by Mike Shea on 16 December 2019
"Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Loneliness kills."
The above quote is from Dr. Robert Waldinger, the caretaker for the Harvard Study of Adult Development, an 80 year study that followed the lives of 724 men, some from Harvard and others from a poor neighborhood of Boston. Across the 80 year study, the participants were surveyed and the results gave an in-depth look at how the lives of these men evolved.
This study found that the quality of their relationships with others mattered more towards their happiness and health than just about any other factor. While we often seek money, fame, and career achievement as lifelong goals; our relationships have the biggest effect on our happiness and health. On the flip side, loneliness kills. Being frequently lonely can be as bad for you as smoking 15 packs of cigarettes a day.
D&D used to have the reputation of being for basement-dwelling social misfits and yet the relationships we built around the table will matter more for our happiness than our careers, our income, and our general popularity and fame. The relationships we build while playing D&D are the exact thing we should be seeking to make us happy throughout our lives. I am never so happy as I am playing D&D with my friends and family.
As we get older it's hard to find the sorts of friendships we had while we were younger. Time pressures, career pressures, and the pressures to start a family can get in the way of building and developing the meaningful friendships that create such happiness in our lives. Many of us move away after college, losing our physical connections to friends we had while in school. We also fill our time with jobs, career growth, and building a family. It becomes harder to find the time to get together with friends. It doesn't help that bullshit feelings of masculinity gets in the way of adult men finding friends.
We also lack the context we once had to help us make friends. What do we do when we get together? What do we talk about? Work? Kids? Politics? The weather?
If only we could find a context around which we can get together with our friends on a scheduled time, relax, joke, enjoy ourselves, and share fantastic stories; maybe even stories that go well outside what our own reality looks like.
If only there was a way...
Playing Dungeons & Dragons sounds just about perfect. I can't speak for everyone but I know that I am happiest when playing D&D with my friends and family. Having a regular D&D game gives me a purpose for getting together regularly with my friends. Scheduling and setting aside a regular time to play D&D helps likely leads us to greater happiness and health throughout our lives.
If we find ourselves moving to a new place, we can use our love of Dungeons & Dragons as a way to find new friends in the area. We might visit and hang out at our friendly local game shop or join up in a local Adventurer's League game. We might use a variety of tools to help us find and maintain a D&D group. If you're willing to be the dungeon master (and I hope you are), it's even easier. There have always been more people who want to play D&D than are willing to DM. With the new D&D Essentials Kit you can play with a single player and a single DM, although more players mean more friends and friendships are what it's all about.
Just like our human need for social relationships to be happy and healthy in our lives, we have other instincts that push us away from that benefit. What if our group isn't as good as another group? This problem likely falls under the fear of missing out, a social anxiety that drives us to be where others are. The internet exasperates the problem by showing us idealistic situations that we wish we were in (often not nearly as good as they seem) and making us believe we're seeing the typical D&D game. What would it be like to be at Matt Mercer's game, we imagine? We imagine it must be the most incredible experience in D&D we can imagine. In reality? It's probably a lot like every other D&D game, just with a lot of cameras and 15,000 people watching. I'm not saying Matt Mercer's game isn't awesome. It is.
So is our own game.
Unless something is seriously wrong with the game, playing D&D is pretty great. We might have to fine tune things. We might have to find the right people to play the sort of game we want to play. Overall, though, D&D games are all pretty awesome.
Instead of worrying whether some other game is better than our own or some other group of people are better than our group of people; let's remember that our group is pretty great and love the ones we're with. Chasing someone else's inner ring is a fool's game. Just ask CS Lewis.
"What did you think? We were just gonna sit in my basement all day, play games for the rest of our lives?"
When Mike says this to Will in Stranger Things Season 3, it's hard not to hate the scene, hate Mike, and even hate the show. Until, of course, you realize that the Duffer brothers knew exactly what they were saying and why.
Of course you can sit in your basement and play games the rest of your life. Maybe you'll even upgrade to the dining room.
Finding time to play D&D is important. It's as important as finding time to eat healthy and exercise. It's probably more important for your happiness than trying to boost your career or make more money.
Feeling guilty about playing D&D is like feeling guilty about going to the gym. It can be as hard to find time playing D&D as it is to find time to exercise. Finding the time to play and the people to play with is likely the hardest part of D&D. For your happiness, though, it's worth the effort.
While writing this article I asked Twitter how people managed to keep regular games going. Many ideas and trends came up. We can learn how best to get more D&D into our lives from the experiences of others. Here are some of those trends.
Run Games Twice Monthly. While most D&D players tend to play D&D weekly (according to my flawed surveys and polls), many respondents said it was easier to keep a twice-monthly game going than a weekly one. Regular habits tend to stick and a regular weekly game is more likely to keep going than a twice-monthly game but if twice-monthly fits into our lives where a weekly game does not; we're better off with that than nothing.
Play with the family. Many respondents described playing D&D with their spouses and children. It's much easier to fit our games into our lives if our family is involved. You don't have to negotiate with your spouse for a night off to play D&D if your spouse is at the table with you. I'd also bet that playing D&D together brings couples closer together as well, just ask the folks at D&D Duet.
Play online. Being able to play online has been a critical factor for many people to keep a regular game going. Playing online means no worries about location dependence or travel time. For many people it's the only way they would be able to get together to play D&D. Discord, Roll20, and Fantasy Grounds are all popular ways to play D&D online. Here's an article on Shared Experiences for Playing D&D Online and another on Playing D&D over Discord.
Be flexible with your number of players. In the article Finding and Maintaining a D&D Group I recommend keeping a stable of players including six main players and two on-call players who can fill in if someone's out. This has worked well for me for a decade but it isn't always possible. Staying flexible with the number of players required to run a game helps ensure those games still happen. How few members can you have at the table and still run a game? How many is too many? If you have a wide margin on both ends of this spectrum, you'll be more likely to run a game. Three to six is my personal preferred number.
The D&D Essentials Kit now gives us the ability to run a game with as few as one player. That adds a tremendous amount of flexibility. Using the companion rules in the Essentials Kit and the follow-on adventures means you could run all of Tyranny of Dragons with just one other player.
Prioritize D&D. Many respondents mentioned that prioritizing D&D was critical to maintain a regular game. Given the science of happiness and health and its clear tie towards positive social interaction, one could argue that finding the time to get together with friends to play D&D is as critical as finding time to exercise. Negotiating for a night to get together with friends and play D&D can be critical to our happiness long term. Even better, find a way to bring friends home and play with friends and family together.
When we look at the science of what matters in our lives; what really has proven to bring us health and happiness; it isn't money, it isn't fame, it isn't our careers. It's our family and friends. It's building and maintaining positive relationships in our lives.
If you're reading this article, you probably already love D&D. You might not realize just how much you love it. You might not also consider just how important it can be. We love it, yes, but that might not be stating its importance enough.
D&D might be the key to our lifelong happiness.