May 09, 2015

Moms who work on Mother's Day

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(Molita Cunningham and three of her children)

 

On Mother's Day, when the most of us mothers are celebrating, some mothers are working.

Molita Cunningham is one of them. She's a 56-year-old home healthcare worker who puts in 12 hour shifts as often as she can get them. Cunningham needs every penny she makes because as a home care worker she earns about $10 an hour( and that's after 30 years into her career). Her shifts are unpredictable so when she has work, she takes it.

Molita's children are less than pleased that she won't be spending Mother's Day with them ( 3 of 6 still live at home).  "They put on a sad face and say 'Mom, you're never home. You're always working' and I tell them it's just me paying the bills and struggling,'' Molita says.

Molita works for an home care agency that contracts with hospice. Sometimes, she gets hired for private clients. She rarely turns down a job. That means she can't always be there for her kids. "There are a lot of things I don’t attend -- my son’s track meet, my daughter's dance recital, things at school. The kids complain that I'm always working. "

Molita actually is one of the workers who are outspoken about raising the wages of home care workers. Despite being one of America’s fastest growing jobs, home care workers are living below the poverty level, getting paid an average of just $13,000 a year. Almost 50 percent of home care workers rely on some form of public assistance in order to make ends meet. Women, who make up 89 percent of workers in the industry, bear the brunt of these low wages. They typically do not receive expenses such gas or benefits such as health insurance. And, their jobs are unpredictable -- some assignments only last a few hours. 

Molita has spoken out at several rallies for higher wages for home care worker who pushing for $15 an hour. "That's still not a lot but at least I could breathe better. I'm a single mother and there are things my kids need. It's hurtful when I can’t provide for them for my children."  A new report from the National Women’s Law Center substantiates the challenges these moms are facing.

On Mother's Day, Molita will spend the day with an elderly woman whose family lives overseas. She will cook for the woman and care for her until late in the evening. Molita says caring for the elderly is  hard work. "You have to bathe them, feed them, dress them, help with oral care....you have to be caring and compassionate to wipe feces off of a stranger. Not everyone can do that."

Molita hasn’t spent Mother’s Day with her kids in years. It’s a feeling that she remembers from her own childhood - her mother was a home care worker and she remembers not being able to spend time with her on Mother’s Day. Molita says some clients will allow her to bring her children with her on holidays or with them if they go to church.

Even with the challenges, Molita says of her work as a home care attendant: “The work I do is demanding, and it keeps me from my family more than I would like, but it’s essential. I love this work and I intend to keep doing it.”

Happy Mother's Day to Molita and to all the mothers who are working at restaurants, in hospitals, as home health workers and any other job that requires they be away from their families on this special day.  For those who do their best to balance work and family, you are all amazing people! 

 

May 08, 2015

Mother's Day: What today's working mother is all about

                                 Mother


On Mother's Day, I will be rushing around from celebrating with my family to celebrating with my husband's family. The rushing around to make everyone happy is pretty typical of what most working mothers do on a daily basis. We can't help it...most moms feel we can and will juggle all kinds of responsibilities.

As Mother's Day approaches, my Inbox has been flooded with email about research on mothers. I find the research fascinating and insightful 

Here are 10 findings from various sources that paint a good picture of today's working mother. Do you see yourself in any of these stats. (I do!)

Finding 1: We've decided not to give up on having kids

Where highly educated women used to put their careers first and forego motherhood, that's not happening anymore. The share of highly educated women who are remaining childless into their mid-40s has fallen significantly over the past two decades ( Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data)

Finding 2: We're having more kids 

Pew found not only are highly educated women more likely to have children these days, they are also having bigger families than in the past. Among women with at least a master’s degree, six-in-ten have had two or more children, up from 51% in 1994.( Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data)

Finding 3 - We're successful (sort of)

While the vast majority of working moms feel they can have it all, only half (52 percent) said they are equally successful in their jobs and as parents. (CareerBuilder's Annual Mother Day Survey)

 

Finding 4 - We want to be providers

Four out of five working moms say the top factor defining success for them is the ability to provide for their families. (CareerBuilder's Annual Mother's Day Survey)

 

Finding 5 - We work and take care of our kids

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70 percent of all mothers with children under age 18 worked or were looking for work in 2014. Even though they work, moms are primarily responsible for most chores related to taking care of the kids such a shopping, helping with homework and preparing breakfast. (Working Mother Research Institute survey, Chore Wars: The Working Mother Report)

