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Make Things Better by Making Things Harder

So you’re stuck at home. Maybe you’re working. Maybe you’re not. Maybe you’re considering having a cocktail at ten in the morning. Maybe you’re considering making a fort out of all those spare rolls of toilet paper you fought a Thunderdome Karen at Costco to buy. You just want some semblance of normalcy. Well guess what: you can have it!

Not really, we can’t exactly make things purely normal, but there are ways in which we can recreate normalcy in our homes. We simply must make things a little bit harder.

I know, that’s counter-intuitive. Things are already hard. Why add an extra burden? But I’m not talking about losing money or getting sick or feeling scared. I’m talking about modifying the things we do to make them worthwhile. Right now, you can shop by having things arrive at your door. You can eat in a similar way. Your entertainment comes on demand, just like your music and your video games. You’re reading these very words without any hindrance to doing so in any room of your house (bonus points if you’re in the attic right now. Wait, what are you doing up there? Stop reading and get down. Unless you’re hiding from your kids, in which case, there’s probably some old books up there. Have fun).

All of these immediately-at-hand conveniences diminish the joy they provide. I’m not saying you should only eat what you cook, though that’s not a bad idea, or that you should not binge-watch Tiger King (do it, it’s bafflingly brilliant). The things we love that we can no longer do required a bit of effort to accomplish, and so we can return to a semblance of normalcy by forcing ourselves to expend some effort to do the things in our homes that give us joy.

Miss going to restaurants? When you order takeout or delivery, which you should do if you can and tip well, set a plate. Fold a napkin and place the forks inside. Find a candle. Play some music. Set up a restaurant-like atmosphere in your home. Now, restrict your eating. If you ordered appetizers, like wontons with your Chinese or even breadsticks with your pizza, eat those first. Take your dinner in courses like you would at a restaurant, even if it’s all there and ready to eat.

Miss going to bars? Force yourself to only have a drink when there are others present. Get friends together on Zoom. Open a webcam group on Discord. Even if no one else is drinking, try and recreate the presence of others. You could even hang up a sign and tell everyone you’re serving a strange new IPA no one else can drink. They don’t have to know it’s just a Coors Light, and you might even get a few Kale Chips to join in.

Miss going to movies? Well, that’s simple. But don’t treat your movie downloads or streams like you normally do. Throw away the remote once you start a movie. Force yourself to watch the movie uninterrupted. Run to the bathroom during a lull in the action and ask your friend what happened, but be sure to whisper. Go ahead and make popcorn too.

By making things harder, we make things more worthwhile. The barriers of effort you put around the things you enjoy are like the borderlines of significance that separate a boring, mundane activity from something that will be joyful enough to get you through. Just because we can acquire instant gratification doesn’t mean we should. The delayed gratification is much more worthwhile. And that’s what normal life was before Covid-19 anyway, remember? We had to wait at a restaurant table for our food. We had to deal with crowds at the bar. We had no control at the movie theatre. Let’s bring that back. Let’s bring back normal. It’s not really normal, but it’s better than nothing. And it’ll make things better.