Last week I heard a piece on the radio about the Ikea Effect. Basically, the Ikea Effect says that labor done by the purchaser adds to a higher valuation of the product. Food manufacturers could easily make cake mixes that require only the stirring in of water, but instead, they formulate the product to require eggs: cracking an egg and mixing it into the batter makes the consumer feel that she has baked a better cake. When we work to build a bookshelf (however crooked it turns out) we value it more than a similar shelf that we haven’t made. This concept expands beyond consumer satisfaction. We get attached to things that we work hard at, whether it is an idea, or a model airplane.
I take this further. I believe that work increases love. Do I take such good care of my chickens because I love them? Truthfully, that’s only part of it. The flip side is that I love the work of taking care of chickens. Today is a beautiful, mild winter day. I am out in the barns, wearing just a sweater, my eyes squinted against the brilliant white light bouncing off of the snow. I clean and fill waterers, add sand to the dust bath, cut the goats a pine branch to snack on, toss alfalfa to the Gems, and fill the oyster shell dispenser. I sweep the barn floor, and scoop dog poo off of the shoveled path. My animals appreciate my efforts. We interact and talk to each other. This work feels satisfying. I feel useful. It gives my day value. The love for my animals increases because of the work that I do caring for them. We don’t love in a vacuum. We love within the context of our interactions and effort expended. The love that I get from my animals doesn’t satisfy me half as much as the work that I do for them in the name of love.
Sometimes, the Ikea Effect doesn’t help the animals. Do people change their schedules and lives to accommodate the neediness of their rescue dogs out of love for those dogs OR do they love those dogs even more because they require such effort – and therefore make excuses for their pets and don’t, in the end, alleviate the issues? When a chicken is separated from the flock for an illness, and we spend days nursing her back to health, does she then become a favorite – and sometimes isn’t put back into the coop because we feel good about the intense caring that we are doing?
Lately, I have been dreaming about owning a horse again (thanks to a ride on a most wonderful Ranch Tennessee Walker.) I imagine outings on horseback in the woods (always in perfect weather and without deer flies bothering us), but mostly I daydream about the work. The grooming, the mucking, the saddle cleaning. I think about the smell of the barn and the quiet time caring for a horse. Maybe this is why I’m not one of those people who spend hours on the internet looking at cute pictures of kittens (or chickens.) Separated from the work of love, it’s fleetingly interesting, but ultimately not satisfying. Put a manure fork in my hand. That’s love.
(If you liked this essay, please consider sharing it by using the icons on this page.)