Happy Monday! Hope everyone had a relaxing and/or productive weekend. Today I’d like to address the issue of everyday happiness.
I recently read Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington. It made me feel a lot better about my move towards balance, but also gave me some food for thought. While some of the things Huffington discusses seem intuitive, she backs it up with data, personal experience and social wisdom. I highly recommend it to anyone battling stress, or just looking for more balance in their lives.
It seems that people everywhere are writing more about “dropping the busy excuse” and redefining themselves and their priorities. I’m wondering where I fit into this equation and what I can do to enjoy my life and bring more meaning to the things I do.
In a world where our motto is, “work hard, play hard!” is our happiness at risk?
Huffington talks about the importance of exercise, meditation and reassessing our priorities. The main focus of her book (as obviously stated in her title) is on redefining our notion of success. Our society defines success in metrics like power, money and having the reputation for being efficient, intelligent and willing to sacrifice everything to get the job done.
However, sometimes it’s important to take a step back and decide what is important to you. Maybe money isn’t everything. Do you want a healthy body? Do you want a social life filled with people who know you? Do you want stimulating conversation? Do you want to spend time
with your family. Sure, it’s possible to have some of these things and still work a ninety-hour workweek and travel to business every week. But before sacrificing certain things, think about what your goals are. If your primary goal is to earn six figures, or make partner by thirty-five, then sure, go ahead and put in the hours. However, that might not be your ultimate goal. And if it isn’t, then it might be time to reevaluate some things.
For me, personally, I’ve realized it’s the little things that count. Come pay day on Fridays, I don’t suddenly get overwhelmed with joy, or feel like, “Man, I’ve really achieved something here.” Instead, I am happy when I am with my close friends or family. I’m truly at peace when after my practice at a yoga studio. I feel refreshed when I take a long hike or see the ocean. I don’t feel that working long hours makes me happier – instead that kind of lifestyle only increased my anxiety. I worried about money more. I worried about how people perceived me. I worried about not having time for things I enjoyed, or canceling on friends because I had to work extra hours. I created completely unrealistic schedules and plans for myself for when I get home from work. And then I feel completely crappy about myself for failing to get all those things done after work, and instead passing out by ten thirty so that I can get up for work at five or five thirty.
When I was working twelve hour work days, I wouldn’t even have the energy to watch a tv show by the time I got home. Showering was the highlight of my day. I told myself that I didn’t have time to exercise. I didn’t go outside because I couldn’t afford to take a lunch break. I didn’t see the sun because I got to work before the sun rose, and I left way after the sun went down. I would spend more time driving to and from work in traffic, than I did awake at home, let alone with people I cared about. I came to feel like if I took a day off over the weekend that it would just be that much harder to go back to work on Monday because I had experienced a moment of freedom.
Time To Change
There has definitely been a shift in my young adult life from being a complete workaholic – I would have given absolutely everything to get to the top and to be recognized – to realizing that what matters to me is spending time with people who care about me, and building a life that is sustainable and filled with joy. Working seventy or eighty hour weeks with no breaks or time to see the sun was not sustainable for me. I tried it, and in the end I was so miserable that making more
money to sacrifice my mental and physical health was not best for me. I felt that I was giving up my best years for something that would not be there for me in the end.
Thankfully, I reevaluated my life and decided that it would never be worth working that many hours to give up on living. I started working less hours. I started walking for half an hour at lunch. I returned to my habit of going to yoga in the evening. I went back to making plans with friends, instead of constantly feeling guilty for canceling.
Happiness in the US
So, after eagerly reading Thrive in two days, I wanted to do a bit more research on what makes us happy, what makes us live a more fulfilled life. And just who is happy anyways?
Studies have shown that the US is behind other modern countries in terms of people’s happiness. “The U.S. came in 17th among 156 nations surveyed. In the top 10 are much of Europe plus Canada and Australia. Mexico and Israel, countries not always known for lives of ease, are happier than we are, and the U.S. is only slightly ahead of Venezuela.”
What do these countries all have in common that the US is missing? “[These numbers] emphasize that while the most cheerful countries on the planet are also some of the wealthiest, income is a less important contributor than things like personal freedom and social supports.”
In my opinion, we have shifted our values and reprioritized our lives to fit demanding jobs, succumb to pressure or just to keep up the competition. How often do you hear people brag about how “busy” they are? I’m lucky – my friends make time for me, but how often do people cancel on you for reasons like, sorry I was stuck in a meeting, or sorry I’m exhausted from a long day at work. I’m guilty of that too. And I’m working really hard to make up for it now.
How often do friends tell you they’re having anxiety issues from working long hours, or having to work late because everyone else is still at the office?
Taking Steps Now
I personally think that we in the US are much too hurried to enjoy life. Unlike our European, Canadian and Latin American friends, we rush from here to there. The rise of WALKING while texting accidents should be a clue – look AROUND you! Enjoy your life.
When was the last time you sat down to eat your dinner, instead of eating it standing up or at the tv because you’re too tired? Do you cut out exercise or hobbies because you’re too tired? Do you get enough sleep? These were all things that I noticed were slipping in my life – and I had to make a conscious decision to reprioritize.
For instance, I got a glorified pedometer to document how much activity I get, and the quality of sleep. I started out thinking I was getting enough hours, only to realize that I was getting five or six hours maximum! I put my foot down and started setting an alarm for myself so that I knew that it was time to wrap up what I was doing and go to bed. I feel really proud of myself for completely turning around my sleep time – I now average at just around eight hours a night!
Another aspect I’m also working on in my life is to remain active. The culture in my profession is not to take breaks. It is also to work longer hours. So when I first started forcing myself to take lunch breaks and walking, it was hard. I had to fight with myself about getting up, about being seen in the elevator bank by supervising attorneys. Would they think I was lazy for leaving the building? For getting some sunshine? But after making it a habit, I’ve come to realize that I am much more productive when I’ve taken breaks. I’m also much happier, and feel less drained at the end of the work day.
The third problem I noticed with my unhealthy work habits was that my social life went down the drain. So I started having lunch with friends once or twice a week. I also made sure that the friends I value knew it. I started calling them more regularly. I got back to making time for them during my weekends. Sure, there are still times when I have to take a step back and be honest with myself. Will it be healthy for me to stay out tonight? Sometimes, I have to put my foot down and have a weekend in – to get the proper sleep I need, or to have time to cook healthy meals for myself. And thankfully, my friends understand that I am still working on finding a healthy balance.
So for me, the moral of the story is to relax and let yourself enjoy the little things… be it time with your friends, time outdoors, or… moccasins.
I have by no means achieved total balance in my life, but I have been asking myself tough questions. What makes me happy? What stresses me out? There are good and bad forms of stress, and when you are
constantly anxious about squeezing a billion things into a 24-hour day, that is not a good thing.
The conclusion I’ve come to is that I agree with Huffington. I’m over sacrificing my health, and youth for work that makes me miserable. It’s time to take my life into my own hands, and find the peace and true happiness I deserve. I’m not saying I’m unhappy, but I do think that there’s room for improvement.
Have you ever had the kind of job that pressured you to sacrifice a lot more than you were willing to give? Do you think you have enough time off? What priorities have you reevaluated?
Please comment, share your thoughts and let me know what you think. Please help me keep this a positive forum, though. I am so excited for some debate, but let’s respect each other please. I reserve the right to monitor and delete inappropriate posts. Thanks in advance!