Finding 6 -- We show our kids we're there for them

More than half of the working moms (56%) and dads (57%) say they share the responsibility for attending school events and athletic competitions with their partners(Working Mother Research Institute survey, Chore Wars: The Working Mother Report)

 

Finding 7 -- We finally have more help from our spouses

Moms are getting more help at home. We have seen a historic reduction in unevenly shared housework among heterosexual couples. As of 2012, married mothers were doing almost three and a half times as much "core housework" -- cooking, cleaning, and laundry - as married fathers. Still, back in 1965 they did 22 times as much!(The Council on Contemporary Families )

Finding 8 -- We still look to our moms for advice

Even though we may have kids of our own, 3 out of 4 women seek their mother’s advice: 18-24 year olds seeking relationship and health advice, while age 25-39 is seeking parenting advice  and 40-54 and 55+ seek home project insights. (Mother's Day survey by 1-800-FLOWERS.COM)

Finding 9 -- We need to be around other working moms

Working mothers who are surrounded by other working mothers have a happier work-life balance and less negative spillover from work than those who are surrounded by stay-at-home mothers. (research from The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology to be presented at the SIOP Conference)

Finding 10 -- We need resources 

The best states for working mothers have quality day care, reasonable child care costs, abundant pediatric services, a high median women's salary and a low female unemployment rate. (Wallethub 2015’s Best & Worst States for Working Moms. Click see if your state is one of them) 

 

 

May 07, 2015

Sheryl Sandberg, her husband's death, and her new work life balance

                                         Sheryl:dave

 

What a week it has been for Sheryl Sandberg. The news of her husband's death stunned the world. 

The official report said Dave Goldberg,  chief executive of SurveyMonkey, died from head trauma and blood loss after apparently slipping off a treadmill while vacationing with family and friends in Mexico. He was 47.

Sheryl has handled the hand she was dealt in a way that has moved many of us.

As the author of Lean In, COO of Facebook and someone who has credited her husband and his household contributions, for her ability to find some semblance of work life balance, Sheryl certainly will have some readjustment. Mostly likely, Sheryl has help at home (a nanny/housekeeper). Most high powered women do. But there are things only a parent can do and Sheryl will have to figure it all out. Single moms know that travel, late night work functions and work obligations become much more difficult when there is only one parent in the picture. As a single mother, it becomes more of a challenge to Lean In, even more so when the world is watching how you handle the rebalancing act and when you're dealing with grief.

If you haven't seen Sheryl's post on Facebook, I think all of you will find it inspirational. 

Sheryl writes:

I want to thank all of our friends and family for the outpouring of love over the past few days. It has been extraordinary - and each story you have shared will help keep Dave alive in our hearts and memories.

I met Dave nearly 20 years ago when I first moved to LA. He became my best friend. He showed me the internet for the first time, planned fun outings, took me to temple for the Jewish holidays, introduced me to much cooler music than I had ever heard.

We had 11 truly joyful years of the deepest love, happiest marriage, and truest partnership that I could imagine... He gave me the experience of being deeply understood, truly supported and completely and utterly loved – and I will carry that with me always. Most importantly, he gave me the two most amazing children in the world.

Dave was my rock. When I got upset, he stayed calm. When I was worried, he said it would be ok. When I wasn’t sure what to do, he figured it out. He was completely dedicated to his children in every way – and their strength these past few days is the best sign I could have that Dave is still here with us in spirit.

Dave and I did not get nearly enough time together. But as heartbroken as I am today, I am equally grateful. Even in these last few days of completely unexpected hell – the darkest and saddest moments of my life – I know how lucky I have been. If the day I walked down that aisle with Dave someone had told me that this would happen – that he would be taken from us all in just 11 years – I would still have walked down that aisle. Because 11 years of being Dave Goldberg’s wife, and 10 years of being a parent with him is perhaps more luck and more happiness than I could have ever imagined. I am grateful for every minute we had.

As we put the love of my life to rest today, we buried only his body. His spirit, his soul, his amazing ability to give is still with us. It lives on in the stories people are sharing of how he touched their lives, in the love that is visible in the eyes of our family and friends, in the spirit and resilience of our children. Things will never be the same – but the world is better for the years my beloved husband lived.

 

What advice do you have for Sheryl now that she's a single mother? Do you think her adjustment is easier because she has no money concerns or is it more difficult because she lives such a public life and will have her every move scrutinized?

