A balanced life seems to be a tall order these days. A perfectly balanced life is, in fact, unattainable. But step back a minute and think about why balance is worth pursuing at all. For me, the answer is that balance equates with happiness – far more than the fool’s gold we call money, power, or prestige. And it doesn’t take perfect work/life or self/family or any other type of balance to actually get to happiness. Rather, it takes good-enough balance. What does this level of balance look like? My favorite description is the Vacation Test.

Pretend you have a vacation coming up. Not a trip to your uncle’s funeral or anything else that is considered hard work or stressful. This is a relaxing trip or an adventure you have planned. Now, what is your mindset as your departure date gets closer? Is it ‘I’m so excited to be going to Serenity Island’ or it is ‘I need this trip to Serenity Island so much’? If your life is generally balanced, a vacation is a target of extra fun – a way to relax in new surroundings, see another culture, explore nature, try something new. It is not a reset button. If you can live day in and day out without needing a vacation, you are living the type of balance I’m talking about – and I’m betting you’ll be pretty close to happy.

How do you get to this type of balance? By not letting any one area of your life encroach on time or energy that you want to give to another area. I like to think of my life as divided into four general domains – breadwinning (career and job), housework (chores and home maintenance), childraising (if you have children) and recreation (fun, mental/physical/spiritual self-care, relaxation, connecting with partner/friends). If your job causes you to miss important time with your kids and with your husband or partner, something’s out of balance. If you’ve downsized your career to a level that doesn’t bring you satisfaction because you’re home raising your children, you’ve got a harder road to happiness at the moment. If you’re doing a double-shift of housework each evening after a full day at work and with the kids, there’s no time left for your own fun.

For every action, there is a consequence. Balance comes when you find the right mix of these four domains within yourself and together with your family (partner and kids). Getting there takes the courage to let go of society’s and your own expectations – such as specific achievements at work, do-it-all mothering, a perfectly kept home, or a promotion to a high-title job with big paychecks and even bigger time commitments.

Good enough is good enough. Don’t take a vacation from your life – give yourself a chance for happiness on any ordinary day instead.

-Amy Vachon

Amy Vachon is the co-founder of EquallySharedParenting.com, a website devoted to parents who balance their lives by sharing equally in all aspects of work and family.