I recently wrote in 8 Ways To Bring Greater Happiness Into Your Life about how, to be happier, we need to pay much more attention to the journey towards our goals rather than just focus on the destination.
I gave some ideas on how this might be done, but didn't touch upon one area that's critical to being happy and that's creating 'healthy boundaries'
Healthy boundaries ensure that our lives are in balance, with no one area dominating another, so we feel content, and most importantly, in control.
We also experience the pleasure that comes from having a rich mix of leisureliness, productivity, achievement, contribution, connection with others and positive stress (yes, not all stress is bad and the right amount keeps us on our toes).
How different this feels from when one component takes over our lives. That makes us feel 'one-dimensional' and unhappy. The infamous work/life imbalance that occurs when there are too many demands on our time and too many expectations to satisfy, is an obvious example, with work time squeezing out the 'me' time we all need to do things that actually bring enjoyment to our lives.
It's easy to believe that being out of balance is an inevitable consequence of trying to juggle the many demands and priorities of modern life.
Why? Because unless we're trapped on a desert island, none of us live in isolation, we constantly have to 'deal' with others' needs and expectations - family, friends, colleagues, bosses ... And that's before we add in the stresses and strains of poor customer service, not being able to get appointments at a time we can make, or being stuck in traffic while the clock ticks away to school pick-up time.
Each of our daily commitments involves some sort of compromise, and sometimes a bad one, between what we get and what we would have liked. This may not always matter, but it if happens too much, it's a recipe for unhappiness. Here are just a few examples of how 'blurred' boundaries can impact our lives, even though we may not realise it at first:
There's the self-employed freelancer who knows that not asking for an upfront payment from a client will cause cashflow problems, but worried they will lose the work, stays silent and takes the financial pressure as a result.
Or there's the parent who knows that doing their children's chores for them sends out the wrong signals, but does it anyway to make life 'easier', and stops their children from learning how to make a contribution.
Or there's the employee who knows they are too overworked and stressed to take on more work, but does so anyway rather than admit to their boss that they're under pressure, and ends up going off sick as a result.
It happens because when it comes to our own lives, many of us don't know how to set 'happy boundaries'.
In other words, if we want to be happier, we need to 'reframe' our relationships with others so that no one side loses out.
In all the examples I've given, no one really wins. In each case, someone has assumed a position that will make their lives unhappier, and the effect impacts both sides, directly or indirectly.
If you have cashflow problems, like the freelancer, the client isn't likely to get the best work.
If you are a parent looking for a quiet life now, you may find your children are more 'trouble' later.
If you're an employee off sick with stress, you aren't helping your boss or your company.
Renegotiating existing 'contracts' is not the easiest thing to do when habits and patterns are already entrenched, however it is always possible to 'negotiate your life happier' - in whatever way you can, from wherever you are now.
So here's my 'win-win' boundaries' negotiation plan.
1. Ask for what you need.
Try to help others understand why a particular position may not work for you. Many people will be willing to do things differently to help, if they're aware of the impact their request will have on you. Look to create win-win situations all round.
2. Give yourself time to decide before committing.
Once you have said 'yes', it's uncomfortable having to say 'no', so take time to assess how this decision will impact on you in terms of time, money, energy ... These 'deals' could be to do with relationships, work commitments, social engagements, or business. People will respect you for being open and honest about what you can or can't do. It's better than letting them down at the last minute, or paying the price with your own health.
In all of this, I'm not suggesting for one minute that you can't be generous with your time, effort and energy. Life requires give-and-take to oil the wheels, so this isn't about trying to 'do someone else down' but finding ways to make conscious decisions that make your life happier, and in the process, theirs too.
Maite Baron writes at TheCorporateEscape.com where she shares strategies to help you take control of your professional live. To get useful ideas, tips and the latest updates start by download 2 free chapters of Award winning book Corporate Escape The Rise of the New Entrepreneur here