Happiness or Balanced Life: Which One is the Most Important?

Recently, a friend asked me if I believe that work-life balance was possible. 

My first reaction was to answer, Yes. But, after a couple of minutes, I changed my answer and said that although work-life balance may be possible, it's very difficult to achieve.

After a few minutes of debate about the meaning of the term "work-life balance", our conversation switched towards the role played by a balanced life on happiness. I realize that the only reason that I am interested in achieving a balanced life, or discuss the subject, is because I want happiness to be a fundamental component of my life.

Do we really need a balanced life to attain happiness?

Clearly, work-life balance is not about organizing our schedule to give every part of our life equal time. I think that a balanced life is about regaining a sense of accomplishment and control. To me, a balanced life is about making choices that are right for the time and circumstances of our life.

A balanced life is about living life in a way that makes you feel happy, rewarded and satisfied. I recently read an article that suggested that when searching for a balanced lifestyle, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

- Do you feel good about how you are spending your time?

- Are you aware of the choices you are making or is life completely running over you?

- Are you nurturing the things that are important to you?

- Are the choices and sacrifices you are making today moving towards a goal or vision for your future?

- Do you understand the implications of your choices on your family and your work?

Personally, I think that the important issue is happiness, so...

Happiness means different things to different people. For many people, happiness comes from a balanced mix between what we have to do and what we want to do; this is fine. But, for others, happiness may mean something completely different.

So, instead of trying to achieve a perfect balance between life and work, I believe that we should focus on the meaning of happiness in our lives. Thus, my suggestion is to start our personal exploration of happiness by asking ourselves the following questions:

- What is happiness to me?

- When and how is happiness occurring in my life?

- How is my work affecting my life goals?

- Is a balanced life really necessary to achieve happiness?

- What is my recipe for happiness?

Do you have other suggestions? Which other questions are useful? 

The Courage to Parent Authoritatively: A Potential Solution to Parenting in The Digital Age

Photo taken by Emily Kidd - https://www.flickr.com/photos/emmykidd49/

I've just finished reading a very interesting post by Richard Freed, Ph.D regarding the benefits of authoritative parenting in this digital age.

In simple words, In this article, Richard Freed (psychologist and author of Wired Child: Reclaiming Childhood in a Digital Age) presents the idea that throughout most of human history, parents have been more engaged in their children's lives than they are today. For instance, for the 19th-century American frontier families, the notion that kids could ignore family and work in favor of playtime distractions was unthinkable. The demanding environment these families faced made it imperative that children lived alongside their parents and pulled their weight at home. These kids' lives, while challenging, helped them feel that they mattered and encouraged them to become productive adults.

Why is this relevant today? Why is parent authoritatively a potential solution to parenting in the digital age?

If you have a teenager at home who has a cell phone or other digital devices, you are probably finding difficult to control his/her use of digital devices. Parents who add their kids and teens to their family cell-phone plans claim that they're doing so primarily for safety reasons. Teens appreciate the gesture with the majority of them admitting that a major benefit of having a cell phone is the security they feel in being able to reach their families at any possible time.

On the flip side, cell phones are an addiction for many teens. From sleep deprivation to texting and driving, cell phones may also present a health hazard for teens who cannot break away from the social pressures of constant contact via cell phone. Sometimes, teens replace traditional social skills with text messages, voicemails, and pressure to remain available through the cell phone at all times. According to Dr. Freed, this pressure can cause undue stress and anxiety for teens with a large social circle.

Authoritative parents strive to have a strong, loving relationship with their children, yet they also provide high expectations and definite limits that help kids meet expectations. 

Authoritative parenting provides remarkable benefits:  Children raised with this parenting style are happier, less likely to have delinquent behavior, and tend to be more engaged in school and receive higher GPAs in high school and college than kids raised using other parenting styles.

