BENNER: Happiness is possible even as the losses stack up

A person wiser than I recently explained the difference between happiness and joy.

Happiness, he said, is internal. It comes from how you feel about yourself, your family, your friends. You literally can’t buy that kind of happiness.

Joy, on the other hand, is external and temporary. You can derive joy from a good concert or play or meal or movie. But once it has passed, the joy quickly fades.

I’ve given that little philosophy lesson some thought over recent weeks.

You see, my wife and I have season tickets to both the Indianapolis Colts and Indiana University football.

I’m not sure how many of us are caught in that particular crossfire of double-barreled futility, but it can’t be many. A few thousand, perhaps.

As this is being written, the Colts are winless and coming off not only one of their worst losses, but one of the most lopsided defeats in NFL history, that 62-7 embarrassment at New Orleans.

Meanwhile, the Hoosiers are 1-7, with the lone victory coming over South Carolina State University. In back-to-back road games, IU gave up 59 and 45 points at Wisconsin and Iowa, respectively.

Needless to say, if we are seeking joy from either our Colts or IU football experiences, we’re not getting it. But if we allowed our happiness to be defined by those experiences, we would be pretty miserable people right now. I’m glad to say we’re not.

I share in the frustration of thousands of Colts fans—especially those who do not recall the miserable seasons pre-Peyton Manning—who are having difficulty coming to grips with the Colts’ so suddenly being one of the NFL’s worst franchises, instead of one of its best. And, yes, Manning’s absence is only part of a much larger problem.

Clearly, head coach Jim Caldwell, who is a well-intentioned, nice guy, is a Dead Man Walking. He, and likely most of his staff, will be gone at some point. Owner Jim Irsay has to know that even if Caldwell hasn’t lost his team (debatable), he’s certainly lost this town.

Not so clear is the football management future of Bill Polian and his son, Chris. Bill’s expertise in building the Colts is unquestioned—the record speaks for itself. But they live in a what-have-you-done-for-us-lately world. Irsay has some difficult decisions to make.

That said, unlike some (many?) Colts fans, I am not angry about the Colts’ demise. Disappointed, yes? But outraged? Hardly. I have no intention of cashing in my chips or not going to games. As long as we can afford the tickets, we will support the team, because it’s our team from our town.

Besides, you think I’m going to jump on New England’s bandwagon?

Ditto with the Hoosiers. For better (fall Saturdays in Bloomington) or worse (on most occasions the games themselves), we nonetheless support the football program because it is the one that represents our university. While we can’t directly affect the team’s success, we think it is important to be in our seats on game day. That’s what we can do.

And the joy of the rare victory, while euphoric, is only temporary. The happiness of being with family and friends for a tailgate or a nostalgic walk around campus is lasting and something we take from every trip (even while listening to a downcast postgame report) back home on State Road 37.

Here’s another way of looking at it … my sorriest day as an Indiana alum was not when the football team gave up 83 points to Wisconsin a year ago, but when we all learned that Kelvin Sampson had the basketball program headed toward probation.

Sure, I understand, it’s the entertainment business, and the NFL and Big Ten football are big-ticket items. And the more your teams win, the more entertained you are. That’s why the Colts have a waiting list (at least, they had a waiting list) for season tickets while sellouts at Memorial Stadium are rare and dictated not by the home team, but by the opponent.

Perhaps, as a paying customer, the ineptitude should make me apoplectic. And on occasion, I do become pretty steamed.

But, like the joy of winning, the pain of losing is only temporary.

Happiness is a better deal, and in my wife, my children and grandchild, my friends, my faith and my livelihood, I have it pretty darn good.

So I’ll hold that thought … because it keeps my mind off the scoreboard.•


Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at He also has a blog,

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