Matthew King
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Do you have a work life balance?

Quality of life

I think we have all been there at some stage. Where we seriously assess if the money we get for our work is worth the associated pain.

Naturally the pain varies from person to person and sometimes, in the wort of cases, even the perception that there may be a choice in the matter is gone entirely. The classic work life conundrum, too much work and too little life, or is it? 

When we speak of work life balance what are we actually discussing? Could it be as simple as happiness?

Nestled in the Himalayas is the Kingdom of Bhutan. In 1972, what had been an off-the-cuff remark from the former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck soon became a fairly novel index called the “Gross National Happiness”. In effect, an official government program established to measure the population's general level of well-being.

While the pros and cons of such an index are much debated it does seem to be a genuine attempt to quantify well-being and happiness and to value them accordingly. 

Gross national happiness, as a concept is based on Buddhist ideals that stress that the beneficial development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occurs in parallel, reinforcing and complementing one another.

The four pillars of gross national happiness are:

  • - the preservation and promotion of cultural values

  • - establishment of good governance

  • - conservation of the natural environment

  • - sustainable development

Interestingly the Bhutanese have sought to bring balance to their national body politic as an extension of their Buddhist personal beliefs. 

But back to our own experience...

Excepting a nascent flowering of Buddhism, is there something else that can shed light on how we are all tracking? 

The established measure of economic health is the the Gross Domestic Product or GDP. The GPD is a standardised system that represents the total dollar value of all goods and services produced over a specific time period, be it quarterly or yearly. GDP data is perfect for tracking what is bought and sold but it does not incorporate intangibles like quality of life. 

Simple benchmarks like leisure time are not incorporated into the GDP, and it does not account for distribution (who gets the loot), nor the costs of pollution. It's a blunt tool and some economists have been seeking a better approach.

The answer may lie with a little known index called the Genuine Progress Indicator or GPI. The GPI was first developed in the late eighties and was intended to measure how economic activity impacts the well-being of individuals, as well as overall social progress and environmental sustainability. Interestingly, while the Australian Gross Domestic Product or GDP has tripled since the 1970's, GPI figures show slow an overall stagnation and decline since a peak in 1974. 

Clearly something is not right in our world, when the average Aussie's well being has deteriorated but the overall national wealth has increased. Put bluntly, on an individual level, our wealth, in economic, social and natural terms is less than it was in 1974. So some of the figures do actually mirror our perceptions that the rat race is getting ever faster.

Yes, the roads are actually more crowded, the cost of living continues to climb, our public assets such as schools are groaning at the seams, our environment is degraded, while our middle class is struggling and nearly 200,000 new people arrive each year to compete for jobs, for homes and for their own futures.

But unless you are going to man the barricades, or join Pauline Hanson's One Nation or Cory Bernardi's new team, not a lot is going to change.

So putting the big picture aside, and focusing on what we can change, how are we as individuals balancing our own gross happiness? Be it a mother recently returned to the workforce and fighting guilty mother syndrome, a sales rep on the road and far from home, or someone just doing the long hours to keep the money coming in.  

Is the first step in achieving a work life balance as simple as undertaking your own gross personal happiness survey? 

The Greek Philosopher Socrates stated “the unexamined life is not worth living” and there is much to be said for initiating your own review. Taking an honest look at your own situation is a useful way to cutting through the clutter and working out what is really important to you. 

What are the pillars of your life? How can you strengthen them and bring balance into your life?  

Pause for a minute, take stock. Set aside some time where you put your thoughts to paper. It is very cathartic and can be an effective way to initiate change. Start small and set yourself achievable goals. 

From my own recent experience, I can confirm that achieving balance can be as simple as re-starting an old hobby, getting back to the gym and catching the earlier bus home, so I can play with the kids for a few minutes more. Lego however is optional, although that is currently under negotiation.  

Image: © Can Stock Photo / salajean

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