Lighten the Load

Dennis Friedman

WE SPEND TOO MUCH time thinking about what’ll make us happy. We’re always looking for the next high. This morning, we plan our Starbucks coffee in hopes it’ll somehow makes us feel happy. If that doesn’t work, we look for something else, perhaps lunch at a nice restaurant or a weekend getaway to a favorite location.

Don’t get me wrong: There’s nothing wrong with trying to find happiness with these types of experiences. But I think we’re missing the other half of the happiness equation: We should also focus on what makes us unhappy.

I have to admit, I’m kind of a “glass half-empty” person. Maybe I focus on the pessimistic side of life too much. But it doesn’t hurt to take a daily inventory and ask yourself, “What are some of the unpleasant things in my life that I’d like to offload?” I think that, if we spent more time trying to eliminate the things that make us unhappy, we could lead more satisfying lives—an idea that’s backed up by academic research.

Do you ever wake up in the morning and think about all the unpleasant projects that are on your plate? Fixing the leaky faucet, painting the living room, cleaning the house, mowing the lawn and countless other unpleasant experiences all have the potential to ruin your day.

If we spend our money on offloading these nagging projects onto someone else, our daily lives would be enriched. We’d also have more time to enjoy the things that do make us happy.

I spent much of one day trying to fix a leaky 40-year-old outdoor faucet. I explored every hardware store in town looking for the right size washer to fit this obsolete fixture. After finally finding a washer that barely fit, I said, “Never again.” I’m not going to let these types of chores ruin my day. Next time, I’ll pay a plumber to fix the problem.

You won’t see me crawling under a sink to fix a leaky pipe, climbing a ladder to trim a tree, or mopping the floors and washing the windows of my house. Nope, I’m going to spend money and hire someone else to do that work. I only want to participate—or, preferably, not participate—in these unpleasant life experiences on my terms.

Meanwhile, pleasant experiences aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be. Don’t you dread the drive home from a weekend getaway, thinking about having to go to work the next day? It’s like a hangover from too much alcohol the night before.

Instead of spending money on dinner at a fancy restaurant, how about spending it to hire someone to handle an unpleasant chore around the house? I find avoiding an unpleasant experience can be just as satisfying as enjoying a pleasant one.

My new goal: Never again climb a ladder, hold a crescent wrench, push a lawnmower, pick up a mop or lift up the hood on my car. If I can accomplish this, I figure I’ll be on my way to finding true happiness.

Dennis Friedman retired at age 58 from Boeing Aerospace Company. He enjoys reading and writing about personal finance. His previous articles include Rescue DogLittle Jack and Cancel the Movers. Follow Dennis on Twitter @DMFrie.

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