How to Be A Happy Freelancer ~ Tips for Getting A Good Work-Life Balance

In this post you will find a selection of ideas about time and the problems of not having enough of it.

The first post picks up on the very real and particular problems that women deal with and that Ann-Marie Slaughter highlighted in her recent essay: Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, where she talks about how extra hard her life became when she moved to having a boss that she had to report to, and how she really wants to work and she really wants to be at home – you can see her talking about this in this video (you have to watch a Prudential ad first)

Ellen Ruppell Shell picks up these themes in her post In Praise of Down Time and goes on to to advocate the need for all of us to resist the pull of working more and longer hours.

Then there are some practical tips for making time work well for you as a freelancer from Creative Boom – reminding us to remember why we choose to be freelance in the first place.

This theme is picked up and developed further by writer Tim Kreider, who urges us to remember just how absolutely essential idleness is to creativity.

Lastly this theme of trying to make time work is taken global again, with the new economics foundations video proposing for a shorter 21 hour working week and their arguments for how improving working hours will improve the employment picture, improve ecological outcomes, and improve quality of life…”

I hope you have time to enjoy these ideas…


In her blog post In Praise of Downtime Ellen Ruppel Shell makes some timely and important observations about how completely we all now seem to believe that we have to work hard and constantly, perhaps even more so in these difficult times of unemployment and continuing staff cuts…

Since its publication in The Atlantic this month, Anne-Marie Slaughter’s thoughtful essay: Why Women Still Can’t Have It All has garnered thousands of opinions voiced in everything from personal blogs to the national media. But few if any of these posed what to me seems the essential question: How is it that we’ve come to believe that “having it all” means working our tails off — be it at home at the office or both?

Like many readers, I am grateful to Slaughter for pointing out the challenge of parenting while simultaneously holding a powerful job. She is absolutely right — more women deserve to be and must be in positions of power and authority. Her message is generous, heartfelt and necessary. But very few of us — male or female — can afford to make demands on our employers, or change a system the endless demands of which undermine our families and our health.

So I do hope that Slaughter did not mean to imply that we as individuals attempt to reform a system that increasingly relies on overwork — and underemployment — to pad the bottom line. Such reform is a job that society — the collective “we” — must tackle. And to do so we must push hard against our current practice of celebrating overwork and treat it as the scam it has become.

As philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote eighty years ago in the essay, In Praise of Idleness “We keep a large percentage of the working population idle, because we can dispense with their labor by making the others overwork.” As a nation we must fight back against this ugly bit of nastiness. And as individuals we ought to take to heart Russell’s incisive observation: “….I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work…”

Any freelance working in arts and culture will tell you the tough times can leave you miserable, stressed and exhausted. Here are some tips on achieving a happier work-life balance

posted by Creative Boom and Katy Cowan, part of the Guardian Culture Professionals Network

Have a morning routine

You went freelance to have a happier work-life balance, enjoy all the perks of working for yourself and be your own boss. So why do you feel so miserable, stressed and exhausted? When we work for ourselves, we often make mistakes that lead us to despise our businesses rather than enjoy them. We forget the original reasons why we went solo and become trapped in a vicious circle of negativity.

Being a business owner, you’ll have many ups and downs. There will be times when you’ll feel like pulling your hair out. You’ll have unpleasant experiences with people. You’ll sometimes mess up considerably. You’ll forget to take regular breaks. You may even work 15 hour days, seven days a week and push yourself to breaking point. Whatver you’re doing wrong, I’ve put together these top tips to help you become a happier freelance.

When you work from home, it’s all too easy to roll out of bed and stumble straight to your desk. Before you know it, it’s 11am and you’ve not even had a shower or had any breakfast. Adopt a healthy morning routine. Get up, have a shower, get dressed, shave/put on make-up and relax and have breakfast. Start work at 9am like everyone else, if you can.

Stick to normal working hours

Just because you work for yourself doesn’t mean you have to work every waking hour to make yourself a success. Avoid long working days by sticking to a regular routine, working normal office hours, such as 9am until 5pm. Studies have shown that working for more than seven or eight hours a day doesn’t mean you’ll get more work done. This is because your productivity levels will drop. You’re best calling it a day and stopping work at the same time every evening. There will always be more work to do, granted, but you just have to accept that your job list can never be ticked off completely in one day – it will be constantly added to.

Work when you want to

Of course, not everyone suits the “normal working day”. If you’re most productive between 11am and 2pm and again between 5pm and 8pm, then just work during those more productive hours. Just make sure you don’t spend more than seven or eight hours each day working. It doesn’t matter how much work you’ve got to finish: if you’re still spending 15 hours at your desk every day, it’s time to figure out where you’re going wrong. Consider any distractions and get rid of them. Turn off social media if it’s ruining your concentration. Eight hours every day is all you need. Just make sure those hours are spent as productively as possible.

