Finding the right balance between work and personal life is by no means a new topic in our society.
But the tension between the two has been intensified by the pandemic, with workers becoming increasingly concerned about the nature of their work, its meaning and purpose, and how it affects their quality of life.
Various studies show that many people are leaving or planning to leave their employers in record numbers in 2021, a “Great resignation” which seems to have been precipitated by these reflections.
But if we’re all rethinking where and how work fits into our lives, what should we be aiming for?
Why we work
It is easy to believe that if we did not have to work, or if we could work far fewer hours, we would be happier and lead lives filled with hedonic experiences in all their healthy and unhealthy forms.
But this does not explain why some retirees choose to do freelance work and some lottery winners they return to work immediately.
Striking the perfect work-life balance, if one exists, isn’t necessarily about playing with when, where, and how we work; It is a matter of why we work.
And that means understanding the sources of happiness that may not be so obvious to us, but have become more visible throughout the pandemic.
Attempts to find a better work-life balance are well deserved.
Work is constantly and positively related to our well-being and constitutes a great part of our identity. Ask yourself who you are and very soon you will resort to describing what you work on.
Our jobs can provide us with a sense of competence that contributes to well-being.
Researchers have shown not only that work leads to validation, but that when these feelings are threatened, we are particularly drawn to activities that require effort, often some form of work, because they demonstrate our ability to shape our environment, confirming our identity as competent individuals.
Work preferable to leisure
Work even seems to make us happier in circumstances where we prefer to opt for leisure.
This was demonstrated by a series of smart experiments in which participants had the option of being inactive (waiting in a room for 15 minutes for an experiment to start) or being busy (walking for 15 minutes to another location to participate in an experiment. ).
Very few participants chose to be busy, unless they were forced to do the hike or given a reason to do so (to be told there was chocolate in the other place).
However, the researchers found that those who had spent 15 minutes walking ended up significantly happier than those who had spent 15 minutes waiting, regardless of whether they had a choice, a chocolate, or neither.
In other words, the hustle contributes to happiness Even when you think you’d rather be inactive
Animals seem to instinctively pick up on this: in experiments, most would rather work for food than get it for free.
The idea that working, or straining at tasks, contributes to our general well-being, is closely related to the psychological concept of eudaimonic happiness.
This is the kind of happiness we get from optimal performance and the realization of our potential.
Research has shown that work and effort are central to eudaimonic happiness, which explains the satisfaction and pride one feels in completing a strenuous task.
On the other side of the work-life balance is the hedonic happiness, which is defined as the presence of positive feelings such as joy and the relative scarcity of negative feelings such as sadness or anger.
We know that hedonic happiness offers empirical benefits for physical and mental health, and that leisure is a great way to pursue hedonic happiness.
But even in the realm of leisure, our unconscious bustle orientation lurks in the background.
A recent study found that there really is such a thing as too much free time, and that our subjective well-being actually starts to decline if we have more than 5 hours up to date.
Spending a few effortless days at the beach doesn’t seem like the key to long-term happiness.
This could explain why some people prefer to make significant effort during their free time.
Researchers have compared this to compiling an experiential CV, testing Unique experiences but potentially unpleasant or even painful: In extremes, this could be spending a night in an ice hotel or joining an endurance race in the desert.
People who participate in these forms of “leisure” often speak of complying personal goals, progress and accumulate achievements, all characteristics of eudaimonic happiness, not of the hedonism we associate with leisure.
This orientation fits well with a new concept in the field of wellness studies: that a experiential happiness rich and diverse is the third component of a “good life”, in addition to hedonic and eudaimonic happiness.
In nine countries involving tens of thousands of people, researchers recently found that the majority (more than 50% in each country) would still prefer a happy life characterized by hedonic happiness.
But about a quarter prefer a meaningful life embodied by eudaimonic happiness, and a small but significant number of people (about 10-15% in each country) choose to lead a rich and diverse experiential life.
Given these different approaches to life, perhaps the key to lasting well-being is to consider which lifestyle suits you best: hedonic, eudaimonic, or experiential.
Rather than putting work against life, the true balance to seek after the pandemic is between these 3 sources of happiness.
* Lis Ku is a professor of Psychologyfrom the De Monfort University, in the United Kingdom.
* This article was originally published on The Conversation and reproduced here under the Creative Commons license. Click here to read the original version in English.
It may interest you:
If you are looking for the secret of happiness, do not read self-help books
Can you learn to be happy?
5 tips for your mental health from 400 years ago but still valid today
Now you can receive notifications from BBC News Mundo. Download the new version of our app and activate them so you don’t miss out on our best content.