Joy

I bought a lawnmower a couple weeks ago and I love it. It is a super, sweet $40 push mower that doesn’t require any gas or electricity. Instead, it is powered by calories and it is perfect for our small yard (1,200 square feet is small, right?). I could have opted for a more advanced lawn mower, but that would have been crazy. Why would I spend more money on an object that reduces my pleasure? Particularly one that is going to have continued costs like gasoline or electricity?

What it comes down to, I guess, is that I get joy out of mowing the lawn. In fact, I get joy out of all of the yard work. Trimming trees, raking, sweeping the driveway, planting a garden, etc all bring joy into my life. Not only do these activities get me outdoors into the sun (get that D!) and fresh air, it provides an opportunity for me to meet my neighbors. If I was pushing some loud, gas-powered beast or paid someone to mow my lawn then I wouldn’t be in a position for small talk and neighborly bonding. Yard work provides an environment to meet people without it being super awkward.

It is also pretty good exercise. It certainly isn’t an aerobic exercise, but there are health benefits to neglecting automation and getting your hands dirty. Cooking, cleaning, and house maintenance can all be accomplished more quickly with advanced technology, but they also create missed opportunities to become more healthy. Little micro-exercises of chopping and cooking my own food, cleaning my house, and working in the yard burn a few extra calories and keep me up and active throughout the day. Instead of sitting at my computer all day and letting machines do my chores, I have an excuse to take a break from the screen and get moving.

Now, I’m sure for some people the idea of getting out into the yard a few times a week sounds worse than rusty razor blades being pressed into their gums. So, where does this difference come from? Is it something that we just chalk up to the variety of humans and how our experiences (including joy and sorrow) are objective? Or can we learn to get joy in things that we used to hate?

Personally, I think we can train our minds to get pleasure from things that we used to hate, and that is actually something we should pursue if those things create a healthier life. One of the things that struck me about the individuals in “Born to Run” is how often they described 100-mile runs in almost child-like terms… they felt joy and excitement, it was a fun activity. I’m sure we all remember running as fast as we could when kids and ecstatically screaming in joy, but somewhere along the way we lost that. I don’t really know why, but I hope I can get that joy back for things that make me healthy.

Fresh fruits and vegetables, meeting new people, exercise, and yard work can all be sources of joy… not just because of the result, but actual joy in the moment. We can practice mindfulness during these experiences in a way that enrich our lives and make us better people. At least I hope so, I’m going to try and reset my views on things that I “hate”. Instead of saying “I hate running” I’m going to try and find that childlike feeling of running as a form of play. That type of negative mindset limits my life options, and I like to have lots of options. I don’t think dislike or pleasure in a particular act is something that is determined for us by our genetics, our minds (and all the emotions that come with it) are within our control. I can learn to love running, just like I now love Brussels sprouts and yard work.

I wonder what else I “hate” I can learn to love… maybe I should give pickles and Seinfeld another chance.

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