In these holiday months it might be customary for some of us lounging by the pool in some sun-drenched beautiful location to reflect on the pace of life, and ask why do we put up with it and why can’t we do things differently. The lazy discussion on living your life as you really want, after say some complaints about the sharing of tasks, might result in some intentions to make changes. Yet like lambs to the slaughter we go back to our driven, city-centred life-styles and very quickly all the relaxation and sense of wellbeing has vanished and we’re back on the treadmill. As is also probably customary at these times people like the BBC put out articles on this subject, as with this comparison of the UK with Denmark, and we indulge in ritual self-mortification about how we’ve got it all wrong.
Contrary to widely held belief, we’re not the most driven country. The other day I was reminded about how in the US people work longer hours and have just two weeks’ holiday, and don’t seem to think a lot about it. Yet, as the above-mentioned article makes clear, Denmark is according to a UN survey the world’s happiest country. What is striking to read is the difference in values that is evident, with a lower priority given to achievement and “keeping up the with the Jones”.
Yet, humour apart, this time out to think about your work-life balance and your values is a very useful activity, and I’ve personally met as well as read about people who have actually followed up by making significant changes in their lives as a result. There’s one thing to have the debate, and it’s another to take action and have the courage to change.
It is worth asking yourself a few honest questions about the price you are paying for what you are getting. What are the current implications of the current choices being made? What is the impact on you, your health and wellbeing, and on your relationship if you are in one, and on your family and your friendships. In fact is the last-mentioned losing out. I often work with people who have all but dropped their friendships, giving lack of time and distance as the reasons. All the evidence about what fosters wellbeing points towards the importance of relationship in all its forms as a major contributor. Yet I find people who don’t really get time to spend quality time with their partner and/or children. I meet people nearing retirement who have no friends and are not in a relationship. Such people on average live less long and have more health problems.
A useful exercise to do is to imagine yourself at 85, let’s say no longer able to do very much or get about so easily and sitting in your proverbial rocking chair, and now think about what you have in your life now and have had in the last two or three decades, as notional figures. What comes to mind? What do you most value and cherish. Do you come up with a list of material things (because when you’re dead you can’t take them with you – well unless you’re a Pharaoh)? Or do you think of more qualitative things, things that touch you more deeply, that have an emotional resonance? Might there be something there about relationship (in whatever form) or spirituality? What really matters to you when all the trappings of modernity are stripped away. Do you want to go to the pearly gates and say, “Hey, God, I’m really proud of that Mercedes”? Or might you say that you’ve been blessed to find and enjoy enduring love, bliss and contentment. Or that you finally fixed that tendency to blame others and take it out on them when things didn’t work out as you wanted, or that pattern of resentment towards your family, or that deep-seated anxiety that plagued your life, or some other way in which you lived your life that didn’t serve you. Or that you finally gave up on your angst for not “having enough” of whatever it is, and finally learned to accept and feel grateful for what there is in your life. Or any one of those things that we allow to stop ourselves being happy, contented people.
It can come down to thinking about your values, and what is really important to you, and then going about making it happen. Which brings up that other matter, the courage to change. For this, see the next post!