Work-Life Balance Brings Happiness

Feeling grateful can be a challenge. Even with a satisfying and well-paying career it easy to get used to a certain level of success.  As we move throughout our careers whether it be in the public or private sectors, finding happiness can oftentimes be a struggle.

A lack of gratitude for one’s career plays an important role in how you view your overall happiness in life.  Once a certain level of unhappiness is reached, many people decide that it must just be their jobs that they aren’t happy with.  But this lack of happiness can often have more to do with a general inequity of life balance.

In today’s post I will discuss how achieving a well-balanced life is vital to your overall happiness and a feeling of gratitude towards your chosen career.  The typical cycle of gratitude is not very pleasant.  There is evidence that shows many people go through more than a decade feeling less than happy.

What’s The Norm?

Americans spend a lot of time at work.  Some people are fortunate to find a career that provides complete fulfillment while others merely tolerate what they do.  According to a 2015 Gallup poll, most Americans work an average of 47 hours a week.  That’s a lot of hours – almost 6 days of the traditional 8 hour day.  And this doesn’t include commuting time.

With all that time spent at work wouldn’t it be nice if you were happy with how you were spending your time? But even if you are in a job that you really enjoy, working in a career with great opportunities and benefits, does this lead to happiness?  Not necessarily.

What Is Job Satisfaction Anyways?

Most people are satisfied by the usual suspects.  Short commutes, plenty of breaks throughout the day, time-off, working with others, fulfilling work, benefits, and total compensation rank as some of the highest factors. This is according to Ran Zilca, Chief Data Science Officer at Happify, Inc.

Many people spend too much time seeking complete satisfaction with their career as their only source of happiness.   In this article, Mr. Zilca goes on to describe an interesting finding on happiness as it relates to age and career.  Regardless of one’s job, there are a lot of reasons to think that your happiness isn’t directly related to how good or bad that job is.

Rather, there is a natural “U” shaped happiness phenomenon as we work in our careers.  The peaks of the “U” represent the highest levels of happiness with a very big dip in the middle.

In the beginning of someone’s career – between ages 25-34 – there is a typical peak of gratitude related to landing a new job and a new career.  Many of the reasons for gratitude include positive work relationships, an easy commute, and time off.  It’s not hard to at least reasonably guess as to what might be going on.  I picture younger workers attending happy hours, maybe meeting up with coworkers on the weekend, and generally having a good time as a newly-minted young adult.

Eventually This Wears Off And Reality Sets In – At Least For A Lot Of People

For those between the ages of 35-44, there is a typical decline in gratitude, particularly in the area of work-life balance and time off. The career has progressed with additional responsibilities and many of life’s goals are being achieved.  Career, spouse, house, and family are now all delicately balanced on an ever-spinning plate.  There are feelings of being overwhelmed with expenses and just plain old being exhausted.

Instead of running off to catch the happy hour special, now the 35-44 year olds are running home to get back to all of their family responsibilities.  You would think that with all of this success would come gratitude, but the opposite is true.  There are so many things pulling at their attention; most probably have little time to feel grateful.  Who has time for that?!  And probably a lot of thoughts on “Why the heck can’t I just watch Netflix all day on Sunday?!”

In someone’s late 50s, finally the data points upwards in gratitude. That seems kind of old, relatively speaking, to finally be grateful, don’t you think?  At this age, there is some regained control over many of the factors causing stress and reducing happiness.  Family commitments are lowered with the aging of children or even adult children leaving the house and a sense of getting back on track financially (you can only hope) as one starts to near retirement.  Interesting enough, this group of workers is less occupied with finding new jobs or even wanting more time off.  (I’m not sure I understand the not wanting more time off part.)  With retirement on the near horizon, maybe having time off at work is less important – knowing you are about to have unlimited time off in the near future.

What Does All Of This Mean?

Unless you take specific action to change the happiness phenomenon, you will be destined to follow the path of the “U”.  This does not have to be your inevitable path.  No wonder why there are so many people aspiring to retire early, especially those who are in their early 40s believing the rest of their career will feel much the same!  Slogging through your 40s and the better part of your 50s waiting to be happy doesn’t sound like much fun.

Work: Unhappy at work? It might not be work’s fault.  By having a life outside of work, including hobbies and people you care about, you may just feel happier and more grateful for the career and job you do have.  Think twice before you fill your life up with work.

Finance: Making small sacrifices to achieve financial excellence may just make you happier and more grateful for your career.  I wrote this piece on why you should plan to retire early, which discusses the need to save in case of a disability.  You should save because you can’t assume you will be able to work for as long as you need.

But after reviewing all of this, there seems to be a much simpler reason why you should plan for an early retirement even if you don’t retire early.  It might just make you happier.  Do you really want to wait until you are on the up-swing of the “U” to be more grateful?

Cutting back on expenses so that you can save and invest aggressively may not just be needed to secure your retirement.   By eliminating the feeling of being overwhelmed financially it might just lead you to feeling more grateful and ultimately happier.

Instead of hitting the “happy and grateful” stage of your career in your 50s, why not enjoy that much earlier?