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Husbands, Scouring the Toilet Will Make You Happier… Really

New research out of Cambridge University in the U.K. finds that husbands who do households chores are happier and experience greater wellbeing.

This finding surprised the researchers, who hypothesized that wives, not husbands, would be happier if their husbands did chores. Instead, they found that the husband’s chore contribution left the wife’s happiness “unmoved,” but did make the husbands themselves happier.

Researchers speculated that husbands who do chores might have discovered the joys, and art, of the “quiet life,” and the finding reflects this.

Or it could be that the chore-performing husbands simply get less friction, conflict and argument at home from their wives because they help out with chores, and this accounts for their happier state. The chores “buy” them a happy contentment with their wives, indirectly.

Although if that were true, then you’d think that wives would be happier without the conflict and argument, too, and the study doesn’t find a similar happiness boost for the wife of the chore-dedicated husband.

It could also be that doing household chores is actually a proxy variable for a husband not having to work so many late hours at his job that he has no time for chores. In other words, doing chores could be a proxy for the pleasure of having enough leisure time to do them in the first place. Husbands who perform chores might be the same group that has enough leisure to do non-chore, and more unequivocally pleasurable, activities, like playing tennis or having a drink with a friend, and these activities, not the chores, per se, might be contributing to their happiness.

Are chores actually a selfish pleasure, rather than a case of taking one for the team? Maybe Tom Sawyer’s hoodwinked, fence-painting friends knew what they were doing, and the joke’s on Tom. They took on the fence-painting chore as a selfish pleasure, perhaps as a soothing, meditative exercise.

That could be an explanation. Chores aren’t inherently so loathsome, and can provide spaces for satisfaction and meditation. I wrote some time ago that we need a “slow domesticity” movement, similar to the “slow food” movement. We need to cultivate a quality of mindfulness and appreciation for all of the minutiae, details and everyday “life maintenance” chores that unavoidably occupy a fair amount of our waking lives. After all, the chores need to get done. We might as well find a way to extract some pleasure out of them.

But personally, I favor a mate selection hypothesis for the chore-happiness link. Maybe this finding attests in miniature to how a liberated, thoroughly modern marriage, where husbands and wives share a whole variety of tasks, from chores to breadwinning to bread-baking and childrearing, is more inclined to happiness than those with very traditional gender role segregation. Husbands’ chore contributions are just the tip of the iceberg of marriages that are willing to be more flexible, tolerant, imaginative, and valuably adaptive in their views about how to manage work, family and life. They roll with the times and circumstances. To survive and thrive in marriage: evolve.


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