Work, Rest, Play

October 22, 2014

How finding balance is key to happiness

Work-Life balance is all about finding happiness and fulfillment. This is a personal and subjective topic and the right balance is different for everyone. This kind of balance is not a 50/50 split, where you spend half your time working and half your time not working. There are many things to consider when you search for your own work-life balance.

What causes our work-life balance to go awry? The idea of losing focus and allowing your life to become unbalanced is a relatively new concept. Modern day work life has changed drastically in the last 20 years:

Global economy – The business world is much bigger than it used to be. Our global economy means that work hours are not limited to 9 to 5 anymore. Now we must accommodate west coast clients, or partners and customers overseas.

Financial reasons – Finances are tight for everyone but is wasn’t until around the 1980’s that Americans began to live with such heavy amounts of debt, particularly credit card debt. Many people would like to work less and be home more but keeping up with their accumulated debt won’t allow it.

Technological connection – Finally, technology is more invasive and prolific than ever. Almost everyone is available anywhere at any time via mobile phone, text, email or another form of instant message.

Studies have shown that as many 17 million Americans believe their lives are out of balance because of work. When you work too many hours, or thoughts of work prevent you from being present in your social and family interactions your life is probably out of balance. Excessive work can lead to many physical, mental and emotional problems. Many overworked people complain of insomnia, weight gain, backaches and headaches, irritability, anxiety, depression, insecurity and lack of focus.

On the other side of the coin, many people find much fulfillment and satisfaction in their work life. For these people working 60 hours a week is not a hardship. At work we have the ability to create things, make change, achieve goals and solve problems. People who don’t have enough work in their lives suffer as well. Without a certain level of contribution, people suffer from low self esteem and self worth, depression, anger issues and boredom that can drive people to destructive behaviors.

One key to achieving a work-life balance is control. Research shows that the happiest people are busy without feeling rushed. Feeling rushed means you feel out of control. When people feel out of control they feel anxious. To have control over your work, you have to know what your priorities are. What is most important to you? And what is the most important thing to do now?

Very often we rush through our day, harassed, put upon, and reacting to everything outside ourselves. Remember that you are in control. You can decide whether to put out that fire or let it burn. Awareness of your decisions is a good step in the right direction towards taking back control of your day. That ringing phone is for the caller’s convenience. It is their priority making the call, not yours. You choose whether to answer or let it go to voice mail. Your inbox is another example of a tool for someone else’s convenience. Before solving other people’s problems ask yourself this important question:

What is the most important thing I can do right now?

Ask it several times a day and make your decisions consciously. Remember that you can NOT do it all, and not everything is high priority for you.

Another step to gaining a work-life balance is to set boundaries and do your best to honor them. If Sunday’s are family dinner day, honor it without exception and do not allow work interruptions. Give your full attention to this day and the people with whom you spend it. Sometimes it isn’t a matter of spending more time with the people you love, it’s increasing the quality of your time and attention.

Work life balance is a relatively new concept that comes to us because of an increasingly connected and commercial world. It is something that we all struggle with on some level daily. It’s not a simple subject with an easy fix. Remembering that you cannot do it all, that you must consciously decide what to do and to give your full intention and attention to what you are doing will help. Talking out your situation and circumstances can also be helpful either with a friend or with a professional. A counselor or therapist can help you realign your core values with the choices you are making to achieve a happier more satisfying life.

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