It’s the player, not the cards

There are many ways to become dissatisfied with one’s lot in life. The list goes on: not the right job, not the right spouse, not enough money, and not appreciated. Nothing seems to be turning out the way you hoped or planned.

Sound familiar? It is a common theme in a culture where we tend to measure our own happiness against what other people have. They have more, so they must have fewer problems and be happier.

Their kids are cuter, smarter, or more athletic. They have a nicer house, newer car, belong to a club, and take expensive vacations. Envy is inevitable in a culture that puts so much emphasis on appearances.
Instead of playing the hand you’re dealt, you want different cards. Only then are you likely to find true happiness and contentment. It is a false hope. Most of us get only one hand and how we play it determines not only our own happiness but also the happiness of those closest to us.

We either do the best we can with what we have and make the most of it or glance longingly at the cards of others seated around the table while wishing the dealer had been more generous.

Better to accept that happiness is qualitative not quantitative. More does not necessarily make it better. In fact, it may bring more problems. Those able to draw another card often find their new hand is no better and sometimes worse.

Making do with what you have, appreciating it, understanding it, nurturing it, and accepting it with all its limitations takes wisdom and grace. Always wanting more is a dead end.

Loving people for who they are, appreciating their strengths while understanding and tolerating their weakness is doing nothing more than what you would ask of them. It isn’t easy, but a loving heart is a generous heart.

It learns to overlook those petty annoyances that cannot be changed and aren’t worth fighting about. Love can be manifested as much in what is not said as in declarations of affection.

People with disabilities, who persevere despite their limitations, and those who happily care for them can turn what some would consider a “losing” hand into a work of art.

One need only look to Hollywood to see how what is generally viewed as a “winning” hand can be played into junk.

The sign of a good player is first accepting what you have, learning to appreciate it, and finding a way to make the best of it. What may be less in some respects is often more in others.

A good marriage and the fulfillment and joy of a happy family are not the products of more. In fact, more may turn out to be a distraction. It is the product of knowing what is important and the discipline and patience to achieve it.

It’s the player and not the cards that determine the outcome of this game.

The sports world gives lip service to the aphorism: “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” In this more important context, a slight variation: “It’s how you play the game that makes you a winner or loser.”

Hanging is my office is a quote from Samuel Johnson: “How small of all that human hearts endure, that part which laws or kings can cause or sure.”

James W. Dolan is a former Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law. E-mail: