Why we play
By Foti Mantis

What gives a man meaning is his pursuit of a goal. It is somewhat cliché to say the “journey is more important than the destination,” but it is also true. Think about it like a game. When you’re trying to achieve something, you overcome challenging situations which require new ways of thinking and acting. You destroy your old self to transform into a redefined and enlightened version of yourself. It is this transformation that makes the journey or aim for a higher good more valuable than actually achieving that goal. 

But, what happens after you achieve that goal? Maybe you feel a sense of ease and satisfaction from all your hard work. Maybe you feel content. Maybe you feel happy – but only momentarily. You see, there is a misconception between happiness and meaning. Happiness is a reward, where meaning is a state. Since the catastrophes of the 20th century, which saw the most evil side of humanity, that of the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and Maoist China, populations around the world, almost as a defense mechanism against those atrocious times, have fallen prey to the pursuit of happiness instead of the pursuit for meaning. Happiness fails to sustain us through the suffering of life, where meaning helps carry the load we voluntarily decide to bear. 

How does this relate to footy then? Well, let’s say you want to win the Best and Fairest medal. You first acknowledge that you have to overcome certain weaknesses and transform into a better player. Except, what exactly does ‘transform into a better player’ mean? Firstly, it means you have to admit that you are not who you could be. That’s judgement. Secondly, it means that you accept the fact that you could fail, and that it’s very likely you will. That’s acceptance. Unite these two ideas together and you have created a dangerous journey uphill that will give you that necessary sense of meaning in what the pessimists call a meaningless world. And, so, as a footy player, or any athlete for that matter, you will experience most of your hope and joy (happiness) by pursuing your goals, and not, generally speaking, by attaining them. 

Dustin Martin, one of the greatest to ever play the game, spoke out in 2019 about his battle with anxiety and depression which began in 2018. To The Age, he said, “I had everything I wanted and everything I dreamt of, but I didn’t feel fulfilled or happy.” After speaking out about his mental health, Martin explained how “it was the small guided steps,” like “reading books in [his] spare time” that “made [him] realise what [was] important in life.” This scenario seems to be a common situation that athletes find themselves in. They achieve what they set out to do, experience that sense of happiness, and then expect it to fulfil their life thereon. It is something that we should be aware of as individuals, all of whom have our own goals and paths in life. But, it’s important to understand that life itself isn’t a game. It’s a series of games. And, sometimes, you have to know how it feels to lose, in order to appreciate what you have achieved. 

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