The Happiness Lessons I Learned Playing Doom

A good friend of mine, Chris Holmberg, often reminds me about the difference between success and winning. That distinction has been a guiding principle, and keeping them aligned has made me happy with the professional and personal choices I’ve made. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I first learned about this playing Doom in 1995.

Doom was one of original First Person Shooter games. It ran on MS-DOS and you played it using the keyboard. It was thrilling, but I ultimately got stuck at this one part in the game. I kept trying, but found myself increasingly frustrated with my inability to defeat a boss monster. And then I learned about God Mode. Typing “IDDQD” would make you invincible and grant you unlimited ammunition. The difficulty of the game was reduced to zero. I swept through the remaining levels and beat the game. I had WON!

But I practically never played again. I won because I achieved the objective of the game – defeat the final boss. I failed to succeed, because my enjoyment came from the struggle – the little victories that made the game fun. The journey was no longer challenging, and by extension, no longer entertaining. I learned that I should have seen the journey as the ultimate goal.

In life, I’ve tried to remember this lesson. When things get hard, and I start wishing for a god mode cheat code, I remember how I lost interest in Doom. Persevering and overcoming challenges are what make this life worth living. I don’t mean to take away from the unfair challenges that many people face in this world. There are many who start this game of life with a demonstrably unfair disadvantage, and we should collectively do what we can to break down those structural barriers. But for those of us with the ability to enjoy the game, remember that success comes from the journey, not the end.

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