Mutual Benefit Negotiation is the Secret to Happiness

"A fiery stenographer, poet, sometime actress and onetime employee of the USPS dead-letter office [created a game in 1903] that mirrored the vast economic inequalities of her day. She called it the Landlord's Game," writes Mary Pilon in today's New York Times article Monopoly Goes Corporate.

Last week's post on Monopoly, the board game, analyzed the likelihood that the top 1% of the AmLaw 200 would willingly give up economic power to remove barriers to women's advancement. Not likely, I concluded, particularly in light of recent research on the effects of stacking the deck in favor of one Monopoly player over another. The player born on third base doesn't stop to address the obvious fair "workplace" or meritocracy issues. Rather, all the "winners" acted like entitled jerks even though they knew the rules favored them to win.

Today we learn that Monopoly was not invented by an unemployed man during the Great Depression but by the firery feminist poet. She invented the game because she "wanted to teach about the evils of monopolization." So please add this name to your list of the tens of thousands of women ignored by our history books: Lizzie Magie.

Because She Negotiates teaches mutual benefit negotiation strategies and tactics, we're especially pleased to learn that The Landlords Game was designed with two sets of rules - one that led to wealth and one that led to happiness.

Unfortunately, then and now, the rules that won the nation's heart were the ones whose object was to get rich quick. 

What Lizzie couldn't have known when she invented the game is that scientists would one day learn that people who pursue happiness by being generous and collaborative are not only happier than those who depend upon the acquisition of expensive stuff for their pleasure, they live longer too.

In Looking to Genes for the Secret of Happiness, gene scientists explain that their research on gene activity demonstrates

our genes can tell the difference between a purpose-driven life and a shallower one even when our conscious minds cannot. Of course, genes cannot actually perceive or judge our behavior, so the shift in gene expression is very likely driven by an evolutionary strategy of working for the common good.

Lizzie must have been disappointed to learn what she likely already intuitively knew - "the more vice-laden monopolist game resonated with earlier players." This preference, which became the only choice Milton-Bradley offered to American children was "a practical demonstration of land-grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences."

Those outcomes and consequences? All you need to do is take a look at today's economy. A jobless "recovery." The rich growing richer at an astonishing rate. The "underclass" ridiculed for failing to achieve that which American business is no longer interested in offering - work at a living wage. A "class struggle" the GOP blames on the Democrats as they fight to keep economic safety nets and public services in place while the "winners" slop up rewards of a system that becomes more zero-sum by the day.

Still. I do not give up hope. We're actually better informed today than we were in 1903, not to mention the fact that women hadn't yet "won" the vote. At least the business schools and social science researchers are hip to the damage caused to the single human body when it serves only itself.

Generosity and purpose make us happier. They also help us live longer.

We may not have had a choice to shun zero-sum games when that was all American game makers were offering. Today's kids, including American girls, are being offered a huge array of choices, among the most exciting - a game created by Stanford-educated woman engineer, Debbie Sterling, Goldie Blox. Goldie Blox is a new construction game for girls that teaches them elementary engineering skills.

From 1903 to 1913, from Lizzie to Debbie, we've come a long way. We women have always been here. The long road has been toward recognizing and implementing our unique contributions in every field, every sector, every profession and every business.

A Sunday morning shout-out to Debbie Sterling, who you can see speaking at TEDX. Our future is in very, very good hands, especially if you buy your daughter Goldie Blox here.