Life Lessons from 43 Years of Playing Cards with My Wife

Mistakes, money, tradition

Posted Jan 15, 2021 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina

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 couple 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 of course, luck is randomly distributed across hands. You usually can shorten bad streaks by slowing down, taking a deep breath, and trying to focus as you had before the streak. Thus, rather than allowing the bad streak to bleed into subsequent hands, you've compartmentalized it.

Of course, that advice applies across many of life's bad experiences. If you made a mistake at work, especially a serious one or a series of smaller ones, 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. If you might improve from baseline, should you reflect, read, take a class, or get guidance from someone in or outside your organization? Similar advice pertains to mistakes 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 people play for money, even 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 than my wife had. We also derive pleasure from the process—We feel good when we play a hand well.

This also applies to the workplace. Points are often motivating, although perhaps even more motivating is bestowing earned praise on supervisees and co-workers, and explaining the importance of employees' work.

Valuing tradition

We take pleasure in having played regularly for so long. Traditions feel good, perhaps especially in an era in which much societal focus is on change. Our card-playing tradition feels particularly good because many of our usual activities have been curtailed by COVID restrictions.

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 requires concentration but not so much that it’s stressful. 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 good in just a few cards. A hand is completed quickly, 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 be just a way to fritter time or, with a bit of reflection, a source of life lessons.

I read this aloud on YouTube.