 

 

May 06, 2015

The cost of your commute on your work life balance

 

Two weeks ago, I did a 45-minute commute to a conference in Miami for two days. I tried to stay calm during my drive, but I couldn't believe how often I got cut off by other cars, honked at for no reason and stuck behind trucks dropping stuff on my car.

I found myself asking out loud several times, "How do people do this every day?"

Commuting is stressful so the incentive needs to be there -- better pay, great co-workers, flexibility, a job you love or one where you have built up seniority.  Some people are willing to make the commute to live in a nicer neighborhood or one with better schools.

But as the economy rebounds and traffic worsens, people are less willing to put up with a stressful commute. Commuters are once again negotiating with bosses and changing jobs to cut back on the time they spend on the road. 

Research shows that the longer a person’s commute, the more profound the effects on personal well-being and life satisfaction. Spending hours in a car, day after day can be a drain on productivity and happiness. To improve work/life balance, attorney Patricia Ferran looked at her options and found a job closer to her home-- slimming her commute from 60 minutes to 10.  “Now I can sleep more and go out at night with friends because I’m not as tired.”
 
A 2013 Census Report shows that more than 1.5 million American workers commute 90 minutes from work to home, a time toll that can make it a struggle to put dinner on the table, pick the kids up from childcare, make it to an exercise class, or have downtime before going to sleep and doing it again the next day.
 
Jorge Alvarez of Albion Staffing says job candidates are specific that a new position be in close proximity of their home or where they have childcare, Gonzalez says. Lately, he has been getting more rejections from job candidates who don’t want to drive the distance — even with the promise of a higher salary. “Employees now have choices, and they will turn down an amazing job because the commute is out of what they consider comfortable.”
 
It wasn’t primarily the distance or time that led Susan Greene to change jobs — it was the stress and toll on her health. She had been commuting an hour each way for her job as marketing director of a law firm. Two weeks ago, Greene took a new job as chief marketing officer for The Beacon Council, about 10 minutes from home. “It’s liberating,” she says. “I can make dinner plans. I am so much happier.”
 
One women I spoke with says the tradeoffs are worth it. She tries to shake off the stress before she walks into her office.   Angela Foskolos told me she added about two hours of driving to her day when she took on a new position with her company, a currency exchange near the Miami International Airport. Foskolos said her cross-counties commute is a tradeoff for a higher salary and additional experience, but mostly she endures it because she likes her co-workers: “Everyone is in an upbeat mood, and the environment is positive. It makes me happier to do the drive.”
 
A lot of managing the daily commute comes down to making compromises — in terms of limiting where you take a job, what kind of job you take, what neighborhood you live in and the nearby schools, and which partner in a dual-income household sacrifices personal time. “For some of us, commuting to our jobs is just a normal way of working,” South Florida commuter Lynn Holtsberg says.
 
How does the commute affect your work life balance? As the economy rebounds, are you considering a job closer to home?
 
 
Carla

(Above: Carla Vertesch was able to work out an arrangement to leave her television production job earlier, allowing her more time for her commute to pick her children up from aftercare. The Vertesch family owns CertaPro Painters of Central Miami and counts on Carla's income as their family business gets off the ground.)

 

April 30, 2015

Miami Heat players says health scare led to better work life balance

 

Chris bosh

 

Sometimes, it takes a health scare to make us reflect on our lives. 

For Miami Heat's Chris Bosh, it was a blood clot. 

Last week, after the Miami Heat's basketball season ended and the rest of the players were cleaning out their lockers and doing exit interviews, Chris Bosh spoke to the media and said he was coming back next season way better than ever. While the other players seemed worn out, Bosh was upbeat and talked about his new perspective on the game of basketball and the game of life. 

In February, Bosh had been diagnosed with a blood clot and landed in the hospital. Bosh said he played with blood clots in his lungs for "three weeks probably" before being diagnosed. While lying in a hospital bed with clotted blood stopping up his lungs, he thought his career might be over. It gave him time to think and realize how much he missed basketball when he wasn't playing.

Bosh told the media that stepping back and taking time off allowed for reflection. "I needed to recharge my passion because I was getting beat down a little bit over the last four years," he said. 

Many of us forget how important it is to recharge. We push on, and on, until we find ourselves off our game. Life and all its stresses just add up. And while we might not be able to make those stressors go away, we can take a step back and force ourselves to reflect and recharge. 

Finding work life balance is not an easy feat but we can't wait until we're lying in a hospital bed to realize that prioritizing time for ourselves is not a luxury but a necessity. 