Get your work environment right

A desk facing a brick wall in a darkened room isn’t going to make anyone happy, so make sure your workspace is inviting and comfortable. Ensure there’s lots of natural light, a window to look out of and that your desk is clean and tidy. Get a decent office chair – an ergonomic one, if you can. And set yourself up so you can easily listen to music if it helps you to be a happier worker.

Take regular breaks

Freelances who forget to take regular breaks end up making themselves ill. I can’t stress this enough. Take regular breaks away from your desk or studio space. Breaks help you to recharge and boost your productivity. In fact, health officials advise you take a five-minute break every hour, even if it’s just to get up and stretch. If you’re not doing this, start taking breaks.

Know when to stop

Guess what! Just because everyone else is working 9am until 5pm without stopping, doesn’t mean you have to! If you’re having a bad day or you’re feeling unproductive, put down your tools and take the rest of the day off. Put an “out of office” responder on your emails, saying you’re in meetings and add a suitable voicemail on your mobile. Clients won’t know that you’re really in your local swimming pool or catching up with friends, so don’t worry about it!

Book holidays

Having something to look forward to is a wonderful thing when you freelance. Particularly when you’ve got a huge workload and tight deadlines to meet. Book regular breaks and holidays to keep yourself sane and have something to make all that hard work worthwhile. And when you’re away? Leave the laptop and mobile at home so that you can completely switch off and recharge your batteries.


Exercise is proven to reduce stress. Join a gym if you can afford to or dust off your bike and get out there. Do at least half an hour’s exercise every day. I wouldn’t be able to cope without my gym membership. It keeps my stress levels down, keeps me sane and, when I’m pounding the treadmill, I often come up with solutions to the many problems I’m facing. Start an exercise routine today!

Eat well, sleep well

Look after yourself by adopting a healthy diet and ensure you’re getting plenty of sleep every night. Avoid alcohol if you can. Save it for special occasions. Alcohol is a depressant so, although you think it makes you feel better after a stressful day, it’ll actually make you feel worse. Alcohol also disrupts sleep and you’ll feel terrible the next day. Eat well, drink lots of water and get a good night’s rest. Leave the booze to the weekends.

Get out and about

It’s easy to get cabin fever when you work from home, so turn your business into a virtual or remote one, so you can work wherever you like. Ensure you can work on your laptop and access your files from anywhere. This means you can tap into the Wi-Fi at your local coffee shop or even go on a short break and continue to work. Make the most of being your own boss and have a better work-life balance.

Never burn bridges

In business, there will be many situations when you have to deal with difficult people or clients. Whatever you do, always stay positive and never burn any bridges. The creative industries can be a small pond and you never know when you’re going to bump into people again.

Have money in the bank

Nothing is more stressful than living each month on the edge and being constantly worried about when the next pay cheque will arrive. Stop this misery by having a nice cash reserve in a savings account. Plus, keep your overheads low and avoid lengthy contracts with expensive things, such as vehicle contract hire or mobile phone agreements. You don’t want to overburden yourself with too many expenses or bills to pay.

Always save for your tax bill

We all do it. Leave the taxman to the last minute. To be a happier freelance, start saving for your next tax bill every month. Put money aside and don’t touch it. Remember, it was never yours to keep in the first place, so leave it alone to avoid a nasty shock come the end of the year.

Do what you love

Freelancing sometimes means we offer services that we don’t really enjoy. While it’s always tempting to broaden your offering, you might end up doing more of what you hate, rather than what you love. If you can, stick to what you enjoy the most and take steps to ensure you win more of that particular work.

Don’t overburden yourself

It’s all too easy to book in too much work, especially when you want to make as much money as possible to avoid those quieter months. It might seem strange at first, but you really should stop over-booking yourself and have a more manageable workload. I’m not saying turn work away – just try and find ways to manage your workload more effectively. Why not create a really strict work diary and tell new clients that you can work with them but can only schedule them in on a certain date? It might not work for everyone, but you could certainly give it a try.

Pat yourself on the back

Freelancing is tough. It requires discipline and skill. Loads. If you’re running a successful business – and, by successful, I mean that you’re making ends meet – then you should be darn proud of yourself. Pat yourself on the back and be proud of what you’ve achieved. Not everyone can go solo. You’ve done it, so be happy about that!

This content was originally published by Creative Boom

Katy Cowan runs the Creative Boom website voluntarily – she is a trained journalist, writer and PR professional. Follow her and Creative Boom on Twitter @Creative_Boom

Here is another take on the subject – this time an edited selection from freelance writer and cartoonist, Tim Kreider’s blog post . . .

