Skip to main content

Our ancestors integrated work, family, and community seamlessly. We can learn from them to secure our own work-life balance and happiness.

Though I’ve written before about the work-life balance, I’m not actually convinced that it’s appropriate to think about a “balance” between the two—because work and life may not be polar opposites.

Here’s the problem when we view work and life as opposites: If we invest more in work, we must take from life, and vice versa. If you consider this a zero-sum game, then you’re always going to be unhappy. And happiness is the goal, not balance!

But what if we change the rules? What if we understand that work-life antagonism is really a false dichotomy?

To do this, we need to go back a few generations. Actually, we need to go back many, many generations and consider the life for which we were designed, physically, emotionally, and socially.

Mother Nature designed us for a simple life. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors and more recent agricultural families integrated work and life seamlessly. They worked to live and lived to work.

Arguably, that system was easier than our cubicle-dwelling modern life where we deliberately leave home to go to work. In this system, we often consider our work colleagues as something akin to aliens, from another tribe or another community.

What if we instead considered them to be our extended tribe? You see, when you start investing in colleagues, work feels less like work and more like life.

Research shows how good relationships at work pay dividends. People who feel appreciated and supported at work live longer, healthier, and happier lives—and that’s good for all of us!

On the flip side, you could also consider bringing work home with you. After all, is it really that bad to take a little work home if it allows you to spend the afternoon watching your child play sports? Is it really that bad to spend 30 minutes on email after dinner if it means you can take a longer break to meet up for lunch with your spouse? I’m sure that even your loved ones would vote for these compromises.

I hope that you will begin to appreciate that work and life can be interlocked and overlapped. When you appreciate that work is life, and life is work, you will reduce the stress you feel in the either-or paradigm. You will worry less about preserving your work-life balance and focus more on finding happiness both at work and at home.

Mother Nature designed us to both live and work, and she didn’t draw a solid line between the two. When we honor our natural design, she rewards us with health and happiness. Try it.

If you enjoyed this article, please also read:

A Test of your Work-Life Balance.