I think Chris Bosh realized the importance of down time and balance and putting your health first. Now, he is back with his team and ready to win. The rest of us need to approach life the same way, and surely, then, we will win too.

April 27, 2015

The ideal worker is ruining our lives

                                                 Ideal

 

 

The idea worker is not me and it likely isn't you.

The ideal worker doesn't take parental leave when a child is born. He or she has no need for family-friendly policies like flexible schedule, part-time work or telecommuting. The ideal worker doesn't need to find babysitters, deal with school closures or worry about child-care responsibilities.

The ideal worker, freed from all home duties, devotes himself completely to the workplace. He or she is a face-time warrior, the first one in in the morning and the last to leave at night. He or she is rarely sick, doesn't take vacation and is willing to hop on a plane whenever needed. The ideal worker will answer email at 3 a.m. or pull an all nighter if asked. He is the guy who works endless hours, even if it cost him or her their health or family. 

In her book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play when No One Has Time, Brigid Schulte brilliantly points Overwhelmed-TPBookshot-250x372out that the notion of the ideal worker wields immense power in the American workplace. "We are  programmed to emulate him at all costs, or at least feel the sting of not measuring up," she notes.

Here we are in the 21st Century, one in which most women and men work and most have some kind of home responsibilities. Yet, as Brigid points out in her book ( a must read!) most of us are being penalized because we can't meet the expectations of the ideal worker. 

This outdated notion of the ideal worker is a big reason why some education mothers disappear from the workplace and why some men hate their jobs. "Fathers are stigmatized when they seek to deviate from the ideal worker," Brigid writes. That leaves men with children faced with a sharp choice -- either they choose not to be equal partners at home or they choose to be equal partners and hurt their careers, she writes. 

What's it going to take to zap this longtime definition of the ideal worker?

That's a loaded question because with fast emerging technologies, the ideal worker is now expected to be on call and ready to roll all day, every day, all the time. Even worse, people who work for ideal worker managers sleep less than those who have flexible managers and are at great risk for heart disease, Brigid points out.

"No matter how much you do, how hard you work, how much you sacrifice, how devoted you are, you can never attain the ideal," Brigid convincingly argues.

So, here we are raising our kids, trying to please our customers and bosses, working crazy hours, and still, the workplace demands more. We are stressed. We are exhausted. We are on an unfulfilling search for happiness and we need a new definition of the ideal worker. NOW.

My definition of the ideal worker is someone who gives work his or her full attention while at the office and refuels once he or she leaves. My definition includes working parents who take their vacations, fathers who take their children to school or meet with their teachers, and singles who take time to do activities they find enjoyable. Under my definition, the ideal worker doesn't necessarily work less, he workers smarter and more innovatively.

If the outdated notion of the ideal worker is ruining your life, causing you to be overwhelmed and unsure of whether you can ever please everyone on the job and at home, it's time to work toward change. We can make the new definition stick, we just need to acknowledge it needs changing and get the movement started. 

April 16, 2015

Take a pause, Get in flow, Learn to play

                                       Trapeze

 

 

Have you ever heard of flow? Let me describe it to you....

Picture yourself on a surfboard, riding a wave. You are living in the moment, utterly absorbed in the feel of the board on the water, the sound of the wave and the splash of the ocean on your face.  Time seems to fall away. You are tired, but you barely notice. According to Steven Kotler, what you are experiencing in that moment is known as flow, a state of complete immersion in an activity. 

When you're in flow, your attention is focused and you are capable of amazing things,  every action flows effortlessly and innovation gets amplified. 

Flow experiences can occur in different ways for different people. A writer might experience this when working on a novel and the pages seem to write themselves. A basketball player might experience it when he gets into the zone, undergoes a loss of self-consciousness and focuses only on his shot from center court.

Flow states are now known to optimize performance, enhance creativity, drive innovation, accelerate learning and amplify memory.

The happiest people have flow. I don't have flow. I have stress. I am walking around with a to-do list that never gets shorter and I'm always thinking about ten things at the same time.

But I can get flow and so can you.

I bet you're thinking, "How in the world would I do that?" That's what I was thinking when I heard Steven Kotler speak about flow earlier this week at Human Capital Media's  Chief Learning Officer Symposium in Miami. Steven wrote  the book "The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance and says we can tap flow at work, home, or skiing down a mountain.

Here are a few of Steven's suggestions for triggering flow: Choose your own challenges, Put yourself in an unpredictable environment, stretch yourself just slightly greater than your skill set, embrace solitude, be aware of your senses, engage in serious concentration.