The ‘Busy’ Trap

If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”

Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs  who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.

Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work…

The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it. …  It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do.

Our frantic days are really just a hedge against emptiness.

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. …  I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.

I am not busy. I am the laziest ambitious person I know. Like most writers, I feel like a reprobate who does not deserve to live on any day that I do not write, but I also feel that four or five hours is enough to earn my stay on the planet for one more day. On the best ordinary days of my life, I write in the morning, go for a long bike ride and run errands in the afternoon, and in the evening I see friends, read or watch a movie. This, it seems to me, is a sane and pleasant pace for a day. And if you call me up and ask whether I won’t maybe blow off work and check out the new American Wing at the Met or just drink chilled pink minty cocktails all day long, I will say, what time?

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.

The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. “Idle dreaming is often of the essence of what we do,” wrote Thomas Pynchon in his essay on sloth. Archimedes’ “Eureka” in the bath, Newton’s apple, Jekyll & Hyde and the benzene ring: history is full of stories of inspirations that come in idle moments and dreams. It almost makes you wonder whether loafers, goldbricks and no-accounts aren’t responsible for more of the world’s great ideas, inventions and masterpieces than the hardworking…

Perhaps the world would soon slide to ruin if everyone behaved as I do. But I would suggest that an ideal human life lies somewhere between my own defiant indolence and the rest of the world’s endless frenetic hustle. My role is just to be a bad influence, the kid standing outside the classroom window making faces at you at your desk, urging you to just this once make some excuse and get out of there, come outside and play. My own resolute idleness has mostly been a luxury rather than a virtue, but I did make a conscious decision, a long time ago, to choose time over money, since I’ve always understood that the best investment of my limited time on earth was to spend it with people I love. I suppose it’s possible I’ll lie on my deathbed regretting that I didn’t work harder and say everything I had to say, but I think what I’ll really wish is that I could have one more beer with Chris, another long talk with Megan, one last good hard laugh with Boyd.

Life is too short to be busy.

(Anxiety welcomes submissions at

Tim Kreider is the author of “We Learn Nothing,” a collection of essays and cartoons. His cartoon, “The Pain — When Will It End?” has been collected in three books by Fantagraphics.

Lastly, here is a new economics foundation video making the case for a 21 hour working week and drawing out some of the links between time and our happiness and wellbeing – not only as individuals, but as a society and a better world…

“The conventional wisdom says that in periods of hard times, such as the one we are going through, what we need to do is double down and work harder because we are poorer.  That’s the standard view.  But it’s a fallacy.”   (Juliet Schor, Professor of Sociology, Boston College)

About Time – 21 hours (new economics foundation)

The Disappearing Art of Conversation


British children are the unhappiest in the industrial world.

Why Are British Children So Unhappy?

What really stands out in this is that ‘ parents in more than half the countries surveyed spent more time “just talking” to their children than did those in the UK; and that just 40% of UK 11-, 13- and 15-year-olds find their peers “kind and helpful”.

How do we make sure that conversation – long, easy, unfettered talking and listening and sharing and laughing and discovering and remembering and imagining together can keep a central heartbeat in our lives?

I still know of no better suggestion for happiness than having a group of people sit around a table of yummy food together with enough time to not have to think about the time.

But maybe without the skills of asking questions and listening and the capabilities of curiosity and empathy and being fully present, even this is an inadequate solution.

conversation ~ the spoken exchange of thoughts, opinions, and feelings; talk.   [from Latin ‘conversari‘ – to keep company with, from ‘conversare‘ – to turn constantly]

When and how are we teaching conversation to our children?
When and how are we practising our own conversation?

Follow this conversation at BridgeBuilders STG on Facebook

The “I” of (Un)Happiness ~ is our increasing knowledge making us happier?

What do the Happiness Experts tell us? 

And is their knowledge helping us to become happier?

 ~ a weave of thoughts & writings ~

made and then re-made as a keynote presentation for

Critical Incident, Brighton

17th June 2012

We can be happy

We will be happy

We should be happy

We have the right to be happy

But how to capture this happiness is a problem that continues to elude us.

Has any one us managed to find the perfect formula yet, I wonder?

There are no shortage of candidates who want to tell us that they have. But staying happy seems to stay beyond our reach despite the barrage of answers now available to us from philosophers, religious leaders, scientists, psychologists, therapists, neuroscientists, economists, politicians, our own circle of family and friends and, of course, the advertisers.

