Outsourcing Happiness

The inspiration behind this blog is the fascinating phenomena of social deception and how nearly all of us to some extent buy into wildly inaccurate perceptions on life, happiness, and success.

The deception is so effectively reinforced through our culture that it’s nearly impossible to break free entirely. Additionally, to do so would be to openly embrace judgment from others as extremely weird, as does the crazy guy who lives off the grid in a homemade shanty town with high-end windmills and every version of farm animal and Frankenstein vehicle near my home. Even the most enlightened among us will often put up a front of some normalcy to avoid this scrutiny.

The Lap of Luxury

One of the most pervasive social beliefs is that we will be happier when we have to work less; when we can pay others to do more for us. If only we had more money, we could stop doing _________ (fill in the blank with your most hated task, whether it be your job, cooking, cleaning, laundry, answering to a boss, etc).

The household with a maid, pool boy, landscaper, personal chef, and a chauffeur is associated with immense, desirable luxury: “the state of great comfort, ease, and wealth”.

Surely we would be happier if we could spend our time otherwise dodging labor. Why would any rational creature expend effort when they can attain their needs and desires otherwise?

Turns out human beings have successfully co-existed because we are not rational creatures. In fact, many studies have confirmed that most creatures who share this planet with us (with the one exception of the domestic cat) behave irrationally when it comes to work.

Contrafreeloading

Animal psychologist, Glen Jensen, coined the term contrafreeloading in 1963 to describe the phenomena whereby animals who are given the option of free food or food they must work for will opt for the challenge. I was introduced to this concept in a fantastic book, The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely, which I highly recommend.

As it turns out, the DIY high is hardwired. Freeloading is incredibly unsatisfying. We get immense meaning from our labor, whether we are cleaning out the cupboards, mowing our own lawn, or crafting our own dinner. Each time we open the repaired drawer, eat a piece of homemade bread, or walk into the bathroom we tiled ourselves, we revel in a fulfilling sense of self-efficacy.

Effort and accomplishment, even if just an organized closet, is associated with meaning, pleasure, and pride. We can easily suck all of that satisfaction and fulfillment from our lives by delegating ownership of our day-to-day tasks to someone else so that everything that surrounds us is due to their effort, creativity, and persistence, rather than our own.

Is it any surprise that the extremely wealthy who have bought into the luxury lifestyle are often taking heavy doses of antidepressants, abusing alcohol or recreational drugs, engaging in adulterous affairs with turnstyle partners, and otherwise overdosing on any external attempt to create meaning in their lives?

As a society, we are consistently shocked that the affluent are so unhappy despite long-standing documentation that, once our basic needs are met, increased cash is no longer correlated with increased happiness. Yet, we are programmed to associate the two.

The 70/30 Ratio

Consider an example from the book. Rational behavior would suggest: the easier, the quicker, the better. When Betty Crocker began offering instant cake mixes, sales were dismal. However, their biscuit and pie crust mixes sold very well. When Betty Crocker removed several dry ingredients from the cake mix and instead required the consumer to add those ingredients themselves, the cake mix sales took off and those dry ingredients remain omitted today. Why?

We take pride in what we make ourselves. The original instant cake mix was so quick and easy that we couldn’t take any ownership in having added water and popped it in the oven for the correct amount of time. It wasn’t our creation, it was Betty’s. Once we had to crack some eggs and add a few ingredients to the mix, it satisfied our psychological need for pride in the final product.

Researchers have even pegged a target ratio of convenience to effort at around 70/30. We need to inject at least 30% effort into the process in order to claim the outcome as our own and enjoy the satisfaction of our labor.

The Takeaway

Next time you grumble about pulling weeds or consider hiring out a task you would normally perform, consider the net impact to your day-to-day happiness. Put in the full effort for an outcome you can truly enjoy.

Whenever possible, engage in creation in your day-to-day environment, especially at home. Tend a garden, make a rocking chair, construct a shed, or create some art for your own walls. Don’t farm out your happiness, no matter how much is in your bank account.

2 Comments
  1. There are definitely some tasks I love to DIY. Changing my scooter’s oil is cool and satisfying. Changing my car’s oil is a PITA, somehow. I am fine letting my mechanic deal with that. I suppose the amount of oil from both vehicles is fairly close to the 70/30 ratio.

    I have a procrastination problem with a lot of DIY tasks. Once I actually do the task, I realize it’s no big deal, and I was procrastinating over nothing. But the lesson doesn’t stick. I still avoid the tasks that must be done. Maybe you have a great post on procrastination in the works? 🙂

    1. I had to look up PITA to figure out what it meant 🙂 I have quite a few PITA items that I like to procrastinate on myself, especially laundry and organizing. I have attempted to engage in these activities when my brain goes numb from staring at the computer with some preliminary success.

      It feels good to complete a hands-on task in a few minutes and then my brain is fresh and ready to focus on the intellectual, indefinite tasks that caused numbness in the first place.

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