Happiness and Balance: How Leaders Use the SPIRE Model for Life Balance

Does life balance give rise to greater happiness? How can the science of happiness help to achieve happiness AND balance?

These are the questions that I explored with the alumni of  OPERA America’s Leadership Intensive Program at the recent Leadership Intensive Alumni Forum in Los Angeles, California. These non-profit arts leaders have been through an incredibly demanding period starting with the COVID Pandemic shut down in March 2020.   And they now are grappling with how to bring back old audiences, find new audiences and donors, leverage digital performance and deal with Artificial Intelligence. With all these challenges, our leaders struggle to maintain a sense of balance, with the danger is that our leaders might burn out.  Our session therefore focused on how the science of happiness can create greater life balance using the SPIRE framework.

The SPIRE Model of Happiness

As a reminder, SPIRE is a holistic, multi-dimensional model based on five elements:

S: spiritual well-being
P: physical well-being
I: intellectual well-being
R: relational well-being
E: emotional well-being

The SPIRE model can be applied in many situations. I have previously written about how individuals can incorporate SPIRE principles into their lives. Another blog shows how leaders can use SPIRE to become positive, resilient and optimistic and empower their staff members to be happier as well.

Why Happiness and Balance Are Important

SPIRE is a holistic model of happiness, drawing on multiple areas of our lives.  Thus, SPIRE inherently incorporates balance!

Balance is an important predicter of happiness according to the 2022 World Happiness Report.

Work-life balance is also an important aspect of a healthy work environment. In fact, according to Mental Health America, employees who are happy and balanced are more productive, take fewer sick days and are more likely to stay with their employers.   Moreover, maintaining work-life balance helps reduce stress and helps prevent burnout in the workplace and chronic stress.

Finally, there is a strong correlation between happiness in our personal lives and happiness in the professional sphere. A study from Oregon University found that a happy home life begets happiness and productivity in the workplace as well. And stress in one area bleeds  into stress in other parts of life 

Happiness and Balance through SPIRE

To achieve happiness and balance through the SPIRE Model,  you incorporate all 5 SPIRE elements into your life.   This does not mean that you have to devote equal time to each element! Instead, focus on 1-2 elements that bring you the greatest satisfaction and then see how to include a few practices for the other elements. Moreover, you can achieve greater balance through SPIRE by making small changes to which you commit.

Here are a few practices in each of the 5 SPIRE elements that resonated with our leaders

  1. Spiritual Wellbeing: Happiness and Balance with Purpose and Meaning

One aspect of spiritual wellbeing is feeling that your life is meaningful and has a sense of purpose.

As leaders in the mission-driven world of the arts, our leaders experience a deep sense of purpose at work, finding their work a calling.  In fact, according to the research by Yale School of Management Professor Amy Wrzesniewski, perceiving your work as a calling can help you to find greater meaning and satisfaction in your life and work.

Indeed, feeling a sense of calling at work correlates with one kind of purpose:  the purpose OF your life.  Purpose can also be found IN your life.  This distinction is key to balance.

Here’s why:

When we work at something that we love, it’s really easy to get buried in that area and work too much. This throws our life off balance since it means that there is less time for people and situations that are also sources of purpose IN our lives.

The idea that resonated with our leaders was to find purpose outside of work.  This included spending time in the following areas of life:

  • Family
  • Service
  • Personal development
  • Relationships
  • Sports
  • Volunteer work
  • Spiritual life
  • Artistic pursuits

So like our leaders, if you find yourself buried at work, see how to find purpose in other areas of your life.  Then, prioritize activities that fuel your sense of purpose in life.

  1. Physical Wellbeing: Happiness and Balance with Recovery and Rest

An important aspect of physical wellbeing is rest.

Physical rest is a basic human need, and contributes significantly to how well our mind and body function.  It is also essential to our emotional and physical wellbeing.

Without recovery, you are in danger of chronic stress. And that takes a toll on your  mental and physical health

Here’s how to bring more rest and recovery into your life:


  • Take 15 minutes off during the work day to recharge
  • Take a lunch break
  • Take a nap


  • Get enough sleep
  • Take a day off


Take a vacation

  1. Intellectual: Happiness and Balance with Multiple Intelligence

Intellectual wellbeing includes engaging in deep learning. This means devoting time to focus on your learning and tuning out distractions.  One concept that resonated with our leaders is multiple intelligence.