Here is one of the more robust formulae out there:

Happiness = S (50%) + C (8%) + V (42%)

S is the Set Point that geneticists are now telling us we inherit in our genes.  Research now says that we each have a default level of happiness that, despite what happens to us or what we do, we will return to.  In a now famous study, a group of people who won the lottery were studied alongside another group of people who lost the use of their legs in a road accident, and within a year every one of them, new millionaires and new paraplegics, had returned to the same level of happiness that they had before their event.

So 50% of our happiness is already set by our genetic makeup and there is nothing we can do to affect it.  Add to this the ONLY 8% that comes from our current Circumstances – our wealth, health, and freedom from physical or psychological suffering.

This leaves a further 42% of our happiness that is down to our own free Voluntary individual choices.

And so, as it seems that this very large part of our happiness is in our own hands, the question for each us is:

what exactly should I be doing and paying attention to?

If we want to think seriously about happiness, it is helpful to consider the enormous knowledge we inherit from the past thinkers – vital clues into the ways we pursue happiness today …

Rewind all the way back to the 5th century BC …

In ‘The History,’ the very first written history of Western civilization, Herodotus tells us the story of King Croesus, the richest man alive, who wants to know if he is also the happiest man in the land.  Solon, the wisest and most travelled man around, tells him “no, he cannot possibly be,” because he, like any of us who is still alive, is at constant risk of whatever ill fortune the gods may throw. And in fact soon after this Croesus’ son is killed in a freak accident, his kingdom is destroyed by the invading Persian armies, and he only barely avoids death by execution. 

The message is clear:

Happiness is what happens to us, and over that we have no control.”  

From this point on much and great thinking goes into trying to lift us from this unacceptable position – to grab back our individual free will over our happiness despite whatever fortune may make for us

Socrates, refusing to accept that our happiness is down to luck, gives us our very first formula: happiness will be found at the top of his 5-Step Ladder, “climbing from the love of one person to the love of two; from two to love of all physical beauty; from physical beauty to beauty in human behaviour; to arrive finally to understand what pure beauty is… That, if ever, is the moment when life is worth living.”

Plato extends these ideas and tells us that through self-control the lover of wisdom can ensure the “better elements of the mind” and so ensure a life lived in “happiness and harmony.”

Then comes Aristotle, who advises us that to find true happiness we must temper our behaviour between extremes, seeking always the middle way and cultivating virtuous habits such as “moderation, gentleness, modesty and friendliness,” controlling our desires through rational restraint.  Our highest happiness, he tells us, can only come through a life of pure contemplation.

By 300 BC we have the two giant philosophies from the Epicureans and the Stoics, both determined that fortune and fate are ours to control and that happiness can be made for ourselves even when we have nothing else, if we realise that the person who “is not satisfied with a little is satisfied with nothing.”

Epicures assures us that we will have happiness by following our natural instincts to “minimise bodily pain and mental anguish for ourselves and others,Rather than fight against nature in the search for happiness on high, we should accede to its power… our own nature will lead us to our destination.

But “no no” say Zeno and the Stoics, our happiness depends upon bringing our individual natures into harmony with nature as a whole, by living a virtuous life and ordering our lives in keeping with the order of the world.  All secondary goods – riches, honour, status and beauty – are irrelevant.  “The happy person is content with their present lot, no matter what that is.”

And here we are caught, like Hercules at the Crossroads, facing the need to choose between the seductive path of pleasure, or the more difficult path of living virtuously.

“Do I find happiness better by following the appetites of my nature and listening to my heart, or does my happiness better depend upon studying and following the directives of the Happiness Experts and keeping to a more careful deliberate plan of living?”  

Will we follow the guidance of the experts and live a virtuous life with its promise of bringing us fuller, longer lasting happiness, when this means sacrificing the more immediate experiential pleasures of happiness that our human bodies are pre-programmed to want?

Fast forward now through all the centuries when the different religions maintained that happiness in this life was not even an option, and that the best we could hope for was to live a completely virtuous life that would get us our ticket to perpetual happiness after death in Paradise.

Fast forward to the 18th Century and the Age of Enlightenment when science arrives to renew our guarantee that we can have happiness in this life.  That, in fact, it is our birthright – as the American Declaration of Independence has enshrined and ever more of us lay claim to, our undeniable Rights to

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness…  

And so to today, where we now believe that it is not only the right of every single one of us to be happy, but that if we are not happy there is something seriously wrong – with the system, with the government, with the world, with society, with the people around us or – maybe most likely of all these days – with ourselves.  

Despite all of the knowledge and wisdom we have accumulated through our history and in exponential abundance as we progress ourselves through this new century, and

Despite the fact that, in the western world, we now enjoy unprecedented levels of security, wealth, disposable income, health, long life expectancy …

              we are no happier today than we were in the 1950’s


              depression is set to become the second highest illness on the planet after heart disease.

