We are constantly measuring the success of women by their salaries and their occupancy of c-suites compared to men. But is that all there is for women? For any of us? While this data is easily obtained, there may be a far more important and accurate measure of an individual's and our country's success that we don't even attempt to quantify, and that is well-being. well-being is often described as, "The state of being content, happy, healthy and prosperous."
Dan Buettner's work looking at the characteristics of the happiest cities in the world places very little emphasis on status or income. In fact, one of the happiest cities in the world is in the Netherlands, where a lawyer makes the same salary as a garbage man. Since there isn't an emphasis on status or motivation simply for salary, people pursue what they are truly passionate about, producing a much more innovative workforce. Buettner's work also shows the primary driver of work related happiness is the quality of relationships at work. Having a best friend at work is a much stronger correlate of work happiness than income. In addition to great relationships, people have balance. On average, people in the Netherlands work 37 hours a week and take full advantage of their six weeks of vacation.
Happy people have more than money and titles, they have their health and well-being. The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered "Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived."
Statistics show that the people who live the longest have a strong social connection, place their families and loved ones first, and have a clear personal purpose. Unfortunately, this is exactly the opposite for most of us as we climb the "career ladder" and attempt to gain income and status.
I remember when I was first starting medical school, I was certain I wanted to be a brain surgeon. If you had asked me why, I would have told you simply because it's the hardest and most competitive field to get into. After having a chance to actually spend time in an operating room, I had to face the fact that I didn't actually enjoy operating; I liked the idea of being a brain surgeon to say I could do it.
I found myself facing a similar dilemma in the last few years as I focused my work in cardiology on the preventive side. Preventive cardiology allowed me the opportunity to focus on an area that I was more passionate about, providing me more job satisfaction and also more flexibility that led to more personal and family well-being. However, I consciously chose to leave a more traditional cardiology path that would have meant a higher financial trajectory and more clinical prestige.
I consider myself very fortunate to have had these choices and the ability to act on them. However everyone has a different set of circumstances, and many individuals can't afford to make changes that could lead to better health, more happiness, more purpose, or higher job satisfaction and an improvement in overall well-being. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't include well-being as a measure of our national and individual success -- perhaps it is the reason we should.
It is not enough to say employers need to create more job flexibility or to talk about tips for work life balance. We value the things we measure. If we start measuring and paying attention to well- being, we are far more likely to start acting seriously to improve it -- as a nation and as institutions and employers -- creating a climate that is more hospitable and more practical for individuals to take action and make choices not currently available to improve their own well being, whether they are women or men.