Balance is about more than just work and time

Working with a new client the other day, talking about her work and life, I could see it coming. Before the words had even formed on their lips, I braced myself for what I knew was coming…and sure enough, the next thing out of her mouth...

“The rest of my life is fantastic – but I’m SO miserable at work. I need to get back some work / life balance”.

Now don’t get me wrong, I adore working with all of my gorgeous, magnificent, perfectly imperfect clients and helping them with all aspects of their lives (of course!). But I AM getting sick of the bag of bull we have been sold about how there should be “balance” between work and life;that the two are somehow separate and have no influence over each other – and that if we feel unhappiness in one or both of these areas then it’s because of a lack of WORK / LIFE BALANCE (which is popularly accepted code for, “you’re working too much and not spending enough time at home”). It’s just not true.

Balance is about more than just work and time

The truth is, that our lives and our work are inextricably bound, they influence and inform each other. We introduce ourselves to strangers with our job title. We search for meaning, validation and life satisfaction through our work. We care passionately about the success of our careers and we spend most of our waking hours there. We work weekends, we check our emails on our smartphones and we are always connected and available for the office. The lines between work and home life are blurring and most people don’t even bother trying to keep the two separate any more. So what is this idea of “balance” that we’re all obsessed with…and is it even relevant in modern life?

It's more complex than we think!

So I said to this client who wanted more work/life balance… “Cool! How’s your happiness at home? In your social life? Your love life? Your finances? Your relationships? Your health? Your spirituality?” Now THAT’s a conversation starter! Because here’s what I know for sure (just like Oprah). Your happiness at work is a direct reflection of your overall happiness! It’s not about finding a balance between work and life…it’s about finding more chances to be happy in the sum total of our lives. I do not believe that simply “working less hours” is enough of a solution to help us suddenly regain our happiness at work, because it does not address the underlying issue of overall life satisfaction. So when someone says that they want to be happier at work, I’m instantly curious – how full is their happy tank?

According to research by Dr Sonja Lyubomirsky, a leading researcher in the science of happiness and professor at the University of California,we have the ability to influence about 40% of the difference between ourselves and others, in terms of our subjective daily experience of happiness. (She attributes the other 60% to a combination of genetics and environment). That’s pretty cool, right? It means that 40% of the difference between your own personal happiness and someone else's, is “up for grabs” and is something that you can intentionally influence. Now here’s the interesting bit – happiness is an OVERALL life experience, not something that can be segregated into different areas of your life and blocked off. Happiness (as well as sadness) has a tendency to creep into all the nooks and crannies of your life. So if you are experiencing UN-happiness at work, you have a unique opportunity to increase your happiness quotient in other areas of your life to increase your overall state, and thus feel happier at work, EVEN IF NOTHING THERE CHANGES.

And we haven’t even got to the good bit yet – what’s the 40% that you CAN influence in your work day? Hmmmm……

Instead of going to work miserable every day, just waiting for 5pm to roll around, you can take active steps to increase your happiness so that a day at the office doesn’t equate to a day from hell. OK, so there are some things you can’t influence much – your boss’ attitude, your co-workers and customers’ moods, your environment, the type of work you do and sometimes to a large extent the hours you work. But you can ALWAYS find a way to influence your SELF – it may not fix everything, but boy, that 40% can make a hell of a difference until your “dream job” falls in your lap!

  • Is your dark or crowded work space dampening your mood? Set a new routine and get out for a quick walk every lunchtime with a friend instead of hiding in the airless lunchroom. Exercise boosts your mood in 6 ways! (Stryker, 2013, 6 Reasons Why Exercise Makes You Happy, www.MindBodyGreen.com )
  • Noticing the noise in the office a little too much? Add meditation or calming music to your home life to dial back the noise-related stress in your life. Reducing noise stress can help alleviate anxiety. (Tunajek, 2010, Noise, Stress and Wellness, www.aana.com)
  • Feeling trapped by the city? Make an extra effort to get out into nature every weekend. According to research, spending time in a natural environment makes a measurable difference to health and wellbeing!(Carstens, 2013, Into the Wild, Nature & Health Magazine)
  • Feeling sluggish, head-achy or foggy at the desk? Challenge yourself to drink more quality, hydrating drinks like water or mineral water with mint or lemon, green tea and the occasional fresh juice. Dehydration influences not just your mood but also cognitive processes, making work harder – as if you needed that! (Naurt, 2013, Dehydration Influences Mood, Cognition, www.psychcentral.com)
  • Is the isolation of your desk job leading to feelings of disconnection? Put in the effort to catch up with a friend or spend quality time with family at least one night per week. Research shows a clear link between quality and frequency of social connections and our overall health and happiness. (http://repository.cmu.edu/psychology/274/)
  • Losing interest in repetitive tasks or processes? Set challenges for yourself at work and look for ways to branch out and learn new skills on the job. Some of the most engaged, happiest workers in the world do just this to stay motivated in repetitive line work roles for years at a time.(Csikszentmihalyi, FLOW, 2008)
  • Looking for more meaning in your life? Take up volunteering for a cause you care about or practice random acts of kindness It works – measurable increases in overall happiness occur when we give to others! (Dixon, Kindness Makes You Happy and Happiness Makes You Kind, Greater Good Science Centre)

I’d love to hear from you – what do you do at work, or in your life, when you need to Get Your Happy On?

Want to stay in the loop with new articles, courses and events?

Subscribe below!

100% NO SPAM guarantee. Unsubscribe anytime with 1 click.

About the author 

Catherine Bell

Catherine is a true believer in the power of people to transform organisations - and the world. An inspiring Speaker, Facilitator and Coach, Catherine has spent more than 18 years of her career leading teams and individuals to extraordinary performance. She has worked as a Consultant, Trainer and Human Resources Manager with some of the largest service organisations in the world, both in Australia and internationally.