I find what happy women get right

Posted on October 9th, 2011

This week in Sunday Life I’m unbalanced

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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  • http://fromthekiwigirl.blogspot.com Tracy

    I have hit a crisis in life and have needed to apply the brakes before slamming in to the brick wall. No balancing required. Its weird when a constant was there and now its not, I have done a 180 and found myself in a place of uncertainty. Almost an anxious peace. Standing on the mat waiting for it to pulled from under my feet. Realising, the place I am in is a vaccum or petrie dish. If I was to look down on myself from a bird’s perspective I don’t know whether I would recognise myself. The movie ‘The Butcher’s Wife’ (1991, Demi Moore), she spoke about her ‘split apart’, referring to two halves becoming one. I feel I’m in half and the other side of me is growing back. Balanced?
    Not quite.


  • http://www.writeawaywithme.com/blog/ Beth Cregan

    I think, without knowing it, I balance my life in the same way you have described. It makes me really happy to see this in print because I don’t have a hard set and regular routine and sometimes the pressure to become more structured and highly organised is immense. (Just look at the list of self help books and blogs that discuss this!) Sensing what will make me happy and tilting my life in that direction on a daily basis works for me. It allows for spontaneity! I look for small opportunities during the day to relax, unwind and feel good. I also think it’s important to find work you love doing and then the great tug of war starts to lose its impact.


  • Suellen

    I get it. Trying to religiously schedule “me time” and finding it not working out, leaves me resentful. When I drop this approach, I’m more relaxed and easy going and still get time to do what I want. Finding “balance” is still important but maybe it’s more about achieving it in a less structured way.


  • H. Rose

    My personality strives to be on schedule all the time every moment of everyday. It always seems that is the best way to go. Then I get flustered when everything is not on schedule. This shows me how out of sink I am with living in the moment, in the day I’ve been given. I know the most inspiring lady who is the complete opposite of what my scheduled self tries to be. She has had to accept that she’s just not one to “have it all together”, when really, none of us do! And I see the ease that she carries with her, the peace (for many reasons), but what makes me want to be like that is that persona of just taking each step at a time. There’s not really a schedule, but a “what’s the best thing I should be doing?” Cause maybe what’s on the list for four o’clock isn’t what you should be doing! Thanks for sharing a topic I’ve been struggling with lately!


  • http://www.orchidchef.blogspot.com jolisa

    This stopped me in my tracts. But that’s why I read your blog – it often gets my undivided attention. You have a nack for explaining life. My life is hectic, but I choose to live it that way. I get immense pressure to live a more structured, routine life, but I love to do things on a whim and often get in well over my head in more things to do. I just let my body and soul tell me when they need some time away from jobs, kids etc and get into the bath for a while. Or I’ll get up much earlier than the rest of the bunch and sit staring at the mountain. I do feel sometimes that there are so many things that I have been empowered to do, that I get myself in a knot trying to do them all. But heck, we only live once.


  • Jan

    Jumping back to last weeks column, how did you enjoy the ‘twee’ experience of the Spring Garden Party, Sarah? Would imagine it a bit too girly for you.


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  • Catherine

    As I sit with my first six week old baby finally sleeping peacefully on my lap, I’m using this brief quiet moment for me. That means catching up on my regular blogs & websites. A reminder of the bigger world outside my current sphere of nappies, milk and little sleep. My idea of me time has changed dramatically since becoming a mother. In addition, I’m trying to get used to this new identity as a full time stay at home mother instead of a full time hectic city-office-socializing professional who lived on a Monday to Friday timetable. I’m learning to let go & not worry that the dishes don’t get done straight away, the floor is a little dusty & the washing is still on the line. It’s a different kind of hectic and a new life-balance (if at all possible).


  • erinsy

    This is such great timing for me. I feel i am constantly trying to find the balance of work, uni, friends an and d ‘getting ahead’ in life. Its way too much and i find myself feeling ridiculously guilty about what i have and haven’t accomplished every day, week, month, year. However ive just made the decision to ’tilt’ into happiness. Im going back to fulltime working in a job that I actually really love, uni is going to be part-time and less stress. And largely thanks to the blogs i read here, i’ve decided that im moving to bondi. its where im meant to be. and just these decision have made me happier :)


  • Claire

    I realised recently what “finding balance” meant to me, and it has made me feel MUCH happier.

    Instead of trying to schedule time every day to do all the “important” things – exercise, cooking, washing, “me” time, whatever, I just DO WHAT I FEEL LIKE AT THE TIME.

    Funnily enough, everything that needs doing ends up getting done, I get to see my friends and I still have time for my family and myself. If I feel like I’m up to exercising, I will exercise. If I feel inclined to do my washing, I will. As realistic, responsible humans in tune with ourselves, our needs and our boundaries, it is much easier to balance out than we think.

    Focus on “big picture” balance as opposed to impossible balance of the day/week/month/year. Doing that just makes you feel like a failure. If you focus on listening to your own needs (ie if you’re tired, have a night in. If you want to go to a movie, take yourself and don’t worry about anyone else. If you feel sluggish, go for a walk around the city on your lunchbreak).

    I find it’s all about being authentic and not trying to be everything all a once. Just go with who you are in that moment.


  • http://sweetiedarlingcakes.blogspot.com Susie

    I am certainly a tilter and I feel like the happiest person on earth most days. Sure there are times where I have to force balance in to my life but for the most part being a flexible person makes me a happy person.


