The Happiness Project

A chronicle of my attempts to test-drive every tip, principle and scientific study that promotes happiness

In Which I Fail, Yet Again, To Keep My Personal Commandment: "No Calculation."

Do you have a problem with score-keeping and calculation?

Abacus2

Assay: One of my most important personal commandments -- and one that I struggle with constantly -- is No calculation. It’s meant to remind me not to keep score, not to stint on love and generosity, not to keep track of who’s done what. This commandment is based on an observation by my spiritual master St. Therese of Lisieux: "When one loves, one does not calculate."

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I remind myself, “No calculation,” when I find myself starting to start to bargain or trade or keep score – and I broke this commandment just this weekend.

Earlier in the day, I’d been on a panel at a conference at Harvard Business School, and I’d just arrived home after a four-hour train ride from Boston. My older daughter had gone to a birthday party, and my husband or I needed to go out into the cold night and retrieve her.

The question of who would make the trek hung in the air. My husband said reluctantly, “I’ll go pick her up.”

This is where I broke my commandment. I wish I'd said, “Oh, thanks so much! After that long train ride, I don’t feel like going out again. I really appreciate it.”

But instead, I said defensively, “What have you been doing for the past three hours?” Meaning, you’ve just been relaxing for the last several hours, so really, you should do it. That’s score-keeping: I did this, so now you have to do that. (Or, you got to do this, so now I get to do that.)

He said, “I’ve been taking care of everything here. You’ve been sitting on a train.”

Fortunately, I recognized my mistake before the conversation devolved into a fight about who had had a less taxing afternoon and therefore “should” do this chore. After all, he's already said he'd do it.

I realized that by suggesting that my husband “should” do this task, I was undermining his generosity – turning his offer to do the pick-up into an obligation he “had” to do, instead of treating his offer as a thoughtful gesture he’d made for my benefit. I was invoking calculation, even though he'd already volunteered!

I backtracked as best I could, to show a different kind of reaction. It's much more pleasant to feel grateful for a nice gesture than to squabble about the score.

Now, it’s true that every relationship involves some calculation. It wouldn’t be fair for one person to do everything, and the other person to do nothing. I’m not sure how I would view this commandment if I thought my husband would take advantage of it. In my relationship, though, things tend to balance out evenly, and the atmosphere is much happier when I don’t keep score, when I don't calculate, but just try to do the loving thing.

Do you have a problem with score-keeping and calculation? I wonder if it is related to the craving for gold stars. Which I absolutely, positively have.

* My friend Susan Cain has a fabulous new blog, Quiet -- "the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking." I was so pleased to see her post, Why you don't like being teased, where she picked up the conversation I'd started here, on teasing. A really fascinating subject.

* Want to get my free monthly newsletter? It highlights the best of the month’s material from the blog and the Facebook Page. Sign up here or email me at gretchenrubin1 at gmail dot com (don't forget the "1). Just write “newsletter” in the subject line.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project, a book and a blog about her adventures learning to be happier.

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