Linda Lee — My personal bridge blog

Happiness (or not), Bridge and the New York Times

Toronto has four thriving local newspapers.  Amazing isn’t it.  One of these papers, the Toronto Star, includes a portion of the New York Times each Sunday in the paper that comes for home delivery.  I happen to read it recently and this article caught my attention:

Happiness Investigator Uncovers Something More

Apparently Dr. Martin Seligman, an avid bridge player, was president of the American Psychological Association in the late 1990’s.  He felt that there was too much emphasis on mental illness and the psychologist should study happiness and he wrote a bestseller in 2002 entitled “Authentic Happiness”.

But he found something interesting as he continued to study happiness.  It turned out that what people thought would make them happy didn’t always and that people purposefully chose paths that made them less happy at least in the short run.

Among the questions he raised was this one.  “Why do some  people keep joylessly playing bridge?”  He was talking about players who weren’t do it to make money or make friends or even to feel engaged.  “These players wanted to win for its own sake even if it brought no positive emotion.  Watching them play, seeing them cheat, it kept hitting me that accomplishment is a human desiderata in itself.”  I did have to look up desiderata which is the plural of desideratum: Something considered necessary or highly desirable.

In other words people need to have a sense of accomplishment.  When looked at that way it appears that Denmark and Switzerland ranked highest among people who “flourished”.

In his experiments he learned that when good things happen and they are not earned it doesn’t increase people’s well being.

When I think about it I know that part of the reason I play bridge is for that sense of accomplishment.  I understand that I won’t win all the time.  I know bridge is a game of mistakes and I know I will make lots of them.  But even in a session that didn’t go well there are often wonderful moments.

And I think it is that sense of accomplishment for all of us, newcomers and stars that makes us come back for more.

seligman Dr. Martin Seligman, bridge player


Judy Kay-WolffJune 13th, 2011 at 1:05 am

Dear Linda:

Marty, living in the Philadelphia area, was a friend of both Norman’s and mine. In fact, he “bought” Norman for a charity game we had for a young man with muscular distrophy in 1988. It is also of interest that when Marty performed a survey of bridge players, Bobby (one of his guinea pigs) was told he had the highest rate of optimism of the group. Perhaps that explains his success. Who knows?

Anyway, I enjoyed your blog and loved seeing a picture of Marty. He is a very special person.

Bobby WolffJune 13th, 2011 at 1:12 am

Hi Linda,

Years ago I was very friendly with Marty and played bridge against him often. He loved bridge, but was a master psychologist first and a bridge player second.

Possibly his most famous book, at least up to now, was his classical “Learned Optimism” which was an important measurement in which direction most people’s fate took them.

If I would ever be asked which factors in the bridge world were perhaps my favorite reason for playing, I am sure I would say, similar to an old time comedian whose name escapes me, “Monkeys are the craziest people” and you meet most of them at the bridge table.

LIndaJune 13th, 2011 at 11:11 am

Congratulations on your wonderful victory in the Seniors Team Championships, Bobby. It was interesting to hear both of your stories about knowing Marty.

HanniJune 14th, 2011 at 7:09 am

My cousin’s son, whilst studying psychology a few years ago, mentioned his name. I thought, oops, is that the bridge player? He didn’t know of course, but once I asked him on BBO, we were pards in an indy or something. He must have been desperate to play at that moment, usually his pards are experts, anyway he said “Yes,”

Robert E. HarrisJune 19th, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Off topic. Linda, are you aware the Times (London) is behind a pay wall? I enjoyed reading the column when it was available, but I don’t see coughing up so much money for what is, for me, mostly a minor entertainment.

LIndaJune 20th, 2011 at 11:26 am

The pay wall started a while ago. We should probably make it clear on our link or remove the link.

We will take care of it now. Thanks for reminding me.

maggy simonyJune 29th, 2011 at 8:12 am

Dr. David Scott–not a psychologist, a student of popular culture–back in the 90s in his dissertation on the differences between competitive and social bridge players concluded that what he called “sidebets” (peripheral benefits bridge players get from participating) were entirely different for the two kinds of players.

In my book Bridge Table or What’s Trump Anyway?, I quoted from his dissertation (with his permission of course). Social bridge players played bridge–sometimes in the same club for fifty years!–and for them Scott said, sociability was as important as the bridge game and they regarded other players as friends even if they only saw them when playing bridge. The game is integral to their social lifestyle.

“Tournament players,” on the other hand, “Shared a desire to test their bridge skills to their fullest extent. The essence of bridge was a feeling of mastery . . . accumulating Master Points was validation . . . ” which basically is what Linda Lee is saying. [I confess, Seligman’s observations that some are unhappy in their victories was a surprise–I shall have to read his book.]

Scott continued, ” . . . tournament players strongly emphasized proper protocol and ethical play . . . tournament players did not regard friendship integral to their bridge involvement . . .” and he went on to quote a player commenting on a deceased former partner: “Ed was not a friend–we had nothing at all in common other than bridge.”

I’ve dabbled about enough, reading blogs like this one about bridge players in a world I know nothing about, that absolutely indicate long friendships amongst tournament players. Given Seligman’s comment about cheating, is there perhaps a hierarchy within the tournament world of ethical (not cheating) players and those who do anything to win?

As to the sociable bridge I play, I’ve come across only ONE deliberately cheating bridge player in 50 years–but then who was even thinking about that? Our attitude is basically, “I like to win, but no big deal if I lose”–fatal attitude for the tournament player.

My premise is in all my writing about sociable vs serious bridge in my book and blogezine–it’s all in your DNA!

Someone should devise an aptitude test at the ACBL, whereby bridge teachers could glean from the beginning whether a novice has what it takes to be a friendly duplicate player, or has the killer instinct to compete at highest levels. For those with neither, send him/her off to us in sociable bridge rather than have that person fail and forever after bad mouth bridge.

Personally, I think a person who cheats to win, has to be something of a sociopath if he then deludes himself into equating that with “accomplishment” — what accomplishment if you’ve cheated?? Not somebody I would WANT to socialize with, he’d leave me picking up the tab for drinks I’ll bet.

maggy simony

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