Gretchen Rubin wrote in The Happiness Project about the year she spent “test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happy.” Today, the Puppiness Project is my husband’s attempt to learn the same from Honey, my Golden Retriever.
Play to Win
Regular visitors to this blog will know Mondays are for the Puppiness Project, featuring the ways in which my wife has been learning the secrets to happiness from our golden retriever, Honey.
I did not think I would ever be writing a guest post for a Monday slot because, after twenty-two years together, Pam and I have despaired of my learning anything from anybody.
However, I may have beaten the odds after all. I was playing with Honey earlier this week when. . .
But first, let me tell you about how we play.
It often begins quietly. Either Honey will humbly and calmly insist on my attention by picking up a toy and dropping it in my lap; or I, seeing Honey mercifully at rest and not giving my ever-blogging wife any reason to be distracted from her sizeable workload, will feel a compulsive need to provide a diversion of my own by pummeling her (Honey, not my wife) on the muzzle until she wrinkles it up and starts to play bitey-face with me.
Soon, an object we both covet greatly, such as an oversized cigar-like rubber squeakie toy with a green microfiber cover half ripped off from repeated abuse, will end up in my momentary custody. Standing over Honey, I’ll initiate a game of keep away by bopping her first on the head, then on the tummy, then on one side or the other of her rear quarters. Since possession is nine-tenths of the law, she’ll attempt to grab the toy from my hands, whirling, teeth and tongue bared, in the direction of the last touch.
Before long, Honey will succeed in latching on to this increasingly slobbery object of our mutual desire, and we will enter into a full-blown, hammer-and-tongs (or, if you prefer, hands-teeth-and-tongue), life-or-death game of tug-of-war.
Reflecting on the last sentence, there are simply not enough hyphens in the English language to describe the intensity of these battles.
I’m Honey’s favorite tug-of-war partner because I take her seriously. I take all my opponents seriously. I play to win: and I have never thrown a game, not for love or money. Like the scorpion in that story with the fox, I can’t help it. It’s my nature.
And while the years are conspiring to teach me to be a gracious loser (the “noun” part of this role is something I achieve too readily; it’s the crucial “modifier” the years have had to drill into me), heaven help you even today if you beat me.
Or, for that matter, if I beat you.
Having latched on, Honey will eventually take the toy away from me.
And I was playing with Honey earlier this week when I realized that, when she does so, she doesn’t run off with her prize into a defensible corner from which to fend off all challengers.
And. . . she doesn’t gloat about her victory. And. . . she doesn’t talk trash. And. . . she doesn’t sign into Facebook to tell the world how reaming me has helped her climb two places in her Fantasy Tug-of-War League rankings.
(Puppies don’t fantasize about football because they can’t carry them around in their mouths. OK, there are those Nerf foam footballs that some dogs can sink their teeth into and are light enough to carry. But you have to be careful to supervise your dog vigilantly with those because they might dislodge and swallow a chunk that will require a vet’s scalpel and a second mortgage to remove. So you’re better off getting them high-quality dog toys. But I digress.)
No, instead of acting on the baser instincts that drive me in the midst of my life’s petty competitions, Honey will step off two paces, turn back toward me with a floofy, wagging tail, play-bow, and put the toy in my lap again.
That is to say, the half-fuzzy, half-stripped, spit-coated trophy which I must at all costs win from my dog is, for her, no more than a means to a higher end: an opportunity to continue a fine friendship and a chance to be with one of many people she loves.
Honey knows that to play is more important than to win.
No, I’ll go one better than that.
Honey does play to win. But for her, the winning is in the playing.