The Law of the Gift: Live Life Like You’re Playing a New Video Game

Joseph Serwach

New research: “psychological flexibility,’’ is the key Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Psychological flexibility, the ability to focus on the current moment, is the key to happiness in life, relationships, and work, according to a new review of 173 research studies.

Psychologically flexible people, the British Psychological Society concludes, are:

“Open to and accepting of experiences, whether they are good or bad; they try to be mindfully aware of the present moment; they experience difficult thoughts without ruminating on them; they seek to maintain a broader perspective when faced with a challenge; they continue to pursue important goals despite setbacks; and they maintain contact with ‘deeper values,’ no matter how stressful a day might be.”

The gaming life: Every day is a new test

Flashback: fall 1996. Nintendo 64 was the newest hottest “must-have” video console, and my kids wanted one for Christmas. When I told them they were nearly impossible to find, and they might have to wait for one to be available, our 9-year-old said the magic words that forced me to give it my all:

“It’s OK, Dad, I know you’ll be able to get one because you’re a Serwach, and a Serwach can do anything.’’

Ouch. So I went to Target in the middle of the night on Thanksgiving and found a Nintendo 64 as well as the hard-to-find James Bond “GoldenEye” game.’’ Then one day, as our 9-year-old and 6-year-old were playing video games, I passed these lessons on to them:

  • Your life is like a video game.
  • Every day is like a new game, with new challenges, new characters, new adversaries trying to knock you down or stop you.
  • When the challenges really get the best of you, it seems like it’s “game over,’’ but you hit re-set and can begin again. So failures become an opportunity to begin again.
  • The more you play, the more you learn, the better you get.
  • You learn strategy as well as the way things are designed and the way things work.
  • You meet others who know things you don’t, and you learn from each other.

The television life: Every day is a new show

As I am writing this, I realize that it’s been 110 years since my late Grandma Hattie was born.

She spent the last decades of her life watching a lot of television. But she supplemented it with every media outlet of her time, from books to newspapers to radio to calling the “tip line” at the Detroit Library.

Grandma Hattie knew nothing about video games but was fine with her grandchildren hooking up the world’s first video game consoles (primitive computers) to her 1970s Zenith TV. She understood psychological flexibility better than anyone because no one and nothing ever really rattled her:

  • She found good in everyone, even a killer. She’d been a Wayne County deputy sheriff in Detroit in the 1940s and kept a “true crime’’ article on a past prisoner: a killer who chopped up her husband and wrapped up all the pieces in Christmas boxes. Grandma said the murderer “seemed like a pleasant woman.’’
  • A polio survivor, she had one leg shorter than the other and walked very slowly and walked up several flights of stairs daily. Her climbs seemed to take forever, but she kept moving ahead.
  • She retired in 1965, lost her husband in 1976, and lived until 2002, dealing with everything from cancer to strokes to family and friends' problems. She kept moving forward every day, albeit more slowly.
  • The last moment I saw her alive, the day before she died, she was in a rehab place that was exhausting her by trying to get her to exercise at age 91. She could barely sit up in her wheelchair, but she spotted my new white Adidas tennis shoes (I’d just left the gym) and said, “Those are really nice shoes!’’

During the pandemic, when so many Americans got stuck home watching TV, unable to go anywhere, I wondered how Grandma was able to stay home nearly every day for the last 25 years of her life.

I remembered that she was always on top of everything and practically invented “sharing’’ news, mailing me regular envelopes of stories she found in newspapers, cutting out the clips, and mailing me clip packets. Once I took out a tiny classified ad. She somehow spotted it and mailed me a copy.

Whether it was soap operas or the news, she “knew her stories,’’ and accepted the notion that everything happens for a reason, that we are players on the stage of life and to accept everything as a gift, doing the best you can with those gifts while continually giving to others.

The meaning of the Law of the Gift

St. John Paul the Great developed the Law of the Gift before he was named pope, arguing, “Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”

How seriously did he take his belief that everything in life was a gift? When he was shot on May 13, 1981, he immediately began praying and soon found himself praying for the man who shot him. He later visited the assassin in prison, where he forgave him, which inspired the shooter’s eventual conversion.

No matter what you took from him, he kept giving more, finding that the more you give others, the more you find yourself in the process. Everything in life, in fact, is considered a gift from God, something God either plans or allows. As a sportsman, he argued, you keep surfing the waves of time.

Theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar explains:

“Our life is a gift and a giving to others; therefore, it is joy at a profound level. Anyone who seriously makes this idea his own and begins to practice it will find it to be true; he will discover that the will to live it out, that is, to accept everything as a gift from God, can transform our life right down to its roots.” Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

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