These days it seems there are not just the two different paths Hercules faced, but hundreds we have to choose from.  Some of the finest minds alive today are working to try and persuade us with their formula for perfect happiness, and in all the noise they are making, just which expert advice should we really be listening to and following?

Here is just a very small sample of what contemporary writers want us to hear >>>

The purpose of life is happiness.

Happiness is determined more by a state of one’s own mind than by one’s external conditions, circumstances or events – at least once one’s basic survival needs are met. Happiness can be achieved through the systematic training of our hearts and minds, through reshaping our attitudes and outlook.

The key to happiness is in our own hands. [i]

Philosophers, commentators and religious leaders have been arguing for millennia about what happiness actually is.  Is it an end in itself or a by-product of what you do?  Does it disappear if you focus on it?  Is it a part of who you are, what you do, or where you find yourself in life? 

Is about the journey and the goal, as Aristotle says, or the high points on the way, as Epicureans argue?  Or perhaps it’s using reasoning to overcome negative emotions like the Stoics believed?  Maybe it’s the more Buddhist way of detaching and getting over it? 

There is one thing that happiness at work absolutely isn’t.  It isn’t about always smiling and being in a permanently sunny mood… And it’s not something you do on your own, you need others to help you achieve it. [ii]  

How do I determine whether I am happy or not?  At what point do I become happy?  Is there some universal standard of happiness, and, if there is, how do I identify it?  Does it depend on my own happiness relative to others, and, if it does, how do I gauge how happy other people are? 

There is no reliable way to answer these questions, and even if there were, I would not be happier for it. [iii]

Five Ways to Personal Wellbeing:


Be Active…

Take Notice…

Keep Learning…

Give… [iv]

You want something because you think it will make you happy, and maybe it does, briefly.  But then the new thing loses its shine, and you revert to your earlier less happy state.  This is the ‘Hedonic Treadmill’ and we all seem to be trapped on it. [v]

True happiness, lasting happiness, can be achieved through a process known as Self-Actualisation. 

This is a natural state and within the reach of all human beings… Peak experiences, in Maslow’s words, are “Feelings of limitless horizons opening up to the vision, the feeling of being simultaneously more powerful and also more helpless than one ever was before, the feeling of ecstasy and wonder, and awe, the loss of placement in time and space with, finally, the conviction that something extremely important and valuable has happened … the sense of self dissolves into an awareness of one’s greater unity…. [vi]

Happiness shapes what coheres as a world. 

In describing happiness as a form of world making I am indebted to the work of black, feminist and queer scholars who have shown in different ways how happiness is used to justify oppression. Feminist critiques of the figure of “the happy housewife,” black critiques of the myth of “the happy slave,” and the queer critiques of the sentimentalisation of heterosexuality as “domestic bliss” have taught me most about happiness and the very terms of its appeal.  [vii]

Rule 1 – Stop feeling sorry for yourself

Rule 2 – Be grateful

Rule 3 – Say Yes more

Rule 4 – Follow your bliss

Rule 5 – Learn to   Let Go

Rule 6 – Do random acts of kindness [viii]

Polls over the years have shown that 82% of us have “experienced the beauty of nature in a deeply moving way”…

This is a surprising number, given that we’re generally held, ever since the industrial revolution, to be rushed off our feet and out of touch with our emotions.  Wilderness experiences seem to slice though all of that…  Elemental landscapes drive home how tiny we are, and how powerless.  On the other hand, any encounter with nature, even a two-mile stroll, requires self-reliance and demands that you take responsibility for what you control…

Sometimes it’s helpful to be jolted into remembering that most things we worry about seem absurd a few weeks later.  There’s a sort of serenity, too, in realising that even the greatest calamities wont mean much in 100 years time. [ix]

Lesson Number 7 –

It is a mistake to think that happiness is the destination. [x]

Work can make you sick and work can make you happy.  Which one depends on who you are, what you do and how you are treated at work. 

Work that is rewarding, involving good relationships with colleagues and opportunities to feel a sense of achievement on a regular basis is a key factor in psychological wellbeing. 

