no author listed, pxhere, public domain

Source: no author listed, pxhere, public domain

Playing cards is often dismissed as a waste of time. But in addition to the pleasure my wife and I have derived, we’ve acquired life lessons.


When you’ve lost a few hands in a row because of luck and especially because of bad play, there’s a tendency in the next hand to get upset and thus rush or pay insufficient attention. Sure, luck seems to run in streaks, but in fact, the luck is randomly distributed across hands.  You usually can shorten bad streaks by breathing, slowing down and focusing as you had before the streak.

Of course, this advice applies across many of life’s bad experiences. If you made a mistake at work, especially if a serious one or a series of smaller mistakes, you may be tempted to speed up or to give up. That’s the time to get back to basics: Do what you normally do. Of course, if you might improve from baseline, should you do some reflection, reading, or get guidance from someone in or outside your organization?  O f course, similar advice pertains if the mistake(s) occur in your personal life.

Take money out of the equation

My wife and I play cards only for points, not money. In a leather blank book, we have kept a running total over the 43 years we’ve been playing. That provides external incentive and friendly competition without the resentment and even rancor that too often comes when playing for money, even if it’s a small amount. I feel good when, after our typical half-hour stint of playing, we’ve done equally well.—okay, especially if I’ve done a little better. We derive even more pleasure from the process. We feel good when we play a hand well.


We also take pleasure in the fact that we’ve played regularly for 43 years. Traditions feel good, perhaps especially so in an era in which much societal focus is on change. Our card-playing tradition feels particularly good because so many of our usual activities have been curtailed by COVID.

The card game we play is a traditional one: gin rummy. There’s good reason it has stood the test of time:

  • For most people, it’s difficult enough to require concentration but not so much that it’s not relaxing. And even if you’re not at your best, you can do okay.
  • It’s fast-paced without being nerve-wracking. A bad hand can turn into a good one in just a few throws and pick-ups. A hand is completed in an average of two or three minutes, so you’re always getting a fresh start. But, especially if you’re not playing for money, rarely is one card or even one hand of much consequence.

The takeaway

Most activities, even card-playing, can indeed just be just a way to fritter time or, with a bit of reflection, it can offer life lessons.

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