I spent my entire academic career studying life balance and quality of life with other researchers across the world. I have published my research on life balance and reviewed the literature from various disciplines related to the topic. And I’ve learned over the years that life balance seems to be a legitimate, scientific construct, different from other constructs like life satisfaction and quality of life. This finding is a big deal because only recently has life balance had any scientific support. Although it was extremely exciting and rewarding for me to be immersed in the science behind life balance, it was frustrating because the only people reading it were other scientists. Doesn’t this topic resonate with everyone? This question motivated me to write this book.
This book explores life balance. What is it? Is it possible to live a balanced life? If you live a balanced life, is it a better one? This is not a new topic. You can find people talking about it almost anywhere. What’s new in this book is that I will link the science behind life balance to everyday living. This is not a self-help book that provides easy recipe-like directions or optimistic answers for living a balanced life. Rather this book summarizes the scientific research related to life balance and leaves the decision-making and application to you. You will learn why you need to pay attention to stress, different scientific views of a balanced life, common themes about what a balanced life looks like, and the mental and physical health benefits related to living a balanced life. You will have opportunities to assess various aspects of your life and think critically about the way you want to live going forward.
If this appeals to you, read on!
Introduction: The Most Interesting Things Happen Over Cocktails
Research related to life balance occurs in many disciplines, like psychology, sociology, family science, and economics, but the perspective I am most affiliated with comes from occupational science. Occupational science explores aspects of occupation (what we do) and how this affects our health and well-being. I have met many of the occupational scientists who are particularly interested in the concept of balance among these occupations. They typically use the term “occupational balance” to refer to the way we configure our occupations or activities and how this configuration ultimately impacts our health and well-being.
I met a group of these scientists at several conferences over the years, and we have become friends and even presented our research together. Each of us looks at the concept of occupational balance or life balance in different ways, and each perspective is equally interesting. I will share their research briefly in chapter 3 when I review various scientific perspectives of a balanced life.
At one of these conferences, Drs. Carita Håkansson, Petra Wagman, and Hans Jonsson from Sweden; Dr. Catherine Backman from Canada; and I met for a happy hour at the conference hotel. Of course, because we have all spent a large part of our careers exploring the same general topic, the conversation was rich and enthusiastic.
At one point, I asked them, “What are the five common characteristics about life (occupational) balance that our research would agree with?”
In less than a minute, we had an agreement. We concurred that the five common characteristics of life (occupational) balance are the following:
1. It is a journey, not a destination. No one ever actually achieves a balanced life that can be sustained over time. We may have periods of relative balance, but we can count on these periods changing regularly.
2. It requires doing things. We cannot solely imagine, think, or feel our way to a balanced life. Whether your life is balanced or not is also determined by what you actually do from day to day.
3. It is good for you. Research indicates a relationship between a balanced life and positive health and well-being outcomes.
4. It is different for everyone. There cannot be a prescription of the right amount of any given activity because activities have different meanings to people and those meanings change depending on the circumstances.
5. Things get in the way. The environment is a big factor in life balance, and we don’t always have control over our activity choices.
I feel confident that these five characteristics are on the right track because it was so easy for our group of scientists, who have spent years examining the topic, to agree with them. The chapters in part 1 will set the stage by discussing background information about why you should listen to me, what the current state of the research is, and why we should care about life balance. The chapters in part 2 will discuss each of the five characteristics of life balance that were agreed upon at our cocktail hour. Sprinkled throughout the book will be short stories in the form of case studies that I created to illustrate a main point. I also interviewed people from various slices of life, and their real stories are highlighted at the end of some chapters. Their names were changed, and other identifying information has been removed to protect their privacy.