Dull and monotonous work, difficult relationships with others and work that is impossibly demanding or lacks meaning damages resilience, psychological wellbeing and physical health. [xi]

I have been part of a tectonic upheaval in psychology called positive psychology, a scientific and professional movement.  I have urged psychology to supplement its venerable goal of relieving misery with a new goal: exploring what makes life worth living and building the enabling conditions of a life worth living…

Positive psychology makes people happier.  Teaching positive psychology, researching positive psychology, using positive psychology in practice as a coach or therapist, parenting little kids with positive psychology, meeting with other positive psychologists, and just reading about positive psychology all make people happier.  The people who work in positive psychology are the people with the highest wellbeing I have ever known. [xii]

Subjective wellbeing is expressed in the following formula:

Satisfaction with Life

+ Positive Emotion

– Negative Emotion [xiii]

It has been said that a single butterfly flapping its wings can create a hurricane halfway round the world…  Each one of us is like that butterfly.  And each tiny move toward a more positive mindset can send ripples of positivity through our organisations, our families and our communities… By making changes within ourselves, we can actually bring the benefit of the Happiness Advantage to our teams, our organisations and everyone around us. [xiv]  

We have seen how the coaches and gurus dismiss real-world problems as “excuses” for failure and how positive psychologists have tended to minimise the “C” for Circumstances in their happiness equation.  It’s true that subjective factors like determination are critical to survival and that individuals sometimes triumph over nightmarish levels of adversity.  But mind does not automatically prevail over matter, and to ignore the role of difficult circumstances – or worse, attribute them to our own thoughts – is to slide toward a kind of depraved smugness… 

That happiness is not the inevitable outcome of happy circumstances does not mean that we can find it by journeying inward to revise our thoughts and feelings.  The threats we face are real and can be vanquished only by shaking off self-absorption and taking action in the world. [xv]  

The 6th Fact about positivity is that, through their own efforts, people can raise their positivity ratios and tip themselves up from languishing to flourishing. 

You have more control over this than you realise. [xvi]

The central idea of our movement is the personal commitment by its members to create more happiness in the world and less misery.  This applies to how they lead their lives at home, at work, as citizens.  The key idea is that, for society to be happy, individuals must derive much of their happiness from helping others… 

Now more than ever, people are asking: Do we want a society that relies so heavily on self-interest rather than on commitment to the welfare of others? 

Social trends are not always unidirectional, and this could be a turning point.  We can surely hope that in tomorrow’s world we shall do better at liberating and satisfying our better selves. [xvii]

Misguided hopes for future happiness still play a central role in fanning many of the most debilitating practices of violence and fraud and exploitation world-wide – not only happiness that might come from boundless wealth and power, but also that of serving a patriotic or religious cause…  Such death-dealing conceptions of happiness shed unexpected light on ordinarily benign injunctions such as “Follow your bliss.”  In this harsher light, Jonathan Swift’s caustic definition takes on new meaning: “Happiness [he said] is the Possession of being Ill Deceived; the Serene Peaceful State of being a Fool among Knaves.” [xviii]

The focus on extreme individualism has not in the main made for happier individuals. 

And millions of unhappy individuals make for an unhappy nation, and unhappy nations make for an unhappy world. [xix]

Happiness requires changing yourself and changing your world. 

It requires pursuing your own goals and fitting in with others… 

Each culture develops expertise in some aspects of human existence, but no culture can be expert in all aspects…  Liberals are experts in thinking about issues of victimisation, equality, autonomy, and the rights of individuals, particularly those of minorities and nonconformists.  Conservatives, on the other hand, are experts in thinking about loyalty to the group, respect for authority and tradition and sacredness…

A good place to start looking for wisdom is where you least expect to find it: in the minds of your opponents… 

By drawing on wisdom that is balanced – ancient and new, Eastern and Western, even liberal and conservative – we can choose directions in life that will lead to satisfaction, happiness, and a sense of meaning. 

We can’t simply select a destination and walk there directly…  But by drawing on humanity’s greatest ideas and best science, we can know our possibilities as well as our limits, and live wisely. [xx]  

How can we know whether we are happy?  Who sets the norm?  Why do we have to be happy, why does this recommendation take the form of an imperative?  And what shall we reply to those who pathetically reply “I can’t.”

In short, this privilege quickly becomes a burden: seeing ourselves as solely responsible for our dreams and our successes, we find that the happiness we desire so much recedes before us as we pursue it… we experience its promise not as a blessing but as a debt owed to a faceless divinity whom we will never be able to repay…

We now have every right except the right not to be blissful. [xxi]  

In societies that value happiness in all things, will we really decree that others must be “victims” of the fate of their genes?  Given the present cultural mood, this seems unlikely. 

