A question of choice in meaningful life balance?

Whilst struggling with a chapter from my book (to be published next year by Jessica Kingsley) I have been battling with my thoughts about choice in daily activities (or occupations in occupational therapy parlance) in terms of how we spend our time, which is of course a commodity in neoliberal market economies. Daily activities (or occupations) take up time and have become very much a part of the cycle of production. It is paid work that keeps the neoliberal wheels in motion, specifically causing us to focus on this and other so called ‘obligatory’ life activities as the most pressing pursuit often resulting in the predilection to ‘do’ too much.
For occupational therapists and scientists ‘doing’ is essential to learning and mastery over the self, the social and cultural environment, and has long been a cornerstone of occupational theories. Early proponents viewed ‘doing’ as essential to….”communicating feelings, ideas, expressing [and] clarifying individuality” and learning about the self and one’s sense of place and existence in the world (Fidler and Fidler 1978, p306-307); in essence becoming human in all its complexity. Wilcock (1998), whilst recapitulating these ideas, focussed on the notion of rhythm and harmony in human existence to find balance and wellbeing. She advocated lifestyle balance through enacting both ‘doing’ and more restive reflective and aesthetic ‘being’ pursuits. This, she suggested, provided the basis for personal growth and achieving our full potential as individuals in life, ultimately leading to wellbeing.
My studies exploring work-life balance and its impact on lifestyle (or ‘occupational’) balance and wellbeing developed this notion of complex interconnectivity across a spectrum of life activities and interactions to create a continuum of work-life imbalance extending from the very overworked and/or overbusy individual to those who, whilst not so unilaterally absorbed by paid work, were still limited in terms of time for freely chosen pursuits. There were some fascinating themes around the driving forces that influence why we live this way and also about the meaning, value and purpose we hold for everyday occupation. The study evidenced that people were driven by the symbolic capital of paid work and the drive to be ‘busy bees’ (Hochschild 2008). Supported by the external drives of neoliberal capitalism, individuals were subject to a speeded up sense of pressure in life in order to achieve more active ‘doing’ activities in less time (Paton 2001). These doing activities were predominantly obligatory or necessary tasks, with the greatest emphasis given to paid work followed by caring and domestic commitments, thus causing the ubiquitous work-life conflict so commonly euphonized by the term work-life balance. It was this bias towards spending time on paid work that limited, in a very taken for granted way, how people could spend or indeed did spend their everyday time and energy.
Why was this? In terms of the former people certainly seemed to have too much committed time and not enough free time in which to make choices about what they could do. This was apparent for those working part-time as well as full-time, although impacts were variable depending on personal circumstances, the nature of the job, the workplace and the available support networks. In terms of the latter, whilst some individuals did choose to work part-time or to find time to do the things they enjoyed doing in all cases there were ‘occupational compromises’ of one form or another. At the most basic level all working part-time as well as those working full-time felt activities with personal meaning were compromised or absent from their daily activities because their time was filled with task completion. In essence, personally meaningful engagement in daily activities was extinguished by a drive to ‘do’ obligatory ‘doing’ tasks and to meet workplace objectives. This is, of course, a very different experience to spending time in activities that are personally meaningful or promote the sense of flow and engagement found in ‘being’ pursuits. For Meyer (1922) an early advocate of lifestyle balance as doorway to wellbeing, paid work was a potent force in every life to prevent harmony with our human essence or ‘cosmic nature’, whilst Hochschild (2008) advocated busyness as the ‘opiate of the masses’, next only to TV in its seductive effective in preventing balance in how we live our everyday lives. As individuals and as occupational therapists/scientists recognizing the pressures we have to conform to these stereotypical behaviours in everyday live and challenging them is a possible way forward to enhancing human wellbeing. Alan Watts supports this contention and points out that we need to consider what we really want to do in life and live our lives in a personally meaningful way because this is where we find enjoyment, individual and collective mastery and harmony in life.
Find Alan Watts you tube clip here: http://goo.gl/5r5Gxr
For short examples of my work see: Culture of overwork overshadows better more balanced lives http://goo.gl/ibsMq4
Whose occupational balance is it anyway? Strategies for living a more balanced lifestyle http://orca.cf.ac.uk/47541/
Ecological balance: Achieving sustainability and resilience in a work-driven world, Sustaining occupation: Culture and governance in the face of global environmental change http://orca.cf.ac.uk/19915/
Worked out and still wanting: Finding balance in busy lives:http://orca.cf.ac.uk/19916/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: