Bill Gates's house is worth a cool $125 million. Jeff Bezos cashes in $1 billion a year in Amazon stock to fund his dream of sending people to space with his rocket company, Blue Origin. Clearly, both these guys could afford to hire someone to do the dishes for them.

But both billionaires still insist on scrubbing plates themselves.

"I do the dishes every night. I'm pretty convinced it's the sexiest thing I do," Bezos joked in a 2014 interview. "I do the dishes every night," Gates similarly revealed on a Reddit AMA the same year.

Are they crazy? Is this a plot for these titans of the universe to stay humble? While neither billionaire revealed the thinking behind his dish scrubbing, science suggests there are good reasons even the busiest (and richest) among us might want to do mundane chores -- and why those of us who can't get rid of them might want to rethink them.

Chores as meditation

Though it might be hard to believe at first, research shows that everyday tasks like loading the dishwasher and hanging out the laundry can actually be serious happiness boosters if done in the right way. One recent study taught volunteers to view doing the dishes as a chance to practice mindfulness by focusing on the present and the sensation of the suds, the warm water, etc.

After just six minutes of scrubbing, the meditative dishwashers reported feeling 27 percent less nervous and 25 percent more inspired. 

This probably sounds crazy to the great many busy professionals out there who would be thrilled to spend a little less time on housework, but the study isn't just one loony outlier. Meditation teachers have long insisted that focusing on mundane tasks can illuminate your inner beauty and calm the mind.

And if meditation teachers are too woo-woo for you, Wharton School professor and best-selling author Adam Grant has made a similar argumentexplaining why, despite much hectoring from enthusiasts, he has never bothered to adopt a formal meditation practice.

He hasn't started sitting on special pillows or listening to apps because he doesn't need to. He can (and does) practice mindfulness as part of his everyday life. "Mindfulness, as my colleagues and I study it, does not depend on meditation: It is the very simple process of noticing new things, which puts us in the present," he writes.

Chores as creativity booster

Now imagine you're a billionaire running a philanthropic juggernaut or one of America's most dynamic companies. Imagine the constant decisions, the cognitive demands, the jam-packed schedules, the endless worry about the future, Any brain, no matter how extraordinary, would need a break from that. Doing the dishes provides the perfect opportunity to let all that fall away and be fully present.

But that's not the only benefit of regular sink duty. Working that sponge can be an opportunity to focus on the now, but it can also be a chance to relax and daydream. And creativity experts say it's just this sort of loose mind-wandering that allows the brain to make some of its most innovate and unexpected leaps (which is why so many good ideas come to us in the shower).

So not only do Gates and Bezos get to slip in a bit of mindfulness rinsing plates, their nightly chore is also a valuable spring of creativity.

A takeaway for us non-billionaires

The point here isn't, as the tabloids would say, "Billionaires, they're just like us!" I would happily hand off dish duty to a paid professional in a heartbeat. But while no billionaire interview is going to make me like loading the dishwasher, Gates's and Bezos's devotion to the dishes does nudge me to rethink the many household tasks I can't get rid of.

You may hate folding laundry or tidying toys, but the fact these super-rich entrepreneurs hold on to such chores is a reminder that, if we get in the right mindset, these mundane jobs can actually be valuable opportunities for mindfulness or creativity. 

That truth probably won't make you jump for joy next time you roll up your sleeves to tackle a pile of dirty plates, but it should at least start you thinking about whether you're getting the most out of the chores that most of us aren't able to outsource.

Published on: Nov 1, 2018