After hearing Kotler speak, I wandered into a nearby room at the conference to hear Yogi Roth talk about finding your inner grit. Roth, calls himself an Aventure-preneur (don't you love that title!) From Roth, I learned that I don't pause enough to think about my personal style, my vision, my theme and my philosophy.  I want to pause more, and think about these things. I want inner grit.

To get it, Roth says I must make sure how I describe myself, how my best friend describes me and how my mentor describe me are the same. I will start working on that...

Thanks Yogi, good stuff to know.

Most important, from Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time and the final speaker at the conference, I learned that I don't take enough time to play. When is the last time you jumped on a trampoline, glided through air on a swing or climbed a tree? For me, it's been way too long ago. So, if I want work life balance and a less stressful life, I must learn to play. I like the idea of playing more, don't you? At Patagonia,  managers have their meetings while hiking mountains and people take time in the afternoons to surf with co-workers. I love that concept -- play at work.

Do you know that in some parts of the country  there are women's play groups? Yes, these women get together weekly for playdates for a fun activity -- they trapeze, rock climb and bike ride. How cool is that!

Clearly, I have a few things to work on if I want to up my game. 

What are your thoughts on flow, grit, and play? If you have tapped into flow or found a way to fit play into your day, I want to hear from you. How do you make these concepts a reality? 

April 08, 2015

Is chit chat ruining your work life balance?

                                         Chitchat


A few days ago, a panel of women leaders gathered for The Commonwealth Institute South Florida luncheon. During a panel discussion, one of the women leaders , Gillian Thomas, spoke about how she came from the U.K. where meetings are run differently than in the U.S. Mostly, they are more efficient, she said, because they are all business. When she arrived in the U.S., she realized that chit chat is part of most business meetings. "I've had to learn to respect that," she said.

Yet, there is a movement underway to shorten business meetings and eliminate chit chat.

Not long ago, you may recall I wrote about a business owner who does most of his interaction by email. He considers phone calls and in person meetings a huge waste of time, mostly because he abhors chit chat. He calls small talk: "the biggest time waster known to man."

And, plenty of productivity gurus will tell you that chit chat wreaks havoc on our work life balance because it makes meetings and phone calls longer and distracts us from getting work done.

Still, I'm a big proponent of chit chat. To me, it's what makes the person sitting next to you more human. From a business perspective chit chat helps you find common ground with a client or co-worker. Getting to know someone on a more personal level makes them more likely to want to work with you. It makes them see you as a whole person and often it makes them respect your personal life that much more.

Have you ever worked with someone who was all business? I have and while I was extremely efficient when I work with them or for them, I didn't feel motivated to give any extra effort.

Not long ago I heard a businesswoman tell her story about how she landed a seat on a prestigious all-male board of a major corporation. She had played hockey in college and was a huge fan of the local NHL team. The chairman of the board was a big hockey fan too. During the interview process, they had chit chatted about hockey. It disarmed the man and made him see this woman as someone who could fit in. The male candidates who interviewed for the board seat had avoided chit chat but the woman, who also had amazing credentials, stood out.

I've noticed that small talk can lead to a variety of positive outcomes, from a merely pleasant exchange to the signing of multimillion-dollar business deal. It's a way to connect and while it may seem like a time drain to some, likeability is a key factor in getting hired, promoted or engaged as a vendor. And what determines a large portion of your likeability? You guessed it: your ability to small talk.

At the same TCI luncheon last week, the panelists were asked about their leadership styles. Alex Villoch publisher of The Miami Herald, said her style is all about getting out of her office and chit chatting with staff. "When you stay in your office, people will come in and tell you want they think you want to hear," she said. By roaming around and talking to employees, Villoch says she picks up small tidbits that often lead to big ideas.

Some of us feel guilty about wasting time at work. I say, go ahead and build chit chat into your workday. Good leaders do it, good networkers do it, good team builders do it. Small talk matters. That's something to consider next time you feel annoyed by a simple "How's your day going?"

April 06, 2015

Why women and young people don't want the top job

Gap


Inside the cubicles at many workplaces, there's a strange trend taking place.

Young people are comfortable and really don't want to upgrade their cubicle for the corner office. A new survey calls it the "Aspiration Gap".

In a recent study by talent management firm Saba and WorkplaceTrends.com, just 31% of Millennials said they aspire to a C-level position at their company. Also disinterested in the top job: women. Only 36 percent of women versus 64 percent of men aspire to be C-level executives in their organization.

