Achieving the Happy Balance

Welcome to 2013. Achieving greater balance seems to be on people’s minds at the moment so I thought I’d start the year with a tip on this.

One of my all time favourite stories is The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen. In it a whole community are duped by two quick thinking tailors who claim the outfit they have spun for the Emperor is so incredibly refined, people who are stupid or unfit for their positions may not be able to see it! Of course, no-one wants to be stupid or unfit, (including the Emperor who struts around naked), so they all play along admiring the beauty of the garments. It takes an innocent child to ask why the Emperor is not wearing any clothes for everyone to come to their senses and realise their foolishness.

Some of the nonsense and gimmicks I read about reducing stress and achieving happiness and balance reminds me of this story. One best selling book implies if you work more than four hours a week, then you are somehow a sucker who is missing the point of life.

The Four Motivations

The only person who can decide if you are working too hard or having enough balance in your life is you. A useful guideline I was taught many years ago, and which works for me, is called The Four Motivations. This model, which comes from traditional eastern philosophy, outlines four reasons behind why people do what they do:

  1. Pleasure, e.g. having fun, letting off steam, having a laugh.
  2. Compensation, e.g. earning money to support our lifestyle or justify our efforts.
  3. Duty, e.g. looking after family, friends or our health, contributing to the community.
  4. Seeking meaning or purpose, e.g. personal reflection, studying, praying

Typically our weekly activities contain a mix of these four motivations, but this mix will be unique to each person’s needs, values and stage of life. When we are younger we probably focus more on having fun. Later in life our focus may shift more to making money, caring for others or looking after our health. The trick is to incorporate a sensible balance of each motivation so we are able to maintain a strong sense of self-respect and satisfaction. After all it’s hard to feel stressed, anxious or discontent when you feel good about yourself.

I know that if I get too caught up with doing what I feel is the right thing by others and am not having enough fun, I get cranky. Jamming on my guitar, reading a Phantom comic or watching an entertaining movie usually fixes this. Similarly if I am not spending enough time reflecting on the deeper questions of life I feel less grounded and more distracted. Too much focus on making money can lead to an obsession – even an addiction to more and more. But not enough focus on this will of course also cause us problems.

The secret to joy

Achieving a healthy sense of balance requires intelligent choices about how we spend our time and how we think about what we do. The balance doesn’t come from a prescribed number of hours doing certain tasks. Remember we are talking more about motivations than actions. If work is a drag maybe it’s not that we need to work less, but that we need to lighten up and have a bit of fun. Or perhaps consider how the work is contributing to others or our own personal development.

This quote from Rabindranath Tagore, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, is also a favourite of mine. It’s a nice reminder of how our perspective can change how we feel. “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was duty. I acted and behold, duty was joy.

Until next time, keep that balance.

Greg Nathan

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