Basketball, Winning & Contentment

I have been thinking lately about the complexity of happiness, and how it so often differs from getting what we want. I feel like 2016 Cyclone men’s basketball is a wonderful illustration.

This past March, when Cyclone MBB ended its tournament run in the Sweet 16, I felt afterward like this was about as happy an ending for me as any possible. Basically because it felt like the team achieved all that was within reach.

Iowa State moved through the first two rounds—improving immediately upon a first-round upset loss last year—then exited after a game against an obviously superior opponent. I don’t remember the details, but the result was not a humiliation, nor was it close enough that I was left anguished that “they were so close, they had it, why couldn’t they finish?”

There was really no heartbreak element. Our guys reached a respectable plateau—the Sweet 16, surpassing more than 75% of all the other tournament teams—and the next step was just beyond them this year. Okay.

Of course, if offered it, I would have chosen more.

I would have chosen a closer score. I would have chosen to advance another round or more. But I’m not really sure any of these things would have made me happier, short of a wildly unlikely championship. Anything in between would have felt, I suspect, like it revealed potential that was squandered. “They were so close,” etc. Had they lost in the “Elite Eight,” the Final Four would have felt so close. Had they made the Final Four, the championship game would have been so close. Obviously, if you get all the way to the championship and then fall short aaaaauugghhh what cruelty!

I would have chosen these things anyway, I think, but I probably would not have been happier.

In sports, this seems kind of perverse, truthfully. Outside of sports, it seems more reasonable to prioritize values besides my own happiness… though after a while, if directing effort toward those values seems to move contentment further and further away, it seems impossible to avoid wondering whether or not I’m doing something fundamentally wrong.

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