In a zero sum game, the winners win just what the losers lose. There can only be a winner when there is a loser. This is a games theory concept, not life. Unfortunately, we often fall into the trap of thinking that life is a zero sum game. We get competitive about all sorts of things. We feel that we are diminished when somebody else does well. This kind of thinking leads to jealousy and misery. When we cannot take pleasure in other people’s accomplishments because we feel that their success implies our failure, we suffer because of our outlook.
In the Academy Awards, out of thousands of actors there are five nominees and one winner. Of course everybody is happy to be nominated, but they must be bitterly disappointed when they don’t win. Just by being nominated they get to go the the party, they get the adoration of the media, they get the swag, they get the recognition of being nominated and they get to go out of their heads hoping they will win and fearing that they won’t. That is the drama of a zero sum game. That is the kind of game that we imagine into all kinds of situations in our everyday lives.
When we are comfortable with ourselves, we can easily take joy in other people’s success. Although there will be times when others will profit at our expense, it is far more common that others’ success has no reflection on us whatsoever. In both situations we should practice being happy for others’ good fortune. If that is too difficult, the least we can do is recognize that we are never truly diminished by another’s success. Life is not a zero sum game. Life is certainly some game.