Sunday, April 17, 2016

Once Upon A Time - on happiness and time balance

How much of your time do you spend doing things you enjoy?  Are you satisfied with your work-life balance?  (Note: if you work or volunteer at more than one job, you should answer about the job you spend the longest time working at.)
These are two of the questions you will be asked if you take the Gross National Happiness Index, a tool people have been using to change their lives and transform our economy. (You can take the survey at  We have been asking people these questions since 2010, and gathered data from over 55,000 people. 
We’ve been asking people other questions too, about how their lives are in terms of their financial situation, family, community, health, environment, work, government, culture, and general life satisfaction.   It turns out time balance is one of the areas in life where people suffer the most, across the board.   
Gross National Happiness Domains
What Our Happiness Data Says about Time
When you take the Gross National Happiness Index, you get a score on a scale of 0-100.  A score of 100 would mean that everything is terrific.  In Bhutan, the country that created the concept of Gross National Happiness, the idea of sufficiently thresholds is being explored.  Scores above 67% are “extensively happy” and above 77% are “deeply happy.” People who score below this are “not yet happy.” In the United Kingdom, where the government is also measuring happiness to guide public policy, happiness thresholds are also being established.  A score of 73% meets the threshold for life satisfaction.
In the United States, our scores for the area of time balance put us in the “not yet happy” category: 49%. This score is lower than any other domain of happiness. The picture gets worse when we look closer. When asked the question “How much of your time do you spend doing things you enjoy?” the average score is 48%. The possible answers are “none of my time,” “not much of my time,” “some of my time,” “most of my time,” and  “all of my time.”
How Much of Your Time Do You Spend Doing Things You Enjoy?
When we dig down to see how we do over the span of our lives, the data paints a pretty grim picture. Thirty to forty-four years olds  have it the worse. Their scores are only 40%. But as we age, things do not get much better until 85 years old, and even then our scores go up to only 59%. 
What is happening that we are spending so much of our lives doing things that are not enjoyable?  Is work to blame?
All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy
It might be. Our score for the domain of work is 59, also below what Bhutan and the United Kingdom would call a sufficiently threshold. When we single out the question “Are you satisfied with your work-life balance?” the scores drop eight points, to 51. If you are twenty-five or in your thirties, you probably score the lowest at 45 and 46. And things do not get much better until retirement age, at 65.
Are You Satisfied with Your Work-Life Balance?
Does this mean we are an unhappy lot? Not exactly.  When asked the question “How happy did you feel yesterday” our average scores are 72. The question “How satisfied are you with your life?” gives us an average score of 71.  But for both of these questions, people below 55 are scoring below the sufficiency level of the United Kingdom. If it’s any consolation, everyone except the 12-17 year olds and the 25-29 year olds come up to sufficiently thread holds as determined by Bhutan.   
How Happy Do Your Feel? 
How Satisfied Are You  with Your Life?
Should we be satisfied with these scores? 
I think not.
The Happiness Movement
The Happiness Movement is calling for a new economic paradigm, where our governments, our companies, and our personal lives share the common goal of the wellbeing and sustainability of people and our planet.  It is a movement that was germinated over 40 years ago in Bhutan, and sprouted on April 3-5, 2012, at a High Level Meeting Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm held at the United Nations. At that meeting, the first World Happiness Report was issued and an invitation was extended to countries, companies and communities to transform our economy from one driven by profit, consumption, money to guided by happiness and well-being. 
Part of that transformation is a new measure for our economy. Measurements are important because, as Professor Kasser identified in his research, measurements tell us what to value.  When we started using money as our measure, we stopped valuing our own happiness, each other and our environment.  Right now the measurement all countries except Bhutan use to decide how well we are doing is the Gross Domestic Product (the sum of all goods and services produced by a country in a year). Bhutan developed Gross National Happiness Index as a replacement measure that encompasses economic factors and includes all the other things that really make us happy, including time-balance. The Happiness Alliance adapted the measure (“de-Bhutanized” it) and is spreading it to communities to bring the happiness movement to the grassroots.
What Time Balance Has To Do With Happiness Movement
            Since the beginning of the Gross National Happiness Index, time balance has weighed equally with other measures when measuring happiness and well-being. By including time-balance and the other domains of wellbeing, the Gross National Happiness Index is unique among other happiness and well-being metrics. 
            But measurements are not enough. While Kasser’s research tells us that when we adopt happiness and well-being measures to guide our policies, we will value our own happiness and the well-being of others and the planet sufficiently to change our behavior, we are not there yet. Instead, what we have today are ideas, a few examples and some research findings that point the way to a happier life and society by better managing our time.
Three Happy Endings
Stories are a time-honored way of clarifying, learning, sharing and creating the future we want.  Part of the struggle with any new movement is that the stories are still new, not dissipated, or even not yet formed. Here are three stories: a bed-time story, a work in progress and a never-ending story.  
A Bed Time Story
            Lisa thought of herself as a survivor. One thing was for sure: she was a hard worker.  She had grown up in a tough household, and learned at an early age how to care for her parents and herself. Recently an empty nester, she had taken in extra shifts so she could help her son with his tuition.  Her partner had gone from an occasional glass of wine to a bottle every night, sometimes two on the weekends, leaving Lisa carrying an ever-increasing load at home. She had trained herself to get by on very little sleep in college, and then less with a new job, even less with a child, and still less with a growing practice. At fifty-six, sleep deprivation was a way of life. She heard about the Gross National Happiness Index on a radio show on the way home from work, and took it that evening. She scored lowest in time-balance scores, but then so did everyone else. The thing was, Lisa scored a 20 in time-balance. Her scores in a few of the other domains were low too.  In the area of social support, which asks questions about how lonely, loved, and cared for you feel, her scores were also really low, and so were her scores for psychological wellbeing, which asks about feelings of optimism, positivity and purpose.  The scores were jarring. They left her feeling a bit hopeless and scared.  That night she cried herself to sleep.
            She dreamt she standing under a tree when a very large bird came, picked her up and flew her a long distance. The bird deposited her in a huge down-lined nest and in her dream she felt completely at peace. Lisa had read a lot about Jungian dream analysis, and understood that while the dream had many aspects of meaning, one was that she needed sleep. Having spent a life not sleeping more than 5 or 6 hours a night, she did not know what it meant to get enough sleep. 
            She decided to start with creating sleep haven. After failing to make her sleep nest in the bedroom with her partner, she took over her son’s room.  She called this room off-limits to everyone else.  This caused a shift in her relationship, and she explained that she was not leaving, but trying something new for herself. She went through her budget and was able to cut down expenses, then cut down on work, and make way for sleep. She took some days off to sleep. After a few months, she found she had taught herself how to sleep. She took as stay-cation. Her first ever. She slept. For the first time in memory, she experienced what it felt like not to feel tired.  Her mind felt clearer. Her body felt better. She started making small and subtle but powerful changes in her own life. With her sleep bank restored, she bought herself watercolor paints, a hobby she had given up after high school. She tuned her son’s room into an artist studio for herself and with her lighter schedule at work, she found deep enjoyment in painting.  She had found ways to take care of herself, and found her happiness.
Do you know how much sleep you need? How about your child or parent? According to the National Sleep Foundation, it changes by age:
Hours Sleep
0-3 mos.
4-11 mos.
1-2 yr.
3-5 yr.
6-13 yr.
14-17 yr.
18-64 yr.
65 + yr.

