I find what happy women get right

This week in Sunday Life I’m unbalanced

20110824 pray for swell1 7 I find what happy women get right
Photo by Eugene Tan via Aquabumps

I believe I’ve found the very latest first-world lament. “I’m so sick of trying to get enough ‘me time’,” my friend Sal shared over the phone during the week. “I think it’s easier just to be overcommitted and be done with it. Know what I mean?”

I would’ve coughed up my latte. Or my chardonnay. But I was too busy eating my organic, grass-fed granola.

Actually, I’ve been waiting for someone to pipe up along these lines for a while. The pursuit of life balance has become yet another thing most of us are crap at, which means it’s yet another thing we feel compelled to master, which means it’s yet another thing to add to our to-do list.

Life balance is elusive. Just how do you ensure the right balls are in the air in the right ratios? For every new commitment you take on, do you allocate the same amount of time for sitting in a bath or Cooking a Quality Meal or doing a Meaningful Craft Project with your kid? If a passion, work project or a sick partner suddenly require more of your time, do you have to put on the breaks? “Woah world! No can do – I’m behind on my yoga class quotient!”

Scoff not. A friend told me they were stood up recently by someone citing they were “owed some hang time”. Hang time. Me time. I get it. But, seriously, the idea of “owing” it is as dispiriting as Sunday night ironing.

It’s a reality, of course, that most of us need more hang time. Life is well out of whack. But is fighting the tide, constantly trying to redress things – tit-for-tat-ish – the solution?

How about I pause then to cite the very latest research that answers such a hypothetical. A new study of 670 Americans found the saddest person on the planet right now is a 42-year-old female lawyer. Snide lawyer jokes aside, this is indeed sad. But not surprising. Two years ago a US government survey of 46,000 men and women since 1972 highlighted the “paradox of declining female happiness”. Women have got increasingly unhappier in the past 40 years, while men have become happier. What’s more women are getting sadder as they get older, while the opposite is true for men.

It’s estimated 1.3 million people have been involved in studies across the first world that confirm the same grim fact: as women’s life circumstances have improved, their happiness has plummeted. The studies conclude the reason for the paradox is not just that “having it all” – career, kids, access to the rowing machine at the gym – has meant “doing it all”. The more important factor is that women have got it into their heads they should be able to do it all. And in perfect balance (I speculate men are, increasingly, feeling the same; it’s just not reflected in the studies yet).

Somewhat in response, UK pop-trend researcher Marcus Buckingham took a different tact and investigated, inversely, what the happier women were doing differently. And his conclusion was this: they strove for imbalance. Messy, all-over-the-shop imbalance.

These happy women, he said, realised that balance was impossible (and therefore stressful) to achieve, but also rather boring. Instead, they “tilted” towards activities and commitments they liked and found meaningful. Scanning the “sad female lawyer” study I found the happier blokes did the same. They were more likely to take breaks at work for personal activities, which I took to mean play golf and eat lunch away from the office, and for simply relaxing. Which I read to mean, not for balancing out an excel sheet of life order.

I love this idea. Tilting.

I tried it this week. It saw me stay up until midnight reading some articles I’d instapaper-ed, then take an hour for lunch with a friend the next day, and ditching yoga that evening. Because I’d “tilted” into writing a blog post I was fired up about instead. It was a refreshing change from scheduling “hang time” with myself, which I realized I do, in the same way I plan exercise and car services.

And here’s why: tilting doesn’t require putting the breaks on.

Breaking constantly is exhausting. Saying “no” is exhausting and doing things for balance, rather than because it matters to you is, frankly, martyrish.

Tilting on the other hand is a positive flow forward, a moving “with” life. Which is something I’m sure every lunchtime golfer will attest to.

Do you strain to balance? Have you given up on it?


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