Last weekend, I played a game of hearts with some of my friends. In the game of hearts, you are dealt a hand. There are good hands, and there are bad hands. If you have a lot of non-heart high cards, it is a bad hand. Thankfully in the game of Hearts, you are allowed to pass your shitty cards to the next person at the beginning of the round. This mitigates the amount of shit you hold in your hand. Unfortunately, this also means that you are prone to picking up more shit from other players.

Unlike the game of hearts, you cannot pass the cards that you are dealt in life. If you have a sack of shit as a hand, you cannot pass your shit to the next player. You just have to play with the shit you have.

This, you can imagine, is unfortunate. One moment, we are out of existence. The next moment, we are in existence. And, when we are in existence, we are given a mystery bag with different proportions of shit within. You can be give a bag with a speck of shit that isn’t even that smelly, or you can be given, as Jeremy Irons’ character in Margin Call put it, “the biggest bag of odorous excrement ever assembled in the history of capitalism.” We did not opt to enter the game of life, but since we are already playing, we might as well make the most of it.

You can be dealt a bad hand or a good hand. For example, if you were born into the 1%, you probably will have a pretty good life ahead of you. That’s a pretty nice card. If you were born into a loving family, that’s a pretty nice card too. Having a pre-existing condition will make your life harder, so that’s the equivalent of having the king of spades or something. But, if you born into the 1%, have a loving family, don’t have any pre-existing conditions, are above 5’10” (if you are a guy), conform to western standards of beauty, have perfect pitch, et cetera, you’re probably going to have a pretty good life. It’s the equivalent of having the queen of spades as well as all of the hearts; you just can’t lose unless you really fuck up.

I would say that upon entering this round of hearts (a.k.a. life), I’ve been dealt a pretty good hand. It’s not a hand with the queen of spades and all the hearts, but it’s a pretty good hand. Sure, I wish I had a more affectionate childhood and a better educational experience, but it’s still a pretty comfortable life for the most part. No one gets a perfect hand, or at least very few people get a perfect hand. But, the thing about having a pretty good hand is that you still want a better hand. Even though my life is pretty comfortable right now (for one, I’m not unemployed as a result of an epidemic I literally cannot control), I oftentimes reflect about my past wishing that things were different, as if my hand was not good enough.

There are plenty of times in hearts when I was dealt a bad hand. I would pass whatever shit I can to the next player, and then I would play. It’s about making the best of what I have out of my situation, even when I have the king and ace of spades and no other spades.

Now, I ask myself: If I am able to adopt this mentality when I am playing the game of hearts, why am I not able to do it in real life?

I clearly have been given a good hand in life, yet why do I have this mentality of wanting a better hand. I could make some extrapolations based on some neo-Marxist critique of the culture industry, but blaming capitalism for my problems always seems like a cop-out to me.

Part of it could be the exposure I have had my life. If I have been dealt good hands my entire life, and if everyone I know has also been dealt good hands their entire lives, then I only have a sample size of good hands. I mistakenly believe that good hands are the norm, so I am disappointed when I compare my above-average hand to individuals who have above-above-average hands. Biased sample smh.

Yet, I feel like this explanation is inadequate because I have clearly met and become good friends with individuals who were borne out of less fortunate circumstances than me. It seems to me that this is not a function of exposure but more a function of internalization. If I draw from Ayn Rand in “The Psycho-Epistemology of Art”, then I could identify my thoughts as a form of selective perception. Even though I am exposed to more information, my confirmation bias only allows me to internalize individuals who fit this pre-conceived framework of self-pity. The question, in the metaphysics of belief, is, what comes first: sentiment or construction?

If I have a tendency to compare myself to individuals who have been dealt better hands than me, I want to know, what causes it?

For this question, I can take a Freudian view to investigate my childhood as a determinant of my patterns of thought. In particular, there is one part of my childhood that comes to mind. There is a lot about Asian American upbringings that puts a lot of emphasis on comparison. I am not alone when I say that my parents frequently brought up other successful Asian children who were relatively the same age as me who were worlds more accomplished than me as a way to “motivate” me in a way that was pretty toxic, if I recall correctly.

I was thinking the other day that, in this regard, there is a lot of my identity that is attributed to racial melancholy than to individual problems. Since facets of Asian American history and culture tend to be overlooked in American education, it is often difficult to attribute racial issues to racial theories because of inexposure. Therefore, a lot of my current attempt understand my own melancholy is to understand which parts of it are attributed to racial experience and which parts of it are just personal problems I need to work out myself.

Whatever, I can think about that later.

But, nevertheless, this part of my upbringing just another king of spades that I have been dealt in the game of hearts. There’s plenty of good cards I have been given as a result of my upbringing as well. Part of playing the game of hearts is learning how to strategize with what you have. The is the fun of the game: part randomness, part strategy.

There is a lot about my past I wish I could change — cards that I was dealt — but the game of hearts is not necessarily deterministic like that. The player with the best hands is not necessarily the winner of the round. And, even though I don’t like the metaphor of “winning” at life (it’s just… tasteless?), there is a lot to be learned at how to navigate life through the game of hearts.