One obstacle to happiness is feeling resentful when another person won’t do his or her share of the work. In Happier at Home, in my description of the three kinds of “happiness leeches,” this kind of person is a “slacker.”
Resentment comes when you feel angry that you’ve been treated unfairly. But what is “fair” when deciding who should do what work? As I thought about my own (not infrequent) bouts of resentment, I identified
Six Facts About Shared Work
Fact #1: Work done by other people sounds easy.
How hard can it be to take care of a newborn who sleeps twenty hours a day? How hard can it be to keep track of your billable hours? To travel for one night for business? To get a four year old ready for school? To return a few phone calls? To load the dishwasher? To fill out some forms?
Of course, something like “performing open heart surgery” sounds difficult, but to a very great degree, daily work by other people sounds easy—certainly easier than what we have to do.
This fact leads us to underestimate how onerous a particular task is when someone else does it, and that makes it easy to assume that we don’t need to help or provide support. Or even be grateful. For that reason, we don’t feel very obligated to share the burden.
Fact #2: When you’re doing a job that benefits other people, it’s easy to assume that they feel conscious of the fact that you’re doing this work—that they should feel grateful and that they should and do feel guilty about not helping you.
But no! Often, the more reliably you perform a task, the less likely it is for someone to notice that you’re doing it, and to feel grateful, and to feel any impulse to help or to take a turn.
You think, “I’ve been making the first pot of coffee for this office for three months! When is someone going to do it?” In fact, the longer you make that coffee, the less likely it is that someone will do it.
If one person on a tandem bike is pedaling hard, the other person can take it easy. If you’re reliably doing a task, others will relax. They aren’t silently feeling more and more guilty for letting you shoulder the burden; they probably don’t even think about it. And after all, how hard is it to make a pot of coffee? (See Fact #1).
Being taken for granted is an unpleasant but sincere form of praise. Ironically, the more reliable you are and the less you complain, the more likely you are to be taken for granted.