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How to manage life’s zero-sum-game

All life spheres, i.e. work, home, community and self (mind, body, spirit), are important. They can, and should, be combined in order to foster subjective well-being in life’s endless zero-sum game.

Published : 11.01.2022

The other day I came across a special issue of Harvard Business Review titled The New Work/Life Balance (2020). The special issue covered topics such as managing burnout, establishing boundaries and finding time for both work and family. The articles were fascinating reading. 

One thing that particularly appealed to me, was the idea that all life spheres, ie work, home, community and self (mind, body, spirit), are important. They can and should be combined in order to foster subjective well-being.  One just has to be decisive, determined, motivated and creative to pursue it.

The bottom line, and insight is that well-being matters, not only to ourselves, but also to our employers, society and families.

All life spheres must be fostered

Traditional thinking pits work and the rest of our lives against each other. Many believe that the more they strive to win in one dimension, the more they lose in the other three dimensions. This thinking is dangerous and wrong. All life spheres must be fostered, not separated, nor ignored. 

As Stewart Friedman writes in his article of the special issue, many people feel unfulfilled, stagnant and /or overwhelmed because they are forsaking performance in one or more aspects of their lives. 

But according to him there are methods for making it all work.  First, we need to articulate who, and what matters the most in our lives. Then, we need to clarify what is important, by analyzing how it can be achieved, ie how to combine work, family, community and self, in life’s endless zero-sum game. 

Friedman’s research suggests, that people who focus on all life spheres are not only more satisfied, but also perform better at work.  Hence, both the subjective well-being and work productivity increases.

Eustress as a state of mind

Another work-balance related term of interest is the concept of eustress, which is the opposite of negative stress. Eustress is a vital concept and state of mind, as it actually reduces stress, and enhances a person’s performance and subjective well-being.

As Casey Lee (2019) puts it , eustress produces positive feelings of excitement, fulfillment, meaning, satisfaction, and well-being.  This positive stress happens when you cross boundaries, dare to try new things, learn, and take on new challenges, such as innovative projects or start a new hobby.  

Lee explains that eustress is good because it makes you feel able, confident and stimulated by the challenge you experience from the stressor. You excel. Hence, according to Kara Fasone (2019):

  • emotionally eustress can result in contentment, motivation, satisfaction and flow, 
  • psychologically eustress can help you build self-efficacy, autonomy and resilience and
  • physiologically eustress can strengthen your body through physiological challenges. 

Happy Healthy New Year 2022! 
Annica Isacsson heads Engaging vocational pedagogy, one of Haaga-Helia´s four central areas of work based applied research. Its research work is executed by a core group of experts in collaboration with working life, networks and stakeholders. One of the focus themes is Well being and work life skills.


  • Fasone, Kara. 2019. Cited in Eustress: The Good Stress. Healthline.
  • Friedman, Stewart, D. 2020. Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life. Harvard Business Review Special Issue Winter 2020: The New Work/Life Balance.
  • Lee, Casey. 2019. Cited in Eustress: The Good Stress. Healthline