What Are Life Domains & How Can We Balance Them?

What are life domainsJuggling is a mind-boggling skill, and for me to juggle just 3 balls requires all of my attention, never mind juggling 6 torches, 10 balls, or even worse… knives.

If you are as inept as I am, how well do you cope with juggling the responsibilities of life?

Imagine you have different balls for different parts of your life. At times, it is almost impossible to keep them all up in the air.

If you want to know more about what the different life domains are, how to manage them, and how to become a successful and balanced ‘life juggler,’ you will find this article to be a fascinating read.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Happiness & Subjective Wellbeing Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients identify sources of authentic happiness and strategies to boost wellbeing.

What Are Life Domains?

There are a great number of divisions and domains in life (Rojas, 2006; Cummins, 2003; Headey & Wearing, 1992; Veenhoven, 1996), encompassing anywhere from a small range to the infinite possibilities of human activities and areas of being (Rojas, 2006).

In a meta-analysis, Cummins (1996) examined research that identified as few as 5 life domains to as many as 15 areas of life.

Headey and Wearing (1992) identified the domains of leisure, work, marriage, standard of living, health, sex life, and friendship.

Cummins (1996) identified the life domains of health, productivity, material wellbeing, intimacy, safety, emotional wellbeing, and community.

Vanderweele (2017) generally suggests that there are five domains of human life that should be focused on to promote human flourishing: spirituality, family, work, health, and community. This is a simple and easy-to-understand model that illustrates the main life domains recognized by most people.

The 5 Domains of Life

So let us now look at the five basic domains of life as described by Vanderweele (2017). His interpretation is widely recognized and will help you understand how life domains interact with each other and how you can find balance between them.

Domains of Life

1. Spirituality

This area of life should be prioritized but is often neglected (Moberg & Brusek, 1978). Although the words religion and spirituality are often used interchangeably, a person does not have to practice a faith to be spiritual (Mercadante, 2014).

Spirituality enables a purpose in life and dictates how someone may think, feel, and behave to allow them to gain fulfillment (Mercadante, 2014). Spirituality is based on an individual’s principles and focuses on creating a good life for themselves (Dierendonck, 2011).

When a person’s actions are not in line with their spiritual beliefs, this can cause an imbalance within this life domain.

2. Family

Family is an essential but influential domain. Family does not have to be biological. More importantly, it relates to people with whom you have a meaningful relationship (Robins & Tomanec, 1962).

The family domain is an area of life that can become imbalanced when a person’s roles and responsibilities are not being fulfilled. This may be because another domain is receiving more attention, such as work (Rao & Indla, 2010).

It may be that the beliefs, values, and behaviors of the person are not in line with other family members. When this domain is imbalanced, it results in fractured relationships, estrangement, and separations (Olah, Kotowska, & Richter, 2018).

3. Work

Work plays a fundamental part in the life of most adults throughout all societies. It has an economic and instrumental role because it provides a livelihood (Scoones, 2009).

Work provides a will to learn, develop, and accomplish goals. Work also has a psychosocial aspect. It gives meaning to an individual’s life and satisfies their need to be part of society (Sharabi & Harpaz, 2007).

It is important that people enjoy what they are doing, where they are working, and who they are working with. If an individual is investing too much time in this domain to the detriment of other domains, it may cause an imbalance.

4. Health

This domain concerns physical, emotional, and mental health and wellbeing. Individuals can learn how to develop a healthy lifestyle from an early age through education (Cutler & Lleras-Muney, 2014).

Physical health can deteriorate from work stress and financial demands. Poor health can affect independent living and the ability to work and engage with family members and the community. This can be detrimental to positive emotional and mental health and wellbeing (Wong, Chan, & Ngan, 2019).

It is essential to adopt a healthy lifestyle and promote healthy living. Understanding how to exercise, eat healthily, relax, and connect spiritually helps to promote overall health.

5. Community

Relationships outside the family are essential (Darling, Hamilton, & Shaver, 2003). These can be with friends or specific communities, such as the neighborhood community, faith or sports-based interests, or hobbies that allow a person to develop a sense of belonging with others (Darling et al., 2003).

Community allows people to be united and, like family, allows a sense of safety and security (Bowe et al., 2020).

It provides a sense of achievement and fulfillment, especially when an individual is working toward a shared community goal, such as raising money for a good cause or helping others within the community (Bowe et al., 2020). Nevertheless, spending too much time with the community and neglecting other domains, such as family, can cause an imbalance.

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5 Real-Life Examples

To bring this interpretation closer to home, there are a number or practical examples one can look at.

1. Spirituality and faith

Spirituality and faith, when overly ascribed to, can cause an imbalance of life domains. The Followers of Christ is a religious sect derived from Mormonism and is predominantly in the United States.

They practice faith healing and revert to these practices when a child is unwell, rather than seeking help from registered and authorized medical professionals. This has led to high child mortality rates among these groups.

An ad campaign named ‘Let Them Live’ featured a young woman named Mariah. She was born with a congenital hole in her heart that was never successfully treated, as her parents refused to take her to the doctors. They believed her illness could be healed by faith and the power of prayer; however, her health deteriorated rapidly.

Mariah has been raising awareness among the public and legislators to change the thinking and attitudes of such religious groups (Wilson, 2016).

2. Family

Family domains can conflict when the time required for household chores and caring for the family clash. The degree of participation in the home can create difficulties for participating in work, resulting in a home-to-work conflict (Huang, Hammer, Neal, & Perrin, 2004).

Time spent caring for family members appears to differ considerably between men and women. Women experience greater home-to-work interference. In a study by Gerstel and Sarkisian (2006), women were found to spend 38 hours per week caring for children, while men spent 23 hours. Women also spent 20 hours with family members, as opposed to 14 hours for men. Women spent 20 hours on household chores, as opposed to 11 hours for men.

