are two sides of the same coin. The opposite of never enough isn’t abundance or more than you could ever imagine. The opposite of scarcity is enough, or what I call Wholeheartedness.”
What it means to have enough
Last summer, I went on a stateside road trip with my significant other and Number-One-Player-Two. We started from the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and drove all the way to the wilderness of Glacier National Park, Montana (around 2,100 kilometers away). Back in the bustling city of Milwaukee – between the floating yachts I didn’t own and the luxury condos I didnít live in and the fancy car I didn’t drive – I was constantly bombarded with reminders that I did not have enough. That I was not enough. Getting away from crowded Milwaukee, Wisconsin and out into the countryside helped me see things from a different perspective. Once I was away from civilization, all of those whispering reminders that I didn’t have enough faded away like a 5-star Wanted level in GTA after a good nap. Suddenly, it wasn’t about how much I had sitting in my bank account or how many of those fancy gadgets and status symbols I owned.
The only thing it was about was how much I could get out of using only the items I could fit in my car trunk. Unlike most RPG heroes, I couldn’t fit the entire contents of my flat inside my backpack. We wouldn’t even have reliable cell phone reception out there. Those few essentials in my car trunk had to keep us alive over the next few weeks. It wasn’t much but it needed to be enough, for better or for worse.
A few dozen hours later after beginning our trip we finally arrived in the Montana countryside. We pitched our tent and prepared our cozy sleeping arrangements. When we finished setting up, I looked around and experienced something that Iíll remember forever. In the wilderness, there wasnít anything telling me that I didnít have enough. Instead, we were finally able to live simple lives. We left the lap of luxury and survived by living in a tent and prepping simple food using a fire that I built by hand. Suddenly, the paltry few items that we were able to fit in our car trunk were enough.
I have enough. I was enough.
How to be happy with enough
Once upon a time, if you asked me what my dream life looked like then I would not have been able to answer that. However, when I left behind all of my possessions except for what I could fit in my car trunk, I realized how great my life truly is. Today, I have a job that pays me enough to live. I have an amazing Significant Other and Number-One-Player-Two. And I have everything I need to change the world in my own way.
I already am living my dream life. I already do have enough.
You might be wondering whether Iím just encouraging you to settle. Am I simply encouraging you not to try and improve your life anymore? Lose all ambition? Stay put while your peers pass you by? Not at all. It sounds counterintuitive, but being happy with your life and striving to improve your life are not mutually exclusive. Imagine that Ganon or Bowser put a curse on you which doomed you to live the same life that you’re living right now. Forever. Your salary will never increase. Your career will never advance. Your friends will never change. You will never meet any new people. Your princess will always be in another castle. Where you are right now is where you will always be. Given all of that could you still be happy?
A little while ago, I never could have said yes to that question. Between now and then I’ve learned that even the paltry few possessions I can fit in the trunk of a car is enough. And if that is enough, then everything else I own is also enough. Today, I’m honestly able to say that I could be happy if my life were suddenly doomed to stay the same forever. Luckily, I’m blessed with no such curse. Even though I already understand that everything I own is enough, Iím also looking forward to how my life is going to get even better from here on out!
Looking back on how I used to play video games in my childhood, I realize that something changed along the way as I started to grow up. When I first played Pokémon Yellow, I used my Master Ball on a Ponyta. I deleted Pikachu’s Thunder Wave because I thought it didn’t do anything. I threw out TM’s because they were taking up inventory space. I traded away the one and only Bulbasaur that you can get in the game. Sure, I did a bunch of dumb things in the game out of youthful naivete, but I was having a blast. I was enjoying myself. I was having fun.
As I grew older, I began to forget about that. I told myself that I needed to have hundreds of thousands of Pokémon Dollars saved up or the Pokémon with the perfect IV’s and movesets before I could even begin to enjoy myself. Once I accomplished everything that I thought I needed to in the games I played, it turned out there was only a little bit of game left for me to enjoy before the story was over. In the real world, I would tell myself that I couldnít enjoy myself until I got a girlfriend, or until I already had my dream job, or until I had a lot of money. I’d gaze wistfully upon the things I didnít own and the flashy status symbols I couldnít afford, all the while telling myself that I just want to be happy without realizing that I already had everything I needed to be happy.
Finally, I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to knock maximizing your in-game stats or your IRL stats. If you want to 100% the games that you play, then go for it! If you want to grind a team of six Level 100 Pokémon with perfect IV’s then that’s perfectly fine. If you want to max out your real-life bank account and buy all those flashy status symbols then more power to you. All I’m saying is to enjoy where you are right now. If you wait until you’ve accomplished everything until you can have fun then you won’t have much more time left until the credits roll, and life doesn’t give you a New Game Plus! (There are rumors of post-game content though, and some other rumors say you simply just start a New Game from scratch altogether.)
You already have enough, and youíll always continue to have enough no matter how much more you own in the future. Living a good life comes not from owning everything you can, but from getting everything you can from what you own.
Steven Zawila – Quiet Romantic
Steven Zawila is a nerd, bookworm, and gentle soul. He writes about wholesome dating advice for sensitive introverted men on his blog Quietly Romantic, including how to meet women, how to talk to her, and how to be more confident.