It's probably human nature more than anything else that has us seeking out things that provide us pleasure as opposed to things that require us to expend a lot of effort and maybe cause us a bit of discomfort in the process. What was it that our parents used to say to us when we'd complain as kids about having to do our chores before being able to go out and play? "If work was fun, it wouldn't be called work,” one parent would typically say, while offering a quick wink to our other parent when they thought, wrongly, that we weren’t looking.
But work can and often is rewarding. Whether we complete a big project at work or beat our best-ever time in a 10K race, work and expending a great deal of energy can indeed be a source of satisfaction...fun, even. It can be an actual physical reaction, what with all of those uplifting endorphins pumping through our veins after a job well done.
Work can be therapeutic, too. Cleaning the house or doing projects around your yard can be good for your mental health. For me, having a freshly mown lawn is critical to my emotional well-being. (Although, if you interrogated me under a bright light, I’d come clean and admit that my wife loves the actual act of mowing the yard infinitely more than I do.) When the grass is getting long and unruly, my angst level rises. Consequently, when it's cut and nice and short, I swear my heart rate slows. But I'm still not fully at ease until I've weed-whacked around every bush, tree and landscaping brick on our property. If for whatever reason there isn't an opportunity to do so immediately after a mow, my blood pressure remains slightly elevated.
Inside, sweeping a floor that's obviously in need of it is a positive thing for one’s state of mind. Vacuuming a dirty rug can put a smile on your face.
But is a clean hardwood floor and freshly vacuumed rugs and carpet - no cat fur to be found - as good for the soul if you occupy your time with other matters while those tasks are completed? Is the satisfaction diminished if a machine does the work while you sit on the couch and surf the internet, or make supper, or write a column for the newspaper at which you work?
Our iRobot Roomba vacuum was delivered last week. After yet another friend's jaw dropped when my wife and I let it be known that we had yet to purchase a robot vacuum - they all enthusiastically clame, "It'll change your life!" - I pulled the trigger on the purchase.
I named her Rihanna Roomba. (I dig alliteration.) It's not like I had a choice; when you set up the iRobot app on your phone, you're advised to name it.
Then I put her to work. My wife was out of town, Rihanna and I had the house to ourselves, so I cracked open a cold one, grabbed my laptop to do some fantasy football research, and pressed "Clean" on her topside after she was fully charged.
Off she went, back and forth and back and forth, bumping into walls and furniture as her camera and electronic brain worked in tandem to slowly grow accustomed to our home.
I was intrigued. After only a minute or so I set my laptop aside to watch Rihanna work her magic. She didn’t protest. Her circular light went from white to a pulsating blue for a moment, and while her instructional manual stated that meant she’d found an area that needed extra attention, I think the blue light was Rihanna’s way of saying, “It’s OK, Mike, I don’t mind if you watch.”
Next, I brought her to the basement, fired her up, and returned to the main level to empty the dishwasher. Minutes later, my phone vibrated on the counter. It was the iRobot app telling me that Rihanna was stuck and needed my help. Rihanna, I’m coming! Hold on, girl! I bolted down the steps, jumping the last few from the landing, and heard her struggling mightily under a rack on which we stack towels. I pulled her out and she was covered in dust bunnies. I brushed her off with my hand, put her back on the floor, and she got right back to work. Her circular light once again pulsated a beautiful, deep blue for a fleeting few seconds.
“I know, Rihanna...I know,” I said, softly, in a large basement in which I was the only biological organism present. “It was nothing, but you’re welcome. Now be careful!”