This past weekend, I played the game Hungry Hungry Hippos with my kids. This is the exceptionally straightforward game with four colorful hippos and a ton of marbles which create a lot of noise and chaos for about a minute while each player tries to gobble up marbles before the game comes to an anticlimactic end. My kids, who are two and five, find this game hilarious and (surprisingly) engaging. We played it on repeat FOREVER! Despite my effort to stay present in the moment with my kids, there was only so much hippo button pushing I could do before my mind started to wander. Right there in the midst of my approximately millionth game, I started writing this post in my mind. What life lessons can we learn from the game of Hungry Hungry Hippos?
At the end of one of the games, my five year old son had captured so many marbles that they were literally jamming the throat of his hippo. He had to open the hippo’s mouth and stick his fingers in to poke the marbles out. He was so happy and excited about each marble. To him they represented winning! Accomplishing his goal! In my moment of wandering thoughts it occurred to me: it would be nice if we could all be so happy that our “happy marbles” filled our entire body; for there to literally not be any room for even one more marble of happiness. So, I continued down my path of distraction and thought, “hippos, how do we fill up with happiness?”
I decided to examine the details of how to play the game and determine what actions were helpful and what were not. Here is what I learned about the best hungry hippo strategy. One sure way to lose was to hit your hippo button at super speed! You could actually push it so quickly that the mouth would never really even get the chance to open which, obviously, prevented the marbles from entering. Funny how this same concept can apply to life. When we are running so fast that we are not even taking the time to fully open ourselves to any experience, the happiness marbles cannot get in. Sometimes we move so quickly that we miss clear opportunities to catch happiness.
That leaves the question, how do you win? Thankfully (or not), my kids were content to play this game continuously so I had plenty of opportunities to focus on additional details. What I found is, you have to be intentional in your button pushing. Pay close attention to where the marbles are and fully hit your button when you see them rolling your way. Watch for them to bounce off other people’s quick button-pushing and then gobble them up. Strategic winning is achieved/accomplished by observing the movement of the marbles and determining the best timing to capture marbles coming your way. This too translates to life. Moments of happiness and excitement are consistently presenting themselves. If we are present in the moment and really take the time to see them, it is easier to catch them, to engage with these moments of happiness. We might see others running past these opportunities missing the chance for a bonus happiness marble. But, we can be intentional about taking the time to slow down and reach for all of the marbles that are rolling our way.
When my kids were finally ready to stop playing, I had one last takeaway. My two year old had lost every game. She is a little bit on the speedy button-pusher side and is easily distracted by the chaos and noise of the game. So, she would frequently end each round with just two or three marbles. But, guess what? She was just as happy as her brother who had the overflowing hippo. Now isn’t that a comforting truth. Sometimes life may send you a few less happiness marbles. But, we can still make the most of them. We can choose to find excitement and happiness in the marbles we do catch, even if it seems we have less than someone else. In the end, no one else gets to define what will make us happy. We get to decide that for ourselves. And my daughter was happy, round after round after round, with her three marbles. So, I am going to try to be happy on my three marble days as well.
Ultimately, the game was just for fun and these life lessons are just wandering thoughts of a semi-bored mom. But, sometimes little life lessons catch us where we least expect them. Just think, if I can learn about happiness from hungry hippos, I wonder what I will learn next? Bring on Sorry, Monopoly, or Connect Four. Adventure awaits.
Author: Jessica is a wife, mom, school social worker, and aspiring writer. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters.