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Playing The Infinite Game

There are two types of games, according to James Carse: finite games, and the infinite games. Finite games have winners and losers; Infinite games don’t.

Equally, there might be two kinds of Players (or Partcipants) in Life: Finite-Seekers and those seeking something of the Infinite. 

Happiness, true Happiness to make some kind of distinction, is an Infinite Game. 

Finite Happiness v. True Happiness

We know all too well how the fleeting variety of happiness works by now, don’t we? 

We feel great for a few days after a promotion, or getting our book published, or that period in a relationship when the two of you are doing  ‘You’re-so-perfect’/’No-you’re-so-perfect!” exchange: that sweet and lovely phase which we romantically believe will last for ever. That’s the kind of finite pleasure I’m referring to here.

We may even feel hedonically satisfied for a good while, perhaps even for a couple of years, but what goes up must come down, and some form of suffering is always going to rain on our little parade. Little because: finite. Our little finite parade of happiness. 

The parade that goes: “I was winning when I had that, and now that I don’t have that, I’m not winning.” Or: “I’ll be winning when I have that. And until then: I’m losing.”

Compare this to:

-I’m Happy.
-Well, why not! I’m perfectly fine with just being this human creature – experiencing life’s ups and downs. It’s all fine, it’s all groovy.

Oh, and if you’re thinking I’m that person. No, I am not that person. At least not in an  enduring way, are you?

I think we might call this person something like enlightened or awakened if you are of a mystical bent. Or if you’re of a psychological one, we might say: self-realised, a functional, healthy adult Ego, individuated in that Jungian sense of having “gone through the wearisome but indispensable business of coming to terms with the unconscious components of ones personality”.

Another way of saying this that we have found, and gracefully or gracelessly engaged with our “shitty” shadow selves and given them a big soppy hug, in a bid to be kinder to them (i,e. ourselves) and all the other people who have dealings with us. 

That’s the kind of happiness we’re looking for, aren’t we? That Infinite Variety that comes from playing an Infinite Game where there are no winners and no losers. 

The Challenge of Trying To Access Happiness Through A Human Personality

To get this place of True Happiness, at least as far as psychotherapy is concerned, we need to come to terms with who we are, and a large component of who we are is our personality, to use that simple term that says so much without saying anything. 

So what is personality you might ask a so-called Integrative Personality Focused Psychotherapist? 

Well, at a very simple level, maybe it’s a kind of living, organic, narrative-based, psyche-containing entity or core self, a conscious self – perhaps like the one writing these words here to you now. Just like you, from your psyche-containing personality are taking in whatever you can into your conscious being from the screen in front of you.

In both cases, of you and me, these are selves which cannot help but see the world from a certain perspective and thus move with and into the world in certain kind way. Even when feeling uncertain or struggling with our mental health, we will all be moving uncertainly in our lives in slightly different ways. Not all human animals are certain and uncertain in the same manner. 

Personality As Open and Free v. Personality As A Cage

If personality is the primary “tupperware container” of the self, I guess the question is whether you experience this container of your personality, your personhood, as being a free and expansive one. Right now, are you experiencing your conscious self and all the feelings and thoughts it contains as an infinitely happy place to participate in?  Or is this things we call self, or my person-ality, or just simply “me” not always happy with its self-containment? Might you even experience that self as somewhat imprisoning or obstructive at times, getting in the way of you attaining a form of “true” contentment and being at ease in the world? 

We might, in fact we often do, suffer ourselves: suffer the experience of being a certain kind of self, a certain kind of person. Or we might suffer the life that this type of person is having, which is most likely a typical kind of experience for that type. A certain kind of life, based on the personality which contains that portion of life we came into at birth. 

If we’re wanting to play an Infinite Game, the game of True Happiness rather than that quick fix variety, which is the game I want to play (actually I want to play both, and there is space for both), then how do we accomplish that with a Finite Personality or Ego? 

This for me is the million dollar question. 

Creating Enduring Happiness Through A Focus on Personality

Creating enduring happiness in a finite game where there is always a winner and a loser seems like a bit of a paradox. For surely Finite Games will never give us the Infinite Prizes of non-circumscribed Peace Joy and Happiness. Finite Games give us winners and losers. Those conscious of winning in the stakes of life are generally happy and those conscious of losing or losing out in some are generally not.

Let’s say someone cuts in front of you on the road, or someone dumps you, or you experience (as we all will) sickness, ageing, emotional and physical pain, as well as the certainty of our own demise. This is loss, this is losing in no uncertain terms in that finite game of life and personhood. 

So let’s explore together in therapy, or you by reading some of the articles on my site, how a certain kind of personality, a certain kind of person (like you or me) might get the most out of our selves and by dint of that, our finite Life

How to learn about and then start playing as well as possible within the finite dimensions of our personality types? But let’s also give some time to think about how we, as “souls”, or language-wielding thinking-speaking creatures might also being be moving, as we all are, I believe, moving towards becoming participants in that Infinite Of Game of Happiness (or whatever other word gestures towards something sweet and good and satisfying for you, I like to use that simple H-word).

Psychotherapy in our very secular age is perhaps no longer considered in this light, but I often find that there are times in a good session, in a really meaningful and exploratory conversation for both parties, where we will at least rub up against or graze in some small way the hem of that Infinite garment, that table cloth on which this Infinite non-binary Game rests. The game that we all want to be playing, I believe, in the time we’ve got left to play our part, rather than the winning-losing finite game which more often than not is what we end up being drawn into.