READ - The importance of work-life balance and how to easily achieve it today.
8 Minute Read
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What is work?
Work is defined in the dictionary as “an activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.” Modern Philosopher Alain de Botton expresses it as what “distinguishes life in paradise from the world that we know”. As members of a consumer driven global economy we inherently see work as a combination of both, a necessary act we perform daily which enables us to live the life that we desire.
So why is it that career crisis, burnout and stress related to work (and the health issues related to those psychological factors) are at an all time high? Why is it that even with billions of dollars being spent on workplace wellness and mindfulness annually that job satisfaction is at an all time low? Why is achieving a work-life balance so difficult?
Why is our work killing us?
The problem with our work isn’t the role we are performing or why we are doing it, as these are factors we are aware of when taking a job. You would have taken your current job for a certain reason, reporting on the first day with true optimism of the outcome 9 out of 10 times. While we have a picture of what performing this role will look like, often because we haven’t done it before there is disconnect between how we perform our role on a daily basis and how it “fulfils us”. Now self fulfilment means many things but essentially it is the feeling of a life well lived. One where we have done the things that we love, that creatively excite us. This is longing for self fulfilment that causes the chasm between a life enhancing career and a life of work toil. Think of this as the work-life gap, with this gap only bridged with the attainment of work-life balance.
Michelangelo and Di Vinci were the visionaries and creators of the perfect work-life balance. In being commissioned by the church to perform respective pieces of “art work”, they were paid for being clever and doing what made them happy. This is an idealisation regarding work that we still hold today due to the thriving self help sector and advances in technology which have been advertised to open up the world for us, flooding us with endless possibilities of working options. There is an important difference however in the pace and space when Michelangelo and Di Vinci lived and the pressures of modern working society.
Michelangelo and Di Vinci weren’t subject to the 20th century notion that working harder and longer illustrates a seriousness about work, a thought process that was created in conjunction with the industrial revolution. Without back breaking deadlines and the financial pressures that saddle people working in the 21st century, they didn’t have to turn in 10 hour days week after week if they didn’t wish (for example, the Sistine Chapel took 4 years to paint). This allowed work to be an endeavour that was creatively fruitful and served the end purpose of providing for ones needs, both familial and financial. This gave them important “work-life balance”.
Now days with the industrial revolution and consumerism heavily embedded in our society, it is much more difficult to have these financial and creative needs met by our jobs as we feel like they should. We aren’t able to stretch our creative legs at home as we are burnt out by the time we get there due to our exhaustive schedules. This often leads to our work roles not living up to our lofty expectations, creating disappointment in our vocational situation. Consequently, there is an experienced reduction in our personal happiness which in turn leads us down the road of physical deterioration and possible depression. In 2017, Healthline listed the physical effects of depression to be insomnia, increased pain, trouble with memory and an increased risk of heart attack - all physical risk factors that can increase the chances of death.
The chemical connection between health and happiness.
The physiological importance of happiness on our health cannot be understated as there is a direct correlation between how we feel and what happens to our body. When we are unhappy our brain emits elevated levels of chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can lead to high blood pressure and blood sugars. Additionally, this can cause insomnia, fatigue, a lower libido and weakened immune system resulting in a sub-optimal physical self and researched reduction in life expectancy.
On the contrary, when we are happy our brain is flooded with chemicals such as Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin. These happy chemicals help boost productivity and peace of mind. These also negate the affect of the “unhappy” chemicals which impact our physical self, causing us to be more healthy.
What isn’t commonly known is that the same chemicals that flood our system when we are happy, leading us to be more healthy, are also present when we are being creative. Large quantities of norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, anandamide, and serotonin flood our system when we are in a creative state and can act as a “work-life hack” to make us healthier. These chemicals will also boost our productivity levels and lead to us associating our work with good feelings, reducing the rates of burnout and increasing personal satisfaction with our work. It is these feelings that indicate an ideal work-life balance.
The “work-life” Happiness Hack
Finding happiness and thus increased wellness at work can be helped by commonly implemented factors such as increased salary, flexible hours and added benefits. However, the truth is these factors are external and dependent on the companies we work for. This gives us less control over our own feelings. These external factors also only provide us with the illusion that we have more time to do the things we enjoy. It is doing those things which truely impact our happiness, giving us the important balance we strive for in our work.
So if you want to stop your work from killing you and find a “work-life balance”, the step you need to take today is to find something you really enjoy doing and incorporate it into your work time. It is imperative that this is seperate from your leisure time at home (removing the blended work-leisure dynamic is a must) as the brain must chemically associate work with pleasurable feelings to experience a true health benefit from it.
Start with 10 minutes of drawing, composing music, playing an instrument (anything you find relaxes you and puts a smile on your face) in your lunch break. This will be your chemical adrenaline shot you need to begin feeling better straight away. This will also save you from those with a traditional mindset which may be slow adopters in this work-life philosophy. By removing the stressors associated with work you can begin to impact your health easily from today. As you start to feel better and your productivity increases, talk to your supervisors about making this part of your scheduled work time (it helps to show your subjective and objective achievements over this time). If they aren’t receptive, then it may be time to take the steps necessary to quit your job and find true control over your situation.
Let me know in the comments below the success you have in implementing this work-life hack and share with those that may find benefit in being more creative at work. I appreciate your stories and am excited to hear the differences you or someone you know have made! Did you know that finding this important work-life balance can also help you reduce pain?
For more personalised advice on how to feel more fulfilled by achieving your ultimate work-life balance, connect with me here. I love being part of your personal journey and creating your optimal health program.