Those of us striving for optimal well-being and happiness are no doubt more than familiar with the buzz phrase “work-life balance.” It’s the notion that the two fall at opposite ends of the spectrum, representing unenjoyable but obligatory at one end and inspiring but fleeting at the other. The concept suggests that we find satisfaction when the two are in balance; we can’t have too much of either one. Too much work and no play makes for a crumpled mess and too much enjoyment and we’re criticized for not working hard enough; either that or we’re somehow cheating the system.
Our universe is built upon this idea of balance, when you think about it. The Chinese philosophy of yin and yang represent universal duality of two complementary forces acting in opposing directions. The presence of both of these yields something greater than the sum of the individual components. So is it that our lives, too, must consist of opposing forces? Can it be so that there is such as thing as too much good? Do we need a little bad in there to keep us in check?
I think it’s fairly safe to say that Monday morning in the average office is not usually the most inspiring of environments. Care-free creativity lies somewhere in the murky depths behind layers of caffeine and eye crust that make that relaxing Sunday morning in bed seem like a dream. You laugh at the contrast. This is a scenario all too familiar for many of us, but one that I wonder might be relevant somehow in the formula for happiness.
A new study has revealed that only one-third of Brits are happy with their work-life balance. That’s a terribly sad statistic, but one echoed around the world, including the United States. The common complaint uniting us is that we simply feel we work too much. As a result of spending so much time working, we don’t have time to spend on activities that we know make us happy, including socializing, exercising, and and indulging in hobbies that fulfill us. It’s important to emphasize this; it’s not that we hate our jobs, it’s simply that we work for too long.
The term “work-life balance” implies that work is not part of life; it’s simply something we do. And it’s a funny thing to ponder; this idea that for a substantial portion of our week we’re not actually living. For that reason, I strongly dislike the term and refrain from using it myself. To me, it isn’t healthy. To me, it rules out the possibility of being able to take pleasure from work. It’s like starting your day with the mindset that nothing good will happen. It’s an automatic write-off that we choose to embed within our subconscious.
Now, I know that not all of us have the glamorous jobs that perhaps we’d wish for in an ideal universe. I also know that the reason we call it “work” is because it is often challenging and can leave us full of headaches, anxiety and fatigue on a bad day. But I also know that bringing mindfulness into your work day can completely change your life and allow you to find joy from even the most mundane of tasks. Is it perhaps not a work-life balance that we need, but a mental balance?
Of course, I realize that no matter how much we practice mindfulness in the workplace, work and work alone will not fulfill all of our needs. No matter how lovely our coworkers, we need to see those friends outside of work. No matter how much we killed it during that presentation, we also need to invest our time in reading that book we’ve been recommended. We need time off work to give us variety, soothe us and challenge us in ways that our jobs never will.
We go through life being told that we need to pour a whole lot of energy into figuring out what our “dream job” is and then pay a whole lot of money getting a suitable education. But what if we’ve got it all wrong? This creates an enormous amount of stress on anyone, but particularly the young adults we drill it into most strongly; those who haven’t even discovered who they are yet. It drives us to live out of fear; fear of failure. How might things be different if we were told that instead of making it our sole goal to decide on our dream job, we instead focused on achieving balance, however that might look for each of us individually?
You will find satisfaction in a job that ticks at least some of the boxes. It’s important to remember that no job will tick them all. Maybe you work nights in a bar right around the block and this allows you to have your days free to work in a community garden. Or maybe you work for the family restaurant and as a result get the freedom to take long periods of time off to travel, which you love. Or maybe you keep doing those three days a week at the firm because it pays you well enough to spend the other four sailing or volunteering for that animal charity that you adore.
Balance looks different for all of us and it’s about time that we stop projecting our beliefs onto each other about how a successful life should look. That’s what makes society so fascinating; it is different for us all.
If you’re feeling like your entire life consists of all work and no play, here are some steps you can take to regain balance:
Commute by bike or walk if you can. This will allow you to get in a daily workout without it feeling like you’re putting in too much effort. And if you absolutely can’t do this, try your best to have two or three morning workouts a week. Exercise increases blood flow, which gives our brain more energy and allowing it to perform better. This act alone will make your workday easier.
Talk to your boss about flexi-time. Depending on the size of your company, you might be able to explore the option of switching to more flexible hours or working part of your week from home. This allows you to feel more in control of the work you do by adapting it to your life as you see fit. This has been shown to lead to greater happiness in the workplace as well as increased productivity.
Fill your day with friends. If you work near friends, make the most of your lunch breaks and the hours adjacent to your shift by grabbing breakfast, lunch, or an after-work tea together. If you’re both already in the area, this requires little effort and can really give you a burst of energy by breaking up the day.
How do you find balance in your work day?
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