I’m old enough to remember when TV dinners were first introduced in the early 1950s.
These dinners were revolutionary at the time. They were packaged in aluminum plates with little compartments for the turkey, peas, mashed potatoes and dessert. Just throw these pre-cooked, frozen meals in the oven. Set them on TV trays, and you could eat a piping hot meal while watching television. And no dishes to wash! What could be better? My mom loved them.
We are engineered to find easier and more convenient ways of living, surviving and thriving. Rubbing two sticks together every time you wanted to cook something was just too hard and time consuming. Our ancestors kept looking for new ways to ignite flame.
Now we have electric and gas stoves that heat up at the turn of a switch. Time to do laundry? Just throw your clothes in the washer, and kick back while your clothes are cleaned. Wireless technology lets us warm up our cars from the comfort of our homes. This week, with all of the snow, those pre-warmed car seats were comfy.
In the 20th century, we found ways of automating everyday tasks that used to take a long time. In the 1960s, futurists predicted that automation would give 21st-century adults so much free time that we wouldn’t know what to do with all the time on our hands.
Boy, were they wrong! Indeed, post-industrialized workers are putting in more hours at work, even if they are putting in fewer hours keeping the home fires burning.
But can easy become too easy? Are there benefits for taking the more difficult, time-consuming path? Is there a down side to convenience? Below are some examples of when less convenient may be more beneficial.
Walking is better for you than driving everywhere. When I can, I like to walk to the post office to pick up my mail. It’s a 2.5-mile walk roundtrip that takes an hour. I also like to walk to the supermarket, another 2 miles roundtrip, when I just need a couple of things. Yet, when I do decide to hoof it to get something done, it seems I’m the only walker. Why walk, when you can drive? Take a look around, obesity is epidemic in the U.S. — the lack of walking as a means of getting somewhere is one big reason.
Home cooked food is better for you than prepared foods or eating out. I know, who has time to cook? But meals prepared at home from scratch are lower in salt, higher in nutrients and generally lower in fat — all better for your health. Fast foods are quick and easy, but often high in all the bad stuff for you.
Digging a deep hole is better than many shallow ones. It took me 10 years of practice to obtain my black belt in aikido. During this long, challenging path I made new friends, studied with inspiring teachers who were role models and developed a sense of competency that helped me become the person I hoped to be. There is no app, quick read or website that will do that. It came from perseverance, hard work and practice over many years.
Quick fixes don’t always hold up. Sometimes, as engineers will tell you, the simplest solution is the most elegant. But simple doesn’t always mean quick. Duct tape won’t always hold up when a more complex, time-intensive repair may be necessary. As a psychologist, many problems can be solved in several visits. But some adults hope one visit will solve years of distress. Making change is complex, and can take longer than anyone would want.
Showing up isn’t always convenient or easy. Showing up for your children, your partner, your friends, your family and your co-workers isn’t always easy or fun. Yet at the end of the day, it’s our relationships that sustain us, inspire us and give us meaning.
Paul Schoenfeld is director of The Everett Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health. His Family Talk Blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.