How Focusing on Mundane Household Tasks Can Make You Happy

Self on 06.28.11
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Photo Credit: Katie Morton

Have you ever felt that a messy kitchen illustrates the monotonous melody of your day-to-day? I know sometimes it feels that way to me; I often wish I'm poolside on a lounger with an umbrella drink rather than loading goopy cutlery into the dishwasher. Especially when I clean up one household mess, only to turn and witness yet another tedious chore blossom in front of me like a black, thorny rose bush that requires constant pruning.

There's good news afoot. The truth is, we can be happy while focusing on daily household chores. Surprisingly, it's the act of wishing ourselves away to another time and place that makes us unhappy, not the chores themselves.

Harvard University researchers Matthew A. Killingsworth, PhD and Daniel T. Gilbert, Ph.D found that, regardless of the activity, when subjects were focused on the task at hand, they were more likely to feel happy than if they were distracted or thinking about something else.

In an article by Jeffrey Rossman, Ph.D called 5 Ways to Focus Your Wandering Mind, MSNBC reports:

"The research also points to the importance of mindfulness, an intentionally generated state of focused attention that also boosts happiness. In the last decade, neuroscientists have discovered how living mindfully in the present re-wires our brains for joy.

Over time, practicing mindfulness increases activity in the left-prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain most active in happy people. We all have the potential for clear-minded happiness, but in our high-distraction culture, many of us have to work at developing it."

Some of the helpful tips in the article include arranging your schedule so you can work on single tasks for long periods of time, and focusing on uni-tasking while avoiding multitasking.

Tsh Oxenreider of Simple Mom writes on the mundane, daily grind of raising a family:

"Most of life is day-to-day survival - everybody's is, really. I don't think we're made to handle action and adventure nonstop.

I often find myself wishing my life were more adventurous, but as soon as conflict heads my way, I'd rather have the simple liturgy of laundry. No life is grind-free, whether that grind looks like dirty diapers or tossing a ring back into the fires of Mt. Doom."

This morning while I stripped the bed and pulled off the umpteenth pillowcase, I caught myself feeling annoyed and wishing I was at the pool. When I consciously brought myself back to the task at hand and focused on the arm strength it took to yank a jersey pillowcase off of a cotton pillow, I daresay that I might have actually enjoyed myself.

I'm considering how less fantasizing about the pool and more doing -- whatever needs to be done, while focused -- will make my summer feel more fulfilling.

Notice I didn't say "no pool." Let's not get barbaric here. Summer should still be enjoyed, but while enjoying it, let's have this happiness lesson work both ways: when we're at the pool, let's not worry about the messes at home.

I'm certainly going to change my dirge to a happy ditty and embrace the mundane. When we willingly throw ourselves headfirst into the grind, we might actually crack a smile.

Katie Morton is the founder of The Monarch Company. Get a FREE copy of her eBook, 10 Steps to a Blissful You, to get started on developing extraordinary willpower for life.

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