There are enormous and very clear benefits to automation. In fact, western civilization, and to a degree, the modern world, has been made possible by automation. Not only have we automated dangerous tasks such as mining, and repetitive tasks such as building cars, but we have also automated so-called “chores”. Instead of washing dishes, we automate it by using a dishwasher. Instead of sweeping or hoovering, the Roomba does the job for you. Instead of making a coffee, you press a button and all of the work is done for you.
The reason for this, we have been told, is so that we can focus on more important things. But what if the things that we are cutting out are the important things? I will look at two reasons this might be: The first is that if the important thing is doing something with someone, then that something can be anything. The second is that is it possible to find a state of flow in chores.
“Before enlightenment I chopped wood and carried water. After enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water.”
– Zen Proverb –
Chores as Bonding
This article on NPR talks about how to get kids to do chores, but as an idea, contains more than that. The concept here is the the idea of chores as something that needs to be done is misplaced and harmful. The example used is that by getting children interested in helping with chores, not seeing chores as a punishment but as something that needs to be done. Instead of rushing through chores while the kids are sleeping, the idea is that chores are the fun thing that you and your child can do together.
This idea stretches beyond the world of children. Chores as a calm activity rather than something to get out the way is really important. To be happy you can either do what you like or like what you do, and given there are certain things that need to be done no matter what, you might as well re-frame the activity to turn it into something you can enjoy. (Reframing will be the topic of a later article.)
Next time you “have to” do chores, decide to enjoy it. Smile at the dishes. Time to yourself to relax and focus entirely on something. Maybe you can even come to think of “chores”, or household tasks, as a form of moving meditation.
Flow in Chores
Having talked about Flow in previous articles, I will quickly summarize here: There are essentially two types of activity that make you happy. The first is physical pleasure like eating, relaxing after a period of stress, or sex. The second is flow. Flow is the state where all of your attention and focus is on that single activity. This can be a game, it can be work, it can also be chores. The point is that that whatever it is you are doing, it needs to be challenging enough to require all of your focus, simple enough for the to be a good chance of succeeding, and for there to be a fairly instantaneous feedback about how well you are doing.
When you look at chores as an opportunity for flow, it becomes pretty easy to see how they could be enjoyable. Challenge yourself to do them well and have a criterion for success in your mind. Just like work can be rewarding and enjoyable, so can house-work.
Chores aren’t a punishment. They are just something that needs to be done. We might as well enjoy them.