Stress & Happiness: Are They Mutually Exclusive?

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Stress And Happiness

With 2019 well under way, it’s likely that you are working toward a resolution you made at the beginning of the year. Unfortunately, it’s also likely that many of you have already given up – after all, 80% of Near Year’s resolutions fail by February. But whether you’ve vowed to get healthier, more organized, or to just enjoy life with those around you, it isn’t too late. First, I’d like to recommend a phenomenal (and entertaining) read, “Younger Next Year,” by Chris Crowley & Henry S. Lodge, M.D. It’s a book I’ve ready multiple times and I think it’s so valuable that I’d like to share it with you here. Second, you might be doing better than you think.

Stress is in large part responsible for many of those downfalls we seek to fix with a resolution. From emotional health to physical health to your career development, stress can impact it all. But is stress directly correlated to unhappiness? According to writer and Reverend Lydia Sohn, the answer is no.

In fact, when Sohn interviewed some of her older congregants, she found that the most stressful times in their lives were also the most fulfilled. When asked what their happiest time of life was, “Every single one of these 90-something-year-olds, all of whom are widowed, recalled a time when their spouses were still alive and their children were younger and living at home,” she wrote in a Medium post. “As a busy young mom and working professional who frequently fantasizes about the faraway, imagined pleasures of retirement, I quickly responded, ‘But weren’t those the most stressful times of your lives?’ Yes of course, they all agreed. But there was no doubt that those days were also the happiest.”

Sohn also pointed out how this anecdotal evidence stood in stark contrast to the “U-bend” theory, made popular in 2010 when The Economist article, which described middle age as the very bottom of the “U” of life, went viral. So, what is there to learn from our wise older friends who have had the chance to live, learn, and look back on the good, the bad, and the ugly?

For starters, I hope we can all start 2019 with a fresh perspective on life. Middle age is often correlated with a sort of “Dark Ages” of life, when you’re bogged down by business, family, and other stressors, but before the Golden Years of retirement and taking back your life. Especially as leaders, the stresses of business and the ever elusive “work/life balance” conundrum can feel insurmountable. But when we look back, it’s all of those moments, stress-filled or not, that make up our lives. And as business leaders, we have the unique opportunity to mold this time of our lives into the story that we want to tell.

So, I encourage you to tackle 2019 with a fresh perspective as a business leader, family member, and friend. Don’t think of stress as the anti-happiness – try to remember all the joys that stress brings along with it. And for more thoughts on life and leadership, check out the DES Connection Room.