What's going on?

While millennials do prioritize work life balance, Dan Schawbel, Founder of WorkplaceTrends.com., says the reason for the aspiration gap could be simple: "They just don’t see the path up."


According to Fortune, an obvious factor that explains why fewer women respondents expressed an interest in executive positions is not for a lack of ambition, but rather a lack of women role models at the top. After all, there are only 24 female CEOs in the United States’ biggest companies.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” says Caroline Ghosn, founder of Levo League, an online community dedicated to helping women in the early stages of their careers. “If I look up the food chain in my company and I don’t want to be any of the people that I see, what’s my incentive to advance?”

Schawbel says companies don't realize there's big trouble ahead: The lack of interest in leadership comes at a time when 30 percent of HR executives polled said they were struggling to find candidates to fill senior leadership roles. It also comes as 10,000 boomers retire every day.

"Most companies are waiting around. This is not as big of an issue now as it will be in the next 3 to 5 years," Schawbel says. "But we see problem now and think they should start to do something about it before it's too late."

One way simple way to do this is to provide employees with more opportunities to learn new skills. The survey found one reason workers lack interest is because they feel they aren't getting proper training for top jobs.

Emily He, Chief Marketing Officer of Saba, said: “There’s more at play than the retirement of Baby Boomers; the fundamental approaches businesses take to find, develop and inspire leaders at all levels need to change.”

Schawbel said employees are looking for personal career direction and suggests employers address the aspiration gap in these ways:

* Train and engage potential leaders so they have a better chance of becoming future executives.
* Help women and young workers feel their requests for leadership development are heard
* Provide more learning opportunities at all levels, particularly for women.
* Initiate succession planning programs
* Pair new hires with mentors

"By providing training and making millennials more confident in their roles, they might be more aspirational," Schawbel says.

What are your thoughts on why young people and women don't want the top job? Do you think they need more training? Or, do you think they are put off by the time commitment required of top leaders and the lack of work life balance?

March 20, 2015

On International Day of Happiness, lots to think about

Happy

 

 

Today is International Day of Happiness and it's making me wonder: Is there too much pressure on us to be happy?

The prior generations worked hard at home, in manufacturing plants, in offices. They found happiness in small moments when family or friends were gathered around the dinner table or sitting out on the porch. Today, we're so busy. There is so much pressure on us to make money, eat healthy, exercise, respond to what's on our smartphones. We're supposed to do everything on our to-do lists, help solve world problems, raise super-motivated kids and be super happy.

Have we set ourselves up to fall short?

I just read an article in the New York Times about a new play on Broadway, a revival of Wendy Wasserstein's The Heidi Chronicles. The headline of the article read: A Debate of the '80s, Motherhood vs. Career, Still Resonates. Even as more women work than stay at home, we still are debating whether we can have it all. We have put tremendous pressure on ourselves to have amazing work lives and happy home lives. 

And, on top of that, we can't even manage to allow ourselves time off to take real vacations. 

“Americans are among the world’s worst vacationers,” said John de Graaf, President of Take Back Your Time. “According to U.S. Travel Association, some 40 percent of Americans leave an average of seven or more days of paid vacation on the table every year."

Why can't we slow down and allow ourselves to be happy? Is our struggle for work life balance standing in the way of our happiness?

We need to look at what's standing in the way of our happiness in our personal and wife lives.  It requires introspection and maybe some rethinking of the definition of happiness.

Experts tell us the obstacle to a happier life could be ourselves, or someone else. In the workplace, we tend to be unhappy when we clash with our boss or co-worker. At home we tend to be unhappy when our expectations from our friends, relatives or children aren't met.

Regardless, we have the power to improve the lines of communication, lower our expectations, and tell others what we need from them. 

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, believes we can tinker with our small habits to create more happiness in our lives. I think we can all be happier if we stop putting pressure on ourselves to be perfect, happy people who are elated and confident every moment of every day.

On this International Day of Happiness, I'm issuing all of you a challenge: Come up with one small change you can make that will increase your level of happiness. Take a vacation day, refuse to let a co-worker ruin your work experience, ask your spouse for help with chores, take up a new hobby, allow yourself to make mistakes. Most important, notice when you are happy and recreate that experience as often as possible.

I'm planning to allow myself time each day to power down and live in the moment. I'm convinced that will help me feel happier.

What are your thoughts on happiness?

Are too many of us just getting through our lives without examining whether we are happy? If you've made a change that has increased your happiness level, please share!