But when, and if, human beings decide to take the fateful step of actually manipulating our genes in the quest to live as gods, they should know that in doing so, they will be leaving a piece of their humanity behind…

There are certain things that human beings will never know – certain riddles they will never answer – if they are to remain mere mortals.  The holy grail of perfect happiness is one of those things, and like that precious mythic relic, it, too, may exist only in our minds, a deliverance cup and a chalice to hold our pain.  To take that cup – to answer the riddle, to break the spell – would be to sacrifice something of ourselves.  We may discover that the knights who dare to do so are less like the brave crusaders or lore than like Cervantes’ knight of sad countenance, Quixote, who learns at the end of his journey that the road is better than the arrival. [xxii]

The crisis in happiness works primarily as a narrative of disappointment: the accumulation of wealth has not meant the accumulation of happiness.  What makes this crisis “a crisis” in the first place is of course the regulatory effect of a social belief: that more wealth “should” make people happier. [xxiii]  

We can always be happier; no person experiences perfect bliss at all times and has nothing more to which they can aspire. 

Therefore, rather than asking myself whether I am happy or not, a more helpful question is, “How can I become happier?”  This question acknowledges the nature of happiness and the fact that its pursuit is an ongoing process best represented by an infinite continuum, not by a finite point. 

I am happier today than I was five years ago, and I hope to be happier five years from now than I am today. 

Rather than feeling despondent because we have not yet reached the point of perfect happiness, rather than squandering our energies trying to gauge how happy we are, we need to recognise that happiness is an unlimited resource and then focus on ways in which we can attain more of it. 

Becoming happier is a lifelong pursuit. [xxiv]

When we imagine future circumstances, we fill in details that won’t really come to pass and leave out details that will.  When we imagine future feelings, we find it impossible to ignore what we are feeling now and impossible to recognise how we will think about things that happen later… 

There is no simple formula for finding happiness. 

But if our great big brains do not allow us to go sure-footedly into our futures, they at least allow us to understand what makes us stumble. [xxv]

Can we be happy?

Will we be happy?

Should we be happy?

Have we the right to be happy?


Our quest continues…



[i]  His Holiness the Dalai Lama: The Art of Happiness At Work
[ii] Jessica Pryce-Jones: Happiness At Work Maximising Your Psychological Capital for Success
[iii] Tal Ben-Shahar: Happier: Can You Learn To Be Happy?
[iv] Nic Marks: The Happiness Manifesto
[v] Oliver Burkeman: Help How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done
[vi] David Tuffey: Being Happy
[vii] Sara Ahmed: The Promise of Happiness
[viii] Karl Moore: The 18 Rules of Happiness
[ix] Oliver Burkeman: Help How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done
[x] Francois Lelord: Hector and the Search for Happiness
[xi] Cary Cooper & Ivan Robertson: Well-Being Productivity & Happiness At Work
[xii] Martin Seligman: Flourish A New Understanding of Happiness and Wellbeing and How To Achieve Them
[xiii] Bridget Grenville-Cleave: Positive Psychology- Introducing a Practical Guide
[xiv] Shawn Achor: The Happiness Advantage The Seven Principles that Fuel Success and Performance At Work
[xv] Barbara Ehrenreich: Smile Or Die How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World
[xvi] Barbara Fredrickson: Positivity Groundbreaking Research to Release Your Inner Optimist and Thrive
[xvii] Richard Layard: Happiness Lessons From A New Science
[xviii] Sissela Bok: Exploring Happiness From Aristotle to Brain Science
[xix] Alistair Campbell: The Happy Depressive
[xx] Jonathan Haidt: Putting Ancient Wisdom and Philosophy to the Test of Modern Science
[xxi] Pascal Bruckner: Perpetual Euphoria On the Duty to be Happy
[xxii] Darrin McMahon: The Pursuit of Happiness A History from the Greeks to the Present
[xxiii] Sara Ahmed: The Promise of Happiness
[xxiv] Tal Ben-Shahar: Happier: Can You Learn To Be Happy?
[xxv] Daniel Gilbert: Stumbling on Happiness

‘The Suit’ – an exploration of leadership in our 21st century world


~ The Suit ~

a re-imagining of Yoko Ono’s 1965 ‘Cut Piece’

in a 21st century soundscape

…exploring  the destruction and creation of male leadership styles…

created & performed with the audience

by mark trezona & martyn duffy, BridgeBuilders

at MAMLL 30th Celebration Conference, Lancaster University Management School

31st May 2012

This live art show is co-created with the audience and is made of:

+ a soundscape of alpha-male voices, chosen for their contemporary immediacy   and contradictory messages of hope vs. catastrophe, new possibilities vs. impending crisis, opening out to collaboration vs. staying in control;

+ a man in a suit;

+ a pair of scissors;

+ an audience invited to come and cut…

This performance is inspired by Yoko Ono’s 1965 action, Cut Piece, made originally against the US war in Vietnam and against men’s treatment of women, in which she sat motionless on the stage before an audience who were invited to come up and cut  her clothing.

