Skip to main content

Life balance and personal happiness do not necessarily depend on earning more money and being successful at work or in business. Other things can have a much bigger impact on our well-being.

Our age and 'life-stage' particularly affect what makes us happy and balanced, as does our personality, which stems from our genetic type, and our up-bringing and life experiences.

Life balance is therefore changing and different. There is no single model that's right for everyone, and no single approach is right for anyone for their whole life.

The search for happiness is further complicated because the factors which most affect our personal well-being are commonly ignored or given very low priority in work and training, and in the media too. In schools also, life balance and personal happiness are largely ignored, and rarely explored or recommended as worth pursuing.

Consequently throughout our lives we don't find it easy to consider properly the issues which actually determine our own personal life balance and happiness.

Like most other things however, life balance and happiness can be managed and attained, if we know the components - including our true self - and the causes of our own well-being.

Life balance can therefore be understood, planned and achieved, just like any other important aim.

The ideas on this webpage attempt to illustrate the wide range of factors affecting our life balance and personal happiness - and whatever these concepts mean to you. And there is also a simple tool to assist the process of considering and making some changes towards a happier more balanced life.

If you are interested to understand and improve your own life balance and personal happiness, you might find what follows to be helpful.

This page aims to explain life balance and how to improve it.

And maybe to help you to help others improve theirs.

(See the passion-to-profit exercise and template.)

Life balance is easier when we understand its causes.

In the fortunate Western world, these factors are broadly within our control if we focus on them and approach them positively.

As we go through our lives, new challenges and experiences change the relative importance and mixture of these factors.

The better we understand the changing needs of our life balance, the better able we are to achieve and maintain them.

Think about whether your life could be happier and better balanced.

Think about what sort of person you are.

Think about the factors which are truly important to you.

And then ask yourself if and how you might want to change them.

We cannot simply become happier by wishing it. We must first understand what makes us happy, and then plan how to change these things.

time management

Time management is a crucial aspect of life balance and personal well-being.

A powerful illustration of our ability to manage time better, so as to enjoy a better balance, is the ruthless approach we tend to apply to time management on the days before our annual leave.

Imagine how much more balanced your life could be if you always managed your time so efficiently.

manage your environment

The ways we use mobile phones and emails significantly influence our living and working environment - and specifically external pressures and demands on us.

These potentially very positive communications technologies have become for many people habits and systems which enslave and constrain, rather than liberate and enable.

Left unmanaged and uncontrolled, mobile phones, emails, and increasingly laptops and blackberry-type gadgets make us constantly available, and constantly attentive.

This is fine if it makes you happy, but what if it makes you unhappy?

Manage your environment - don't let your environment - external factors like mobile phones and emails - manage you.

Changing these habits takes determination:

  1. Understand and accept the need to change.
  2. Commit to and plan the change.
  3. Make the change - ensuring you explain your new ways of working to those who need to know.

A simple change to make with emails is to open them and deal with them at set times during the day, not whenever one pops into your inbox.

A simple change to make for a mobile phone is to get rid of it. Or hit it with a great big bloody hammer. That'll sort it. Failing that try switching it off when you want some time for yourself.

Communications technologies are meant to make your life easier, not more stressed and difficult.

Control these things. Manage your environment. Don't allow external factors - especially your habits and expectations and assumptions of others - to manage you.

manage other people's expectations and demands on you

We all get into habits which form the expectations and views that other people hold about us.

Other people's demands on our emotional and time resources are a significant aspect of life balance.

If you do not manage these demands they will leave you with no resources for yourself, your loved ones, your other passions in life, and the changes you want to make in order to pursue them.

construct your own approach to life - challenge what is imposed on you

Life changes fast.

Conventions and beliefs of the past are not right for the future.

You can be certain of one life on this earth.

If you are not happy then take time to think and plan how to change things for the better.

life balance means different things to different people

For many people, life balance equates simply to personal happiness. For others, life balance is far more complex.

Life balance also depends on your situation - and your age or life stage.

Life balance is expressed in many different ways, for example:

  • Work-Life balance.
  • Fulfilment - and personal or emotional fulfilment.
  • Well-being, and personal well-being/wellbeing.
  • Happiness, or simply being happy.
  • At peace (with myself or life) or in harmony with life.
  • Contentment, and inner calm.

What does life balance mean to you? And what influences it?

