We all want to find happiness at work and at home, but 24% of U.S. employees say the balancing act is getting tougher to manage, according to a study by Ernst & Young (EY). That’s because work is spilling into time that should be spent on personal pursuits. About half of managers work more than 40 hours a week, the EY report found, and a study by Project: Time Off found that the majority (55%) of us end the year without taking advantage of paid time off. That unused vacation time totals 658 million days.
But happiness experts say work-life balance is a myth. Work life and home life aren’t separate; there’s just "life," and happiness comes from figuring out a way to combine the two seamlessly.
"People who are highly resilient don’t see the day in terms of separation," says Maria Sirois, clinical psychologist at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. "There isn’t work me versus home me. Ninety percent of success of life is about who we are and what we bring to the day at work and at home."
Here are five things you can do at home that will promote happiness at work.
Research has found that happy people do better at work, so when you’re home, consciously choose to do activities that lift you, says Sirois.
"Home life often includes a list of chores and obligations. All of those responsibilities can be burdensome if you’re not also invigorated by what brings you joy," she says. "When we create a home life filled every day with something that lifts us, we will transfer that happiness to work."
It can also help to have a happiness check-in, adds Tim Bono, who lectures on the psychology of happiness at Washington University in St. Louis. "Take time every so often to remind yourself of what’s going well," he says, adding:
It’s easy to get bogged down with reports, presentations, and other hassles at work, but it’s also important to direct attention to things that are going well for you. Research has shown that adults who take just a few minutes each week to reflect on what they are grateful for (even amid life’s stressors) feel better about their lives overall, report more optimism about their upcoming week, and even get sick less often.
Most of us have hours during the day when we operate at peak performance. The time of the day where we struggle to work, however, can be improved by practicing micro-recovery, says Sirois. "It’s those few minutes you set aside periodically to nourish yourself by doing activities that elevate calm and serenity or activities that increase energy and vitality," she says.
Sirois suggests scheduling these mini-breaks into your day until it becomes a habit. Go for a walk outside, do some stretching, read poetry, or simply have a cup of tea. Choosing what to do will depend on what makes you happy, she says.
You will improve your life at work when you use your authentic qualities, says Sirois. "Strong characteristics define who you are, such as creative, energetic, optimistic, extroverted, compassionate, prudent, and much more," she says. "It’s important to understand your core strengths and leverage them, because it will build engagement and energy."
If you aren’t sure of your strengths, Sirois recommends filling out the free questionnaire at viacharacter.org. "The material is heavily researched by scientists in the field of positive psychology and backed by rigorous data," she says, adding that people who are aware of their strengths and find a way to apply them at work find more meaning.
A CNBC Mobile Elite poll showed that 70% of executives feel that mobile technology helps work invade their leisure time.
Sometimes, the best way to avoid the temptation to work at home is to create a physical barrier to help keep yourself present with your family or friends, says Andrew Filev, CEO of work-management platform Wrike. "When you're home, keep your device someplace out of site," he suggests. "If you find it hard to part with your device, at least silence it or consider using airplane mode.
"Burnout is a real threat, and failing to give yourself adequate time to recharge your batteries can make it happen faster and worse," says Filev. "If you rest and spend time with the people you care about, you'll find your work benefits from it."
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can lead to cognitive impairment similar to that of alcohol intoxication. It also makes us more reactive to small nuisances that otherwise would have rolled right off our backs, adds Bono. Researchers at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki found that the optimal amount of sleep for energy and wellness is seven to eight hours each night, according to the study published in the medical journal Sleep.
It’s easy to let sleep fall further down your list of priorities when you have too much on your plate. "What you don’t realize, however, is that the brain is doing a lot of important work when we sleep," says Bono. "Sleep increases activity in the frontal lobe, which sharpens our mental acuity and helps us stay on task toward the next day’s goals," he explains. "Sleep also helps us regulate our emotions and maintain a positive mood throughout the day."