In our re-imagination of this performance  we wonder how much has changed since then, asking:

what happens when we offer a man in a suit to an audience to cut?

What happens in each performance is over to that audience.

Our re-creation of Ono’s performance gives the audience a man in a suit and surrounds them inside a soundscape of voices of contemporary alpha-male leaders– organisation leaders and management theorists, politicians and bankers  – selected specifically for each performance.  These domineering voices of power are heard alongside more complex uncertain voices from David Harsent’s poem, Night, about the thoughts that wake in us when we escape our daytime selves, and from Mark Doty’s poem of city rage, Citizens, and from Janis Ian asking in her song, Matthew:  

What Makes a Man a Man?

What begins with questions about domination and the abuse of power becomes mixed up and blurred with ideas about responsibility and burden:

~ the onerous burden of all the responsibility of all of our expectations carried on the shoulders of our organisation and political leaders, cut through with the loaded requirement we make of our leaders to stand up and speak with authority;

~ the weight of ‘America,’ always seeping into our lives, cut through with the burdens of having to participate fully, to be a good team player and a good citizen, to be socially and environmentally responsible, that we are all expected to bear, and to bear more and better yet in this increasingly challenging and unpredictable world;

~ the oppressiveness / oppression of the western iconic male leader, still the mainstay of our lives and still deadly in his smart 21st century suit of shined up liberalism, still owning and wielding and maintaining and defending his power, cut through with the recognition that surface appearances will always be deceptive, and what we see in a man depends upon how we look at him.

All of this – and all of the many more things a man in a suit can mean – we offer to the audience to cut. 

And it is what they do that determines how much this is then a show of destruction and/or of recreation.

After the performance we all talk together to hear how different people have experienced this performance, and to explore and uncover the different meanings people make and the different ways these might be helpfully applied in our everyday working lives, as followers and/or as leaders.

The answers each time are made together by the people in the room that day…

We have been able to develop and try out this new version of our show at this year’s 30th Celebration Conference for the MA in Management Learning & Leadership at Lancaster University.  This performance was substantially adapted and re-tuned from the original version to work for people in a work context.  In our new show we draw out the voices of men in suits from organisational life, voices telling us how we should behave and what we should do at work, woven into the rhetoric of our political leaders telling us what we should believe and care about.

We want to bring this very different immersive and thought provoking workshop to organisations, to explore its potential to reveal and shape and extend people’s different responses to questions such as …

~ what do we want from our leaders? and how does this match with what we are getting at the moment?

~ what can we each do to influence and shape the leadership around us?

~ as leaders, what impact are we trying to make, what effect on people do we want to have, and what do we expect to get back from people in return?

~ to what extent does our leadership continue to rely predominantly on male modes of thought and behaviour?

~ what does hearing different leadership voices offer to our understanding?

~ what does what we do with a pair of scissors, a standing nameless man in a suit, and complete licence to cut teach us?

~ how much do we want to destroy this ‘man’ and how much do we choose to recreate him in a form more of our making?

~ do we become a unified group and work together?  or do we prefer to claim our rights to respond as an individual?

~ and what might we do out from this experience to reshape and sculpt our work as a leader and/or with the leaders around us?

What happened last week was that people not only responded very differently, but then people made very different meanings about what had happened and what we should learn from this.  This is exciting.  Too often highly sophisticated and complex human interactions, such as leadership, can be reduced to overly simplified models.  We know that leadership is anything but simple; it’s real difficulty is manifest in the very high majority of people who report that their relationship with their boss is one of the most unhappy aspects of their work, as well as the number of leaders who report high levels of frustration about their people’s performance inadequacies.

what makes great leadership?

This performance offers a uniquely involving way to recognise and work with the many contradictory, difficult, rational and emotional complexities that entangle this question, without trying to detach from all the anxieties and necessities and expectations our contemporary world gives to it.  From the immediacy of the shared experience people get during this performance we can, together, start to talk more honestly about what actually happens in our leadership relationships and draw some fresh new ways to make them better and fitter for the demands of the organisation and its people.

We now want to find organisations who might be interested in working with us to develop their own version of this show.

We suggest a  half-day workshop  that would look at leadership and it’s people-related aims ~ and connecting specifically with whatever is live and for the organisation –  change and aftermath, innovation, team working,  engagement, empowerment and/or communications…

Our enormous thanks go to everyone who came and made the show with us lat Lancaster Management School and helped to take us to this next phase.  Thank you, too, to MAMLL for giving us this rare and luxurious opportunity to be able try and test our ideas on the floor and to check that this is a relevant and vital way for people who want to make their work lives better.

This is still work in progress and all your ideas are very welcome…