How Can You Take Joy From Joyless Tasks?

Every day, we are faced with tasks we don’t want to do. Washing the dishes. Shopping for groceries. Doing laundry. Preparing for a work presentation.

We do these things because they need to be done in order for the rest of our life to go smoothly. The dishes need to be washed so that there are clean dishes to eat off of later, and so that there aren’t dirty dishes in the sink. We do laundry so that we have clean clothes to wear. In order to get that raise, we prepare the presentation.

The you in the present does these things so that the you of the future will have a better life.

But the fact that we are doing things that are done due to necessity and not because you actually enjoy them means that life is filled with drudge work. These tasks don’t bring you happiness. They don’t bring you joy. But they have to be done.

How can we make these mundane, unpleasant tasks ones we actually enjoy? What makes a boring moment a pleasant one? How can we get the most out of life, and appreciate all that we do, even things that are otherwise dreary? How can you take joy from joyless tasks?

Related questions: Is happiness the most important purpose in life? How can we maintain wonder? How can we appreciate life more? What are you doing to make the world a better place?

9 thoughts on “How Can You Take Joy From Joyless Tasks?”

  1. I enjoy bringing order to chaos. In fact, chaos makes me anxious. So when I have multiple joyless tasks in front of me, I think of the list of things to accomplish, and I think of it as a bunch of disorder in front of me. This is something I get to remedy; in fact, something that will make me feel better.

    Surprisingly, I actually find it harder to barrel down on joyless tasks when there is only one of them to get done. In such a case, I project, “What will I feel like when this is done? Accomplished!” Sometimes that’s enough to get me going. If not, I usually end up procrastinating.

    1. At brunch, several people mentioned that they get such a joy from crossing things off a to-do list that it makes such lists fun, even if the individual items on the list aren’t. That seems akin to your sense of creating order from chaos.

      1. Yes, this is me. The idea of completion, and feeling like I have accomplished something. Feeling like I am a functional person…it really is a good feeling.

  2. I went to a brunch this morning where we talked about this question. As a group, we came up with several different strategies for trying to make the mundane daily chores more fun. Or at least tolerable.

    * Gamify your tasks

    Studies show that humans respond well to game situations, which is probably explained by evolutionary psychology. Try to apply this principle to the things you don’t really like to do. For example, assign each task a point value. The more you dislike doing something, the greater the points. Set a daily score goal, and see if you can beat that score. Or time how long it takes you to do something you don’t like, and then the next time, see if you can improve on that time.

    * Combine things you don’t like with things you do

    We called this the “whistle while you work” method.

    * Do it with a buddy

    People often have a “workout buddy” that they go to the gym with. Doing it with someone else provides motivation and accountability that you wouldn’t get from doing it alone. But we don’t apply the same idea to other areas of our lives.

    One person had an idea that seems like it is actually going to happen among this group: a clean out your basement dinner. A date is chosen, and on that date, anyone participating takes a “before” picture of a messy basement (or attic, or any storage space), and the after cleaning it up, takes an “after” picture. Then all participants go out to dinner together, and compare pictures. There was even a suggestion of making it a “progressive” dinner, where everyone goes from house to house, eating dinner and admiring each clean-up job.

    * Use chemicals to alter your mood

    The most frequently mentioned chemicals of choice were alcohol and marijuana (recreational use is legal here in Massachusetts). Obviously this should only be attempted where safety issues can be addressed. No drinking and driving, for instance. But a little something to help lighten the mood can be effective, if applied appropriately.

    * Think of worse things you are avoiding instead

    One person suggested that when she finds herself unhappy to be doing something, she just imagines something even more boring or unpleasant, and then then the current task doesn’t seem so bad. Another person noted, “My house is never so clean as it is at tax time.”

    * Take a moment to appreciate your tasks

    For example, if you don’t like grocery shopping, be grateful that you are not going hungry. If you don’t like cleaning you home, be thankful you have a roof over your head. If you have to take out the trash, reflect for a moment that you have such abundance in your life, etc.

      1. Thanks, Michael. Yes, being thankful works wonders. As I said before, saying grace before meals makes me appreciate how it got to my table and creates an awareness of those who are going hungry.
        (Also makes the food taste better. 🙂

    1. Lee, the mood-altering drugs raises a red-flag with me, having seen lives ruined by addictions to these substances. Besides, when the effect wears off, you’re back where you started from.

  3. I’m reading about the Rule of St. Benedict, which was written about 1500 years ago. (don’t hold me to the date). One of Benedict’s rules, still in use today, is that everyone must share in the manual work of the monastery. In case you’re not familiar with the Benedictine Order in the Catholic Church, they founded at least 3 colleges in Minnesota that I’m aware of.

    Two things impress me about this (everyone sharing in the manual labor) . First, it keeps everyone humble. There is no upper and lower class. This was news to me. I was raised to think manual labor was less valuable than “white collar jobs.”
    So, now I’m trying to do my share of the grunt work around my house and in my community. Who knows, it may involve less sitting and actually be good for my health, not to mention make me more appreciative of all workers who make our world function every day. People like grocery story clerks, truck drivers, construction workers, plumbers, carpenters, and so on.

    So, no job is “beneath us”, if it’s honest work. And one more thing I learned from my spouse: “worst first.” I wish I could say I always do the worse thing first, but I’m slowly learning.

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