Characteristics of the Authoritative Parenting Style

  • Listen to their children
  • Encourage independence
  • Place limits, consequences, and expectations on their children's behavior
  • Express warmth and nurturance
  • Allow children to express opinions
  • Encourage children to discuss options
  • Administer fair and consistent discipline 

According to this article, people with authoritative parenting styles want their children to utilize reasoning and work independently, but they also have high expectations for their children. When children break the rules, they are disciplined in a fair and consistent manner.

The key element that it's suggested in Dr. Freed's work is that the most effective way to raise children is authoritative parenting because it involves high levels of responsiveness and demandingness

What do you think? What is your parenting style?

Our Fantastic Family Trip to Europe: Accommodations and Travel

Almost exactly a year ago, my little family of four was visiting Italy, France and Spain. It was our most special family trip so far. 

We only had three weeks for our trip and we wanted it to be memorable. We decided to spend about 9 days in Italy, 7 days in France and 6 days in Spain - it was the perfect combination for us. We stayed a little longer in Italy because our arrival and departure were from the fantastic city of Rome.

Here is some information that you may find useful if you ever decide to travel with children to one of these countries.

How We Found our Accommodations

Our children were 5 and 13 years old when we had our European adventure. Although they are relatively easy to handle boys, they can also be moody and picky. To simplify things for us, we decided to avoid hotels and opted for places that offered at least two bedrooms and a small kitchen/dining area. 

Finding places where to stay in countries or cities that you have never visited could be very stressful. All types of accommodations have risks, even hotel rooms. In our case, we use the photos and descriptions provided by the hosts as well as the information provided by reviewersI read each one of the comments made by reviewers before making a final decision regarding a rental. When in doubt, I did not hesitate in calling/emailing the host for clarifications.

If you find that you need more help, I suggest NomadicMatt. This site provides 9 golden rules to help people find the perfect apartment/houses on websites such as Airbnb. These nine rules are helpful guidelines, but as NomadicMatt said, at the end of the day you need to go with your gut.

After using different online resources, we found all our places using Airbnb or HomeAway. 

Airbnb is an online community marketplace that connects people looking to rent their homes or apartments with people who are looking for accommodations. Airbnb users include hosts and travelers. The hosts list and rent out their unused spaces while the travelers search for and book accommodations.

Through Airbnb we were able to find houses or apartments in all the Italian and French cities that we visited. We were extremely satisfied with Airbnb. In terms of problems or bad experiences, we only had a problem with a house that we rented near Carcassonne in France. But, the key issue to mention here is that our problems were solved in less than 24 hours. Airbnb helped us to find another place very quickly. More importantly, we did not lose any money throughout the whole process. So, overall, we found Airbnb very reliable. 

Unfortunately, we could not find good places to stay in Spain using Airbnb. We ended using HomeAway to find our accommodations in both Madrid and Barcelona. With HomeAway all that you need to do is to find a property and then, contact the owner for questions and/or to book the place. 

How we traveled in Europe

Most of the time we traveled by train. For example, from Napoli to Padova we traveled by train and once in Padova we rented a car to visit other places, including the amazing city of Venice. The car trip from Padova to Venice was beautiful with many picturesque places, including excellent small restaurants.

Train services in Europe are generally very good. Although we experienced some problems with our train trip from Milan to Nice (French train company), we enjoyed all our train trips in Europe.

In particular, we really enjoyed traveling by train in Italy. Train tickets in Italy were more affordable than in either France or Spain. Furthermore, Italian train companies such as Italotreno offer family packages (for 4 people, includes 2 children) where children travel free of charge.  Italian trains were also very clean, providing even internet service. We often had the chance to sit all four together in those sections of the train with four face-to-face seats. 

Now, if you decide to rent a car in Europe things may be a little bit more complicated, but possible. The key issue is that you need to be organized and make certain that you conduct your search in order to obtain the best prices. My advice is to try calling around to local car rental agencies or to use a travel agency.

Remember, low price is not the only factor that you should take into consideration. In our case, we rented our car from Europcar because it offered a good rate but also reliable service and various pickup/drop-off locations (including one at the train station). 

In my next post, I will talk about the places that we visited in Italy, France and Spain.

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