  • Melissa

    For many years one of my “new year’s resolutions” was “to find more balance in my life” and it is a recurring need in me, but now that I’ve read this week’s article and the comments above I can see that it is just another thing to stress about. I like the idea of “tilting”, it’s like riding a motor bike, where it is necessary to tilt and almost impossible to stay balanced. So I’m taking Clair’s advice. Thanks. :)


  • Jason

    Great research. Great article. Nice one.


  • http://oneaprilmorning.net Laura

    I love this : )

    This weekend, I tilted. And I feel pleased with myself, because I achieved something… instead of doing a little bit of everything and a whole lot of nothing.


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  • Jo

    She’s Single, 42, Professional, and Unhappy: Wish-Fulfillment for Matrimaniacs, and Bogus, Too! Singles aren’t unhappy; others only wish they were

    This article is a response to the one mentioned above about the single 42 year old unhappy lawyer. I have to say tho, if I were a 42 year old professional earning less than $100k a year – I’d be damn unhappy too..after that many years in the job you’d be hoping for a bit more money 😛

    But seriously, I think happiness comes from doing what you want to do. Nothing simpler than that. While I’d hate it, I have friends who always go on about being so busy – but they seem to LOVE it (and complaining about it!). To each, their own.


  • Jen

    Why is happiness linked to anything? It’s a feeling and (like pain) is so hard to measure. What is my level 10/10 of happiness might be anothers 5/10 but we’ll never know because we can’t compare feelings. The first world society seams to be hooked on measurements and comparison of these things.
    I think that we dilute our happiness by thinking about balancing or titling in the first place, if we are able to live in the moment and enjoy it for what it is then life balances itself.
    I give myself permission to be happy – I do enjoy a good spreadsheet and I also enjoy sleep, running through rain and that strange sense of happiness when my house is perfectly clean, just for that moment, before we start “living” in it agian.
    Perhaps that it the sentiment of your post, by giving the title of “titling” to what we are doing we are giving ourselves permission to be out of balance and be happy in that state.
    In the end what my “level 10” of happiness now may be overcome and shot down by an experience that I haven’t even imagined yet….the thought of that happening – for me – is pure delight!

    “May your best day of the past, be the worst of your future” and old quote that takes some thinking.


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  • Sue

    Yes. My job is stressful and 2 years later I realise that putting so much attachment onto achieving a “BALANCED LIFE” simply created huge extra stress not balance. When I let go of that imaginary concept, accepted that this is my life and I love it I relaxed and find joy and happiness in the moment – I work frakin’ hard and totally embrace life. 24 hours of no work never felt better than now when I appreciate it and not bitch to myself that geez it’s only a day outta 7.Nice blog. Thankyou.


  • http://www.give1save1.com beth cupitt

    brilliant. you’re right. balance is overrated!


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  • Chantelle

    When I was diagnosed with Lyme disease I had no choice but to find balance in my life. Although I don’t know that I would call it balance, rather prioritising what is important, what is worth spending my time and energy on. I realised once you start to do this in your life a lot of people don’t understand, however this brings to the forefront who is actually important in your life. So even though I am quite ill, I’m probably happier than before I was diagnosed because I no longer have ridiculous expectations of myself, I stress less, I do things I enjoy and spend time with those that I love and who love me back.


  • http://www.jacintafleur.com jacinta

    Balance is a glass of wine.


  • http://www.matildaraynolds.com Waltzing Raynolds

    Wanted to share the below with you from Petrea King on the pursuit of happiness … ‘I will be happy when …’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTLW-3Z_Kts&feature=share

    I am tiltering on the edge but always struggle to be present … this is my challenge to work on.


  • Jo

    I have been a tilter for a long time and most of the time very happy! With full time work, full time online study for a Bachelor, home and family I was nicely balanced then along came a fella….so I just tilted…everything fits where it fits on a daily or weekly balance. My only “have to” schedule is showing up to work on time and getting my assessments in on time…everything else falls into place. And “me time” is anytime. Me time doesn’t have to be by yourself, me time is chatting with my son after a long hot day, curling up watching a movie with my fella or even supermarket shopping with no time restraint. Women give themselves too many rules and “must be’s”… I just want to live my life to it’s fullest potential and laugh along the way…The Tao of Pooh says it best…


  • Fiona

    I can’t even think of anything I could tilt towards. It used to be a big night out, but that’s not as much fun anymore and all fun had is cancelled out the next day by the misery that is dealing with children while hung-over.
    I feel like I’m just plodding through life looking for inspiration and finding dirty socks.


  • http://www.natashas.com.au Natasha Smits

    omg so true. I’ve spent a few years of my late teens and ALL of my twenties, and now the first 2 years of my thirties, tilting 80% into my business and career. I have copped SHIT for it from every. single. yoga-going friend that I have ever had.
    I am SICK OF IT.
    I am HAPPY focusing on my work. My career is my BIRTHRIGHT. I am FULFILLED by working till midnight. I think the founder of Boost Juice said it best when giving advice to women who want to be successful: she said (something along the lines of) “at some point you have to throw the idea of balance out the window and just dedicate yourself to realising your goal”.
    Yeah bitches that’s right. Wanna be successful? Get amongst it and stop talking crap about life balance. Hunger feels gooood. I’m fine with that.


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