Labor Day has become known as summer’s last hurrah, but do you know why we started celebrating this day?  Despite evidence to the contrary, Labor Day was not created to mark the unofficial end of summer or to clearly establish the last day of the year on which it is acceptable to wear white.  Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894 in recognition of American workers. 

In the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution brought employment on a grand scale to the U.S. in the form of factory jobs.  In exchange for that employment, workers gave up many of their rights in the workplace. Things we take for granted today, such as safe working conditions, fair pay and benefits, and child labor laws, were the result of labor unions ensuring that workers were protected. In 1882, two different labor leaders with coincidentally similar names Peter J. McGuire, a carpenter and co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, and Matthew Maguire, a machinist and secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York and later Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., each proposed a Labor Day holiday to honor the achievements of American workers.  The celebrations caught on, spreading from city to city, eventually becoming an annual national holiday on the first Monday in September. Parades and marches were a centerpiece of the day through much of the twentieth century, but with the decrease in the number of manufacturing jobs, the true meaning of the day has been largely lost.

Work-Life Balance and the Concept of “Pick 3”

The idea of earning money in order to meet basic needs has not changed in the last century, but now we look at work as much more than a means to pay for food, shelter and clothing.  Today we aspire to careers that fulfill us intellectually, emotionally, and socially as well as economically. But, if even the jobs we love leave us little time or energy for anything else, are those needs truly being met?

A few years ago, Randi Zuckerberg, creator of the online community Dot Complicated, stated that the entrepreneur’s dilemma is deciding what to give up because, she implied, when it comes to your business, friends, family, sleep and fitness, you can’t have them all.  She tweeted, “Pick 3.” 

Certainly one can make the case that this can apply to anyone who works today, not just entrepreneurs. Americans work more hours than ever and still juggle family responsibilities. Although more and more companies promote work-life balance with a variety of perks and benefits, when you spend roughly a third of your life working, is balance really attainable?

In a Huffington Post interview, Zuckerberg says she finds balance by picking three of the five categories mentioned above to focus on each day, with work and family most often in the mix. Sleep is usually number three, and she occasionally adjusts to make space for friends and fitness. (Hall, 2015)

Are you intentionally or unintentionally choosing aspects of your life to prioritize over all else?  Take a look at where you are investing the most of yourself. Does this align with what you consider to be your personal values?

Living in the Moment

Another way Zuckerberg strives for balance is by limiting what she focuses on at any given time. In that same interview, she explains that she mainly focuses on her career some days and on her family other days.  This is in line with recent research that says our brains are not capable of doing more than one thing at a time, and that in our attempts to multitask we are actually less efficient, make more mistakes, and waste energy. (Napier, 2014)

It is also in line with some scientific evidence that says we are happiest when we are living in the moment, rather than daydreaming, reminiscing or thinking ahead.  According to a Harvard University study, we are distracted about half the time, and while there are benefits to this (i.e. learning from the past or preparing for the future) these distractions make us considerably less happy. (Sample, 2010)

We’ve all had the experience of living in the moment. Whether we are working, participating in an activity, spending time with someone, or just being still, when we are present there is a sense of timelessness and effortlessness. We aren’t worrying about anything or even aware of anything other than what is right in front of us. Ideas flow, creativity heightens. We can feel energized or at peace.  Rather than trying to make something happen or be a certain way, we just are. 

How much time do you spend thinking about something other than what you are doing? When you are working are you wishing you were with your family, and when you are with your family are you worrying about work?

Labor in 2016

American work life may have changed considerably since 1882, but today’s struggles are just as real.  Stress and anxiety take a toll on our physical and mental well-being.  Finding that work-life balance requires some effort, but can have big payoffs in terms of health and happiness.

Many people engage in mindfulness practices, such as meditation, yoga or Tai Chi, in order to develop their ability to live in the moment and minimize those distractions of the wandering mind.  Mindfulness is known to strengthen the immune system; improve relationships; reduce stress, anxiety and depression; and increase happiness. 

Maria Droste Counseling Center has several therapists who incorporate mindfulness into their therapy practices.  If you’d like more information, please contact our Access Center at 303-867-4600.

Sources:

U. S. Department of Labor. History of Labor Day. Retrieved on August 25, 2016 from, https://www.dol.gov/general/laborday/history

History Channel. Labor Day. Retrieved on August 25, 2016, from, https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/labor-day

Hall, A. (2015) How Randi Zuckerberg Finally Found Work-Life Balance. Huffington Post. Retrieved on August 25, 2016, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/31/randi-zuckerberg-work-life-balance_n_7330980.html

Napier, K. (2014) The Myth of Multitasking – Think You Can Multitask Well? Think Again. Psychology Today. Retrieved on August 25, 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/creativity-without-borders/201405/the-myth-multitasking

Sample, I. (2010) Living in the Moment Really Does Make People Happier. The Guardian. Retrieved on August 25, 2016, from https://www.theguardian.com/science/2010/nov/11/living-moment-happier