The Easy Changes You Can Make to Improve Your Life

Niklas Halle'n/AFP/Getty Images

Niklas Halle’n/AFP/Getty Images

Americans are happy — but not too happy. Studies show only one in three of us are ‘very happy’ with our lives, and that ranks more or less in the upper echelon on the World Happiness Index, placing the United States at 15th worldwide. We’re also the wealthiest nation out there. If F. Scott Fitzgerald taught us anything in high school, it’s that all the money in the world doesn’t necessarily guarantee you happiness. It looks like there’s something to that after all.

So, there’s a push and pull dynamic happening between happiness and earnings, and what most of us want is to find the equilibrium point. There are a lot of factors that play into finding contentment, and research has found that the biggest are health, marriage, and personal income. Our careers play an important role as well, and that has to do with finding a healthy work-life balance, while being passionate about what we do. That’s truly the key, but it’s elusive to most of the population.

There are, however, a couple of relatively easy things you can do to improve your happiness – it just requires a little bit of work.

First, a new study has detailed the importance of having passions in life. Having a passion, or a hobby of some sort, leads to all kinds of upticks in happiness and contentment, but this study shows that those can be augmented even further. How? Well, what’s better than having one passion? Have two passions, of course!

“Harmonious passions”, as the study published in the Journal of Happiness calls them, “can contribute to overall subjective well-being.” By studying the activities and passion of more than 1,200 undergraduate students, the researchers from the University of Manitoba “found that students with at least one HP reported higher levels of well-being compared to those without an HP, and those with two HPs reported higher levels of well-being compared to those with only one HP, independent of the total time spent in passionate activities.”

So, if you really want to be happier, you could say that science suggests double-dipping into your favorite hobbies. Of course, not everyone has the time or resources to make that happen. If that’s the case, what else can you do?

The answer has to do with smoothing out work-life balance, or, the amount of time and energy we’re dedicating to our jobs or careers, as opposed to chasing our (one or two) passions, and spending time with our friends and families.

While many of us are more than willing to put in the extra hours at the office, or take on second jobs to try and get ahead (or simply make ends meet), the simple fact of the matter is that you need to get away from work, for the sake of your health and sanity. Career burnout is a very real thing, and is often cited as a contributing factor to why certain companies hemorrhage employees.

As it turns out, working 60 or 80 hour weeks is too much for just about anyone to handle. But certain industries reward those that can stick it out.

The trick is to find a happy medium. A balance of work and life that allows you to earn enough money, keep chasing your career goals, and also get enough time away to chase your passions. Research recently published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology points to one key thing that keeps people attached to work, even if you’re not physically there – which throws your work-life balance model into disarray. That one key thing? Uncompleted goals.

“Employees had more difficulty detaching from incomplete (vs. completed) work goals later in the day, especially when these goals possessed high valence,” says author Brandon W. Smit of his research, which included surveys of working people, and how they tracked their goals throughout the workday. Smit found that a way to effectively vanquish our worries about outstanding goals is to break them up into smaller tasks, which you can then cross off your to-do list.

“Creating plans at the end of the day that describe where, when, and how unfulfilled work goals will be completed is an effective, low-cost intervention that enhances psychological detachment among employees, which will ultimately improve occupational health and performance,” Smit said. “Employees should be encouraged to focus on smaller, concrete goals at the end of the day in order to reduce unfulfilled work goals and facilitate psychological detachment.”

So there you have it. Lingering goals, or things that you know need to get done, can linger and fester in the back of your mind, ruining the time you’re spending outside of work. Don’t let it happen.

Finally, to recap, improving your life can be as easy as spending more time away from work (if you can), and indulging in your passion (or two). Not everyone can effectively make those changes easily, unfortunately, but for those with some wiggle room, rearranging your work-life balance paradigm may make a huge difference.

Follow Sam on Facebook and Twitter @SliceOfGinger

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