Continuing on the theme of my last post (http://tinyurl.com/7369hee) which was about ways to enjoy your work more, I’ve been thinking about work/life balance and how it relates to happiness. I believe that people who are engaged at work and who have a good work/life balance are more likely to be happy than those who don’t, but I don’t believe that those things are synonymous with “happiness”.
In the UK we’ve recently seen the government looking for ways to assess how happy we all are (http://tinyurl.com/72gefxg) and having seen this article and others, I am sure that going somewhere where everyone else is happy/engaged or doing something that happy/engaged people do is not the way to become more happy/engaged ourselves – it could actually be bad for us.
Happiness is an elusive state and while we can strive to achieve goals around engagement, productivity and work/life balance, trying to be happier is a bit like trying to stick jelly to a wall.
A recent study confirmed my reservations: “A Dark Side of Happiness? How, When, and Why Happiness Is Not Always Good”. Here are some of the results (remember, these are all based on empirical research):
- When people are primed to value happiness, they tend to experience less happiness in positive situations (like watching a happy movie).
- When people place a higher value on happiness, they tend to report feeling lonelier.
- People who actively try to avoid negative feelings end up demonstrating more symptoms of depression than those who don’t.
- People who experience happiness too frequently tend to demonstrate less creativity and adaptability and greater risk taking and mortality.
So the research suggests that the pursuit of happiness may actually make you less happy.
When we achieve a tangible goal, i.e. one that is SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound), we often experience a state of happiness, or at least, satisfaction. However, happiness is just not SMART. It is a state of being that ebbs and flows and just because we achieve it once, doesn’t mean that we will keep it and be able to tick it off our list of achievements.
Finally, I’ve got to the point: Steer clear of looking for ways to be happy. Instead, look for ways to achieve measurable goals, like ticking everything off your “To-do” list; completing that important task as well as you can; understanding your priorities and sticking to them or spending the weekend with your family, as you agreed.
In that way, you may find that you sneak up on happiness, or that happiness sneaks up on you. Don’t look it in the eye, simply enjoy it while it’s there and then look for the next opportunity to happen upon it.