While you can recover from a week or so of sleep deprivation in a weekend, science does not have exact figures on how long it takes to recover from long term sleep deprivation. Instead, Dr. Epstein prescribes a sleepy vacation  prescribes a sleepy vacation: go somewhere close, restful and where there are few distractions that would draw you out of bed, or stay at home. Schedule nothing or as little as possible. Don’t set the alarm. Limit naps to before noon. Go to sleep when you get tired. When you wake up in the morning feeling refreshed, you have caught up on your sleep. Then the trick is to keep your sleep stock full when you go off your sleepy vacation.
Work In Progress
Jason had been laid off one and a half years ago. His unemployment had run out, and so had his savings. He was preparing to put his house on the market and move into a friend’s basement mother-in-law. Part of him wanted to find a job, and part of him had no desire to work for someone else ever again.  He did not want to trade his life for work. He took the Gross National Happiness Index when a friend told him about it, and while he scored high in time balance and many of the domains, he score quite low in terms of his financial well-being. In truth, he was scared and stressed about his finances. 
Selling his house would give him some time, but was not a lasting solution. He was thirty-five, and still had lots of life to live. The last year and a half he had focused on finding work, but with half a heart. He knew that giving up his house would change things for him, and he had a nagging sense of feeling like a looser.  He decided to flip things around. He was moving into a house bustling gamers. His last job had bee nas a UI (user interface) designer.  He decided to follow his bliss.  He loved gaming, he loved writing, he loved imaging UI platforms. He would create concepts for games, constructs for the UI, and let the rest happen. He took the plunge and invested in himself. He used the money from his house to start his own business doing what he loved. He created a work environment that was nirvana to him. He determined his working hours and working style. Within a year, he hired his first employee, who was given the option to determine her own working schedule as well.  His business was small but sustained him in many ways.
Researcher David Rock identified what he calls the SCARF Model for a happy work place. It is based on brain science and reveals that one way to meet our need for autonomy is allowing people to determine their own working hours, desks, and work-flow. Another practice that helps meet our need for relatedness (feeling connected and cared for) is taking the time to build relationships and bond at work, whether in meetings by sharing stories or through buddy systems, mentor programs and small action learning groups. 
A Never Ending Story
            The last story in this post is your time balance and happiness story. It's a bit of a trick, because the moral of this story is that your time – and your life – is yours, and in making decisions about your life, you make decisions about your happiness. 
            Today’s dominant economic paradigm says that the more money you make, the happier you will be. Even though research proves this to be untrue, we continue to buy into this myth.  Whether you believe the science or not, intrinsically you know that your life is worth more than money. So the real questions are, are you happy?  Is the life you are living the right life for you? Is your time being spent on the things you love? What is the story of your life?
Once Upon A Happy Time in A Far Away Land
            In a nation where happiness and well-being are the goals of the economy and  are the metrics by which we measure our national, economic and personal success will we experience time balance?  Ultimately it will be up to us. The way to create the future we want is to live the stories that lay the path forward.  So if you have read this far, I encourage, urge and ask you to create, share and tell your story of time balance, happiness and wellbeing so others in your life can see how it is done.

Post by Laura Musikanski, Executive Director of Happiness Alliance at

Happiness Expedia

Do you work for Expedia? Then read this and take the Gross National Happiness Index for your group. (Quick hack for when you take the survey: go to SIGN UP from the sign in page). We will use your group's scores during a one hour talk on May 23. (Contact Ram for details about our talk).  

Wondering is the Gross National Happiness Index about? 

  • The Happiness Movement bringing to the forefront the importance of happiness in our lives, our society and for our economy.
  • The  Beyond GDP Movement to expand the measures our governments and institutions use to measure success. 
  • The Positive Psychology Movement to expand and change our understanding of what makes us happy and how we can be happy. 

At our table on Earth Day and our talk on May 23 we will explore the connections  between personal happiness, societal well-being and planetary sustainability.
If you work at Expedia, click here to take the survey. If not, use this link!