If you want to consider what your own life balance means and what it depends on, look at the words in the grid below.


what makes your own life balanced and happy?

This is not a test. It's a simple way to begin understanding what happiness means to you.

It's not a complete list of relevant words - just some examples. Interpret the words however you want, and add any missing words that are important to you personally.

Score or tick the items which are most influential on your personal happiness and life balance at the moment. There are no right or wrong answers and no significance in the sequence or colours - it just makes the list easier on the eye.

diet   friends   reputation   work  
fitness   family /kids   finance   hobby  
health   boss   home   outdoors  
self-image   colleagues   stress   giving /helping  
direction   animals   relaxation   creativity  
laughter   travel    growth   routine  
thrills   nature    safety /law   numbers  
sleep   words   music /dance   sport  
learning   challenge   systems   machines  
love   faith   discovery   adventure  

Add your own words here if necessary:


Make a note of the words which have particular significance for you. These will act as prompts for later.

words especially significant for me:


You can score your significant words above, to help clarify their relative importance. We will return to these words later.


life balance and age, or life stage

Just as people's ideas about life balance can be quite different, so our ideas and needs change as we grow and experience life.

What worked for us when we were young tends not to work so well when we are older.

And conversely, much of what makes older people happy tend not to be so helpful to younger people.

These differences are important to consider if you are helping or coaching others: we see things differently depending on our age and life stage, as much and sometimes more than our personality and situation.

Life changes around us, but we change too, and often we don't realise this. We certainly don't naturally see this happening in other people, but it does.

So it's important to step back and realise how and why we change.

Objectivity is vital in understanding and handling any situation, especially our own life balance.

See Erik Erikson's Life Stages Theory to understand how our needs and priorities change with age and life stage. You do not need to read the whole of the Erikson Theory summary - just spend a few minutes looking at the grids - they offer a very quick guide to how our needs alter as we grow through the main stages of life.


know your real self

Knowing yourself is vital both for understanding what factors most affect your life balance and happiness and also for finding a satisfying purpose in life.

People commonly suppress their natural preferences and personality.

Perhaps because of pressure from parents or school, or from society, many people go through life doing work that they hate and denying themselves the opportunity to develop their true talents and strengths and passions.

At times we can find ourselves behaving in a way which is not natural to our real self.

Aside from this being stressful in itself, if we deny or falsify our true self we make it very difficult to focus on what is really important for our own happiness.

Knowing yourself is obviously helpful towards being yourself. When we know our true self we are less likely to be persuaded to be someone we are not.

Personality theories and tools such as Multiple Intelligences and the MI self-test can be helpful in improving awareness of true self.

Getting honest feedback from others helps too.

So does simply looking in the mirror and being honest with yourself. A mirror is a very powerful instrument for self-awareness. Try it.

Our natural personality provides clues for the sort of factors which will be important for our happiness.

If you know yourself, you know what makes you happy, and then you can strive for it.

Life is too short to spend it following someone else's plans. We are happiest following our own path, not one given to us.


life balance - develop your own rules

Life balance is a personal thing. It must be what works for you - not what works for someone else, or something which someone else decides.

However, life itself can have a big influence on our choices about life balance.

Two common strong influences on our life balance choices are:

  • work - particularly traditional employment and retirement practices
  • our own habits and attitudes - especially if they tend to conform to external influences (society, media, friends, parents, etc)

You might be perfectly happy with your work situation, and your habits and attitudes, which is great.

If you are not, then here are some pointers to help you start considering your real choices.


changing work/life patterns and choices

Ignore this section if you love your work.

If you don't love your work, read on.

The world is changing, faster than ever.

Work, retirement, pensions, and life expectancy have all changed radically in the last two generations.

Here is a simple comparison between a traditional (conditioned, inherited, establishment) view of work/life patterns, and the sort of new work/life pattern that the modern world offers as an alternative:


traditional v modern work/life patterns

traditional work/life pattern (broadly) new work/life pattern can be (broadly)
1. Work for an employer - live for the weekends and holidays - worry a lot and be generally unable to control your own destiny. 1. As soon as possible, work for yourself or for decent employer(s), doing various things you love - (tip - you might need to re-discover what you really love).
2. Maybe start your own business still doing something you don't enjoy and continue to worry and work slavishly. 2. Progressively ease off working to spend more time learning and enjoying new things - some of which will become new work.
3. Retire on a reasonable pension at 60 or 65, or 55 if you are lucky - continue to worry, and now add feelings of regret and maybe even bitterness. 3. Don't worry about retirement because it can actually kill you (the worry and the retirement), and the pension system is shot to pieces anyway - try to save, but most importantly stay happy and productive.
4. Rapidly decline due to lack of stimulus and die quite soon. 4. Keep learning and developing and doing new things - eat well, keep fit, and be good to people.
5. What was the point of it all?... 5. Live long and happy - still working a little and always learning and enjoying new things.