Multilple intelligence comes from the work of Dr. Howard Gardner, a professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He posits that people employ several different types of intelligence, rather than one general type.  In fact, there are eight distinct types of intelligence:

  • Linguistic
  • Mathematical
  • Musical
  • Spatial
  • Intrapersonal/introspective
  • Interpersonal/social
  • Naturalistic/
  • Body/Kinesthetic

You can take a test to see which intelligences you have.

In order to incorporate intellectual wellbeing, take the test to see what are your areas of multiple intelligence. Then, spend quality time with a practice that allows you to exercise this type of intelligence.

In my case, I scored 100% in musical intelligence which has helped me to prioritize practicing the piano!

  1. Relational: Happiness and Balance with Relationships, the Single Biggest Predictor of Happiness

Relational wellbeing includes nurturing quality relationships with others.  In fact, research from the 8-decade Harvard Study of Adult Development shows that having quality relationships with others is the single biggest predictor of happiness.  A recently published book,  The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study on Happiness by the director of the Study Dr. Robert Waldinger and his colleague Marc Schulz, lays out this research. The study shows that

“The stronger our relationships, the more likely we are to live happy, satisfying, and overall healthier lives.” 

In addition, the study demonstrates that “the strength of our connections with others can predict the health of both our bodies and our brains as we go through life.”

The key is to have quality relationships, whether in the workplace, at home or in other areas of your life.

For busy leaders, this concept reinforced the importance of spending time with family and close friends.  In addition, our leaders also benefitted from having strong professional networks like the Leadership Intensive Network that has been in existence since 2012.  Our Los Angeles Alumni Forum was an example of the power of professional networks!

As our leaders reflected on this research, they understood the need to prioritize their important relationships, both at work and outside of work.  The New York Times  Wellness Challenge in January 2023 teamed up with Dr. Waldinger and came up with some great practices that do not take a lot of time. These include:

  • Call a good friend for an 8 minute chat;
  • Seek out moments when you can interact with another person, even a stranger.
  • Write down 10 things you are grateful that your partner did and then send it to them!
  • Cultivate workplace friendships;
  • Start a staff meeting with a few icebreakers to get to know your colleagues better.
  • Make a plan to interact with someone else and stick to it;

In short, prioritize your relationships! And be mindful and purposeful when you are with a friend or loved one. In that way, you can experience both spiritual AND relational wellbeing!

  1. Emotional: Happiness and Balance by Enhancing Pleasurable Emotions

Emotional wellbeing-the fifth SPIRE element- sums up the four other SPIRE elements. It encapsulates how we feel about ourselves and our lives.

For starters, emotional wellbeing accepts all emotions. It gives us permission to be human.

A happy life is not about feeling great all the time. It is not a life devoid of painful emotions. Instead, a happy life is the ability to experience all emotions and then to take actions that lead to a more helpful way of looking at life.  This leads to experiencing pleasurable emotion.

There are many benefits to experiencing pleasurable emotions.  It feels good to feel good!  Moreover, pleasurable emotions broaden our perspective and help us build resources.  In addition, they contribute to our physical health and can actually make us live longer.

The practices that resonated with our leaders to bring out pleasurable emotions include:

  • Daily gratitude list writing down and visualizing 5 people, experiences or things for which you are grateful;
  • Journaling about what you learned from a challenging situation;
  • Reframing a feeling of worry into a feeling of excitement.

Incorporating SPIRE Happiness and Balance into your Life

Here is how to use SPIRE to incorporate more happiness and balance into your life.

Start by asking yourself if all 5 SPIRE elements present in your life right now and where they show up.

Then go through each SPIRE element as follows:

  1. Rate yourself on how well and how much time you spend experiencing this element. Use a scale of 1 to 10 with “1” meaning “not at all” and “10” meaning “fully living it.”
  2. Describe what this number represents.

Next,  ask yourself:

Which SPIRE element would you like to live more fully?

And which one, if you focused more on it, would improve your life balance quality of life?

Select a few action steps that you can easily bring into yourself.  Keep in mind that small changes can make a big impact if you commit to your action steps on a regular basis.

That’s the way to build the happiness habit!