It’s easy to get overwhelmed sometimes. Between work, family, volunteering and taking care of life, there are simply not enough hours in the day. When I start feeling burdened by those obligations, I try to “flip the script” and remind myself how lucky I am to have them.
There are people who dream of having challenging jobs, friends and family they love and who love them back, volunteer obligations for causes they care about, and interesting activities to fill their days. These burdens are actually benefits, so when I start to feel overwhelmed, I like to remind myself of that fact.
There may come a day when my world isn’t so busy and I’ll look back on these days as some of the happiest in my life.
Just as the “bad” things in my life are actually indicators things are good, some of the things we think are wonderful might not be so great after all. Or, more accurately, by making life easier, they may be depriving us of something good.
Take the dishwasher. Mind you, it’s one of the greatest inventions of all time and you can take mine from my cold dead hands. But, every once in a while, I allow myself the luxury – yes, the luxury – of washing a sink full of dishes by hand. I like to go all-in, too. I fill up one sink with warm, soapy water and another with cold, clean water. And I get to work.
There’s something oddly meditative about washing dishes by hand. The slickness of the suds, the squeak of a freshly rinsed plate, the gentleness of the dishtowel, and the satisfying “clink” when you put the dish on top of its stack.
And it’s a distinctly uni-tasking chore. You can’t check your phone (without ruining your phone), you can’t read a book, or fold laundry. You really can’t do anything else but stand there and wash, rinse, dry, and put away dishes.
Even one of my favorite new conveniences – grocery delivery – means I spend less time at the grocery store. On the one hand, hooray! But on the other, the grocery store is where I often run into friends I haven’t seen in months, discover a new cheese or sample a life-changing sushi roll, or simply see something on the shelf that I had forgotten to put on my list but that I definitely needed more of. As much as I love having groceries delivered to my home, I know that I’m missing out on some important benefits by opting for expediency.
As a society, we’ve done an excellent job of making our lives more convenient, and, for the most part, that has been to the good. Not having to dedicate our entire lives to the act of hunting, farming, cleaning, baking and laundry has freed us to achieve feats our ancestors never dreamed of, from space travel to waffle fries.
But we’ve lost some of the benefits of inconvenience and labor.
As this excellent New York Times article points out, “Convenience is all destination and no journey. But climbing a mountain is different from taking the tram to the top, even if you end up at the same place.”
Most of us, in fact, go out of our way to add inconvenience to our lives, in the form of hobbies. I have a friend who has a garage full of woodworking tools, which he uses to produce, among other things, handmade pens. Clearly, he could buy a high-end pen in a fraction of the time and at a tiny percentage of the cost of the equipment, but it’s a hobby he loves, and the pens reflect the time and attention he gives them.
We don’t have to inconvenience ourselves anymore for most of life’s necessities, but, clearly, some part of us still craves the satisfaction that comes from difficulty.
I’m not suggesting any of us give away our dishwashers, or any of the other conveniences that make our lives easier. But we should, at least occasionally, take a hard look at the tools and processes we’ve made an integral part of our lives and question whether they’re all that indispensable.
Just as the burdens of our life are sometimes really gifts, our “gifts” may sometimes be curses.