The traditional pattern of work/life is becoming obsolete, and it needs to because for many people it's extremely unbalanced.

No wonder the life insurance and pensions industries are (were) so profitable.. Until recent times hardly anyone lived long enough to collect what they'd paid in, let alone what their policies were worth. Millions lurched from miserable work to pointless retirement.

This is the work/life mindset of the mid-1900s. Some people are still living and working according to these old ideas. Do you? Does your company still base its policies and ideas on this old mindset?

You have a choice to create your own mindset and reject the ideas of past generations and old-style employers and the government of the day (who even with the best intentions will always tend to be a generation behind modern ideas).

A 2006 study by the Work Foundation ('The good worker: A survey of attitudes towards work in the UK') found that among UK workers 51% of people regarded their work as 'a means to an end', and 24% of people considered their work not to be a source of personal fulfilment.

If you are among the many (and seemingly increasing numbers of) people who are happy with work, that's great. If not, and you want to construct your own approach to work/life balance, you can.

For example, if you hate your job and would prefer to work at something you love, what's stopping you do this?

Maybe not immediately, because big changes take time, but what's stopping you take the time to plan and make this change?

If you loved your job and felt confident that you could always work at something you enjoy, does retirement become less significant? Maybe even irrelevant?

I suggest to you that if you resolve now to change work/life to be more balanced and enjoyable you could achieve the change in five years, maximum. Maybe less.

So, consider this, how will you feel in ten years' time if you still hate your work, and you look back at this moment?

For many people, the most challenging part of improving work-life balance is finding enjoyable work which will pay the considerable bills that the unhappy work has been able to afford. The change cannot be made overnight for most people, especially with young families, big mortgages and expensive lifestyles, so for many, the opportunity is reluctantly dismissed. If this is your challenge, here's a way to approach it:

1. Discover and decide what you love and what you could make a living doing. Be imaginative. Every possible passion or hobby can be turned into a business or a job or a new career in one way or another.

2. Build your new business or specialism in your spare time. If you are serious about it then a new opportunity will surface before long, for you to leave what you were doing before, and earn what you need by doing what really makes you happy.

If the time and effort are too much to contemplate or commit to, maybe see what happens if you give it a try for six months. What're six months? And you'll be amazed at how much better life looks once you open up a new direction for yourself. Things start to happen, even if you think they won't.

Very few people make a fortune doing something they hate. Certainly no-one is happy doing work they hate. Conversely, there are many happy people - some wealthy, some not (it's a matter of choice) - doing something they love.


life balance tool

It's easy to get into habits and routines, whether work-related or not.

We often do not question them. They become unconscious behaviours because they are easy.

Our brains prefer to take the easiest options. Habits are comfortable - even habitual unhappy work - and these habits become increasingly embedded into our ways of living and working.

To question habits and routines first requires an awareness that we might be stuck in a habit or routine.

Then, changing a habitual routine requires some effort, which can be uncomfortable.

No wonder we all tend to resist change.

So, we might feel that life could be better, or perhaps we positively want life to be better, but doing something to change things is a different matter - especially if we've been in a habitual routine for a long while.

The tool below might help the process of raising awareness of unhelpful habitual routines, understanding what we need to change, and then changing it.

Part 1 - Discover the factors likely to produce your best life balance improvement.

life balance factors 

Remember the significant words from the grid above? Add some description or meaning to each word and list the items below. Score the personal importance of each factor in column A. Score the your present dissatisfaction for each factor in column B. Multiply A x B to show weighted priority and opportunity for life balance improvement in column C.
0 = none 
1 = some 
2 = very
0 = okay 
1 = poor 
2 = bad
Calculate A x B. 
Highest scores 
are your biggest 
priorities and 

Add new rows if you wish, but keep the list manageable and achievable.


Part 2 - Commit and plan to change the factors likely to produce your best life balance improvement.


