Joel on Software: Controlling Your Environment Makes You Happy

One day, thinking about this problem, I noticed that one of the bathtubs-with-wheels had pretty lousy wheels that wouldn’t turn well. Sometimes this bathtub did not go where I pushed it, and bumped into things. This was a small frustration. Sometimes, as I was pulling the chain to winch up the bathtub, I scraped myself – just a little bit – on a splinter of metal on the chain. Another small frustration. Sometimes, as I ran with an empty bathtub to catch a dough emission about to fly out of the mixer, I slipped on a little bit of oil on the floor. Not enough to fall, mind you, just a tiny, small frustration.

Other times, I would have tiny victories. I learned to time the dough production perfectly so that fresh dough would arrive just seconds before the previous batch ran out. This guaranteed the freshest dough and made the best bread. Some of the victories were even tinier: I would spot a tiny blob of dough that had flung off of the mixer and attached itself to the wall, and I would scrape it off with a paint scraper I carried in my back pocket and throw it in the trash. YES! When slicing the dough into pieces, sometimes it just sliced really nicely and easily. Tiny moments of satisfaction, when I managed to control the world around me, even in the smallest way.

So that’s what days were like. A bunch of tiny frustrations, and a bunch of tiny successes. But they added up. Even something which seems like a tiny, inconsequential frustration affects your mood. Your emotions don’t seem to care about the magnitude of the event, only the quality.

And I started to learn that the days when I was happiest were the days with lots of small successes and few small frustrations.