List the factors you want to change most. Select what you believe you can tackle. If necessary break them down into achievable pieces or stages. Consider big changes in steps. Break changes down into achievable stages and enabling factors, in an appropriate sequence.
specifics and measures 

Describe and quantify the change you will make for each factor. SMART is useful.
timescale or date target done

Add new rows as appropriate, but keep the list manageable and achievable.

See also the goal planner page and tool for complex actions and goal-planning, which can be used instead of Part 2 of this tool.

Here's a quick way to break down bigger complex changes into steps:

Put the aim below point 5, and plan each enabling step in reverse order. Each step can then be inserted into part 2 of the tool above.

1. enabling step »» 2. enabling step »» 3. enabling step »» 4. enabling step »» 5. change factor/aim

See also the passion-to-profit exercise and template.


a note about counter-intuitive factors

Things aren't always what they seem.

This especially relates to our personal happiness and well-being, and to our relationship with the world.

Many factors which influence life balance are counter-intuitive.

In this context, counter-intuitive means that the opposite of what we imagine will achieve the desired result.

Or put another way, what we do instinctively achieves the opposite of the desired result.

Intuitively (instinctively) we can be drawn to short-term, quick, easy or lazy actions, habits, solutions, etc.

However, the effects of intuitive actions (inaction) can be quite different - sometimes opposite - from what we imagine.

Some people find it helpful to consider these wider longer-term effects in terms of karma.

If karma is not a concept that appeals to you then instead think in terms of logical cause and effect.

The law of cause and effect (simply that each action produces a corresponding reaction) reminds us that instinctual or intuitive decision-making is not always very reliable, especially for complex situations.

Things are not always what they seem, and particularly, life balance is not always what it seems.

It needs thinking about.

So when you are thinking about personal change, resist the temptation to go with the quick, instinctive, intuitive impulse (or inaction).

Instead, carefully consider the real causes and effects, and this way you should arrive where you want to be sooner and more reliably.

Purely to illustrate the pitfalls of counter-intuitive situations, here are a few examples:


counter-intuitive examples

  • As already discussed on this page, retirement is commonly believed to offer great happiness and escape from the tedium and sadness of work. For many people however, retirement actually causes withdrawal, evaporation of a sense of personal value and purpose, loss of life meaning, loss of a sense of usefulness, descent into apathy and lethargy, and other depressing life-sapping behaviours and feelings. Counter-intuitively, work is actually vital for the soul, for personal well-being, self-esteem, sense of purpose and value.
  • Intuitively we tend to think of the receiver as the main beneficiary in acts of giving and generosity, and obviously in some cases this is true. But who is the strongest and happiest person - one who receives and takes or one who gives and is generous? Counter-intuitively, givers attract greater rewards than takers, in terms of human worth and purpose. Receiving and taking achieve limited benefit, whereas giving promotes strength, self-worth, and the respect of others.
  • Spoilt children and adults gave money and material advantage usually grow up to be much weaker and less resourceful than children and adults who have to earn and strive for success and achievement, even in the face of quite extreme hardship.
  • The tree which clings to life on the edge of a storm-battered rockface will grow far stronger than the tree which is protected from the elements. A tree - or any living thing - grows strong by experiencing and surviving difficult conditions. Few things grow strong if indulged, over-protected, or insulated from the pressures of real life.
  • Athletes suffer discomfort and even pain while training in order to become fit and strong. The mind and body react intuitively and instinctively to avoid the discomfort of strenuous exercise, yet counter-intuitively, by enduring this discomfort great athletic physical (and mental) capability can be developed.
  • When we see someone who is struggling for a solution or answer to a problem our instinct is to tell them the answer, when actually (unless it's a major emergency) this isn't very helpful. What's more helpful is to provide enough guidance and encouragement for the struggling person to work out a solution for themselves, in their own way, which might be entirely different from the solution you'd imagined yourself. We learn little if we are given the answers. We learn and develop more by being given encouragement, guidance and helpful questions.
  • When a frying pan catches fire our instinct is to put water on it, which causes the fire to explode. Counter-intuitively, we simply need to put the lid on the pan. When starved of air, the fire goes out immediately.

Our lives are full of many counter-intuitive choices. We tend to choose the instinctive easy or 'obvious' option, when for very many situations, doing the opposite will actually produce the effect we need.