This suggest that women may experience more family domain interference on their work (Hammer, Allen, & Grigsby, 1997). One suggestion by other researchers is the inclusion of family-friendly policies to improve the home–work balance of women (Sprung, Toumbeva, & Matthews, 2015; Matias et al., 2017).

3. Work

Work is a domain that can be negative in excess. Johnson et al. (2005) found that certain occupations accompanied a high level of occupational stress outcomes. These include ambulance workers, teachers, social service providers, police officers, customer service representatives, and prison officers.

There was a high level of emotional labor associated with these highly stressful jobs. These occupations reported worse-than-average scores for outcome measures on physical health, psychological wellbeing, and job satisfaction.

This study highlights that certain occupations require more emotional and psychological demands, burdening the work domain and impacting other life domains. Since this study was undertaken, these professions receive enhanced support and counseling services to buffer stress and improve work–life balance (Mind, 2021).

4. Health

Health is a domain that can suffer when people focus on it excessively. Professional soccer players perform at their best physically through regular training and matches. They attempt to perform at optimal physical fitness levels. However, it is not until recent years that the mental health of soccer players has been given attention.

A study of 607 professional soccer players found that 15% experienced distress, 37% had anxiety and depression, 23% experienced sleep disturbance, and 9% had adverse alcohol use (Gouttebarge, Backx, Aoki, & Kerkhoffs, 2015).

The Professional Football Service now provides a counseling service that many soccer players can access (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, 2020).

5. Community

Community is an area of life where some people become overly involved. We can all think of some world-famous icons who have dedicated their lives to their communities in their strive to make a change.

Think about the late and great president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. He struggled desperately for many years to end apartheid. He was imprisoned for 27 years on Robben Island, Pollsmoor Prison, and Victor Verster Prison in South Africa (Nelson Mandela Foundation, 2021), for his revolutionary and philanthropic actions. This, in turn, led him to be cut off from all other life domains during his incarceration.

If anyone asked Mr. Mandela about his sacrifice to the community after his release, he may well have told them it was worth it. In one sense, the global changes he created for the world have allowed millions of others to live more balanced lives. But his deep commitment to his community impacted him negatively in all of his other life domains.

How to Balance Life Domains

Balancing life domainsBalancing life domains is not easy.

How can it be?

We have so many domains to balance and so many activities within each domain. Life domains should be regularly assessed and evaluated, then adjusted by setting goals.

The following are strategies or techniques that can be used to balance life domains.

  1. Compensation is a technique that increases positive life domains to counteract negative life domains. Decreasing the not-so-good parts of negative life domains reduces the unhappy influence from these domains on overall life satisfaction (Lee & Sirgy, 2018).
  2. Accept and acknowledge that not everything can be done in every domain all the time. There will always be limitations to getting everything done due to constraints on time, energy, and money. The ability to accept ourselves is a crucial factor in improving our overall feelings of emotional wellbeing (MacInnes, 2006).
  3. Breitman and Hatch (2000) wrote a book on a straightforward idea to balance life domains. Their book concerns the art of saying ‘no’ without feeling guilty. The use of this two-letter word can help us rid ourselves of all the things that are preventing us from living positively in all domains.
  4. Poor organization and time management may cause life domains to feel stretched and overloaded. Planning time and organizing activities that are the main priority can help to minimize stress.
  5. Ensure time is scheduled for relaxation. Many studies have found this is important in reducing stress, anxiety, and low mood (Manzoni, Pagnini, Castelnuovo, & Molinari, 2008).

How to be successful in multiple domains of life – THE BESTS

Measuring Domains: 6 Assessments

There is an abundance of instruments that assess the overall quality of life and scales that measure life satisfaction. There are also a vast number of domain-specific assessments. Let us have a look at these.

1. The World Health Organization Quality of Life Scale (WHOQOL-BREF)

The WHOQOL-BREF (World Health Organization, 2012) is a self-report assessment of the quality of life within the context of the person’s culture, values, goals, and concerns.

It focuses on six areas:

  1. Everyday life
  2. Physical health
  3. Psychological health
  4. Participation
  5. Quality of life
  6. Social relationships

It is a 26 item short-form inventory. The items are rated on a five-point Likert scale. It is quick to use and a reliable and validated assessment, used within extensive research studies and clinical trials.

The assessment provides a mean score for each life domain. The higher the score, the higher the quality of life.

The benefits of using this assessment are that it has been field tested in many cultural contexts and is available in 19 languages.

A copy of the full scale can be found on the World Health Organization’s website.

2. Spirituality and Assessment Scale (SAS)

The SAS (Howden, 1992) is a 28-statement scale using a 6-point Likert scale. In this assessment, spirituality is defined as an integrated dimension of one’s being. It is considered to be a reliable and valid measure of the fundamental human dimension of spirituality (not religiosity).

It assesses interconnectedness, meaning, and purpose in life. It also looks at transcendence and inner resources.

A copy of the full scale can be found at ProQuest.

3. Family Assessment Measure-III (FAM-III)

The FAM-III (Skinner, Steinhauer, & Santa-Barbara, 1995) assesses family functioning by emphasizing family dynamics and provides numerical scores to highlight a family’s strengths and weaknesses.

It examines family health, relationships, and family functioning. It can lead to improvements in assessing, treating, and understanding dysfunction and problems within the family domain.

The FAM-III provides a multi-rater and multi-generational assessment of the functioning of six clinical parameters and two validity scales. The Brief FAM is a short version that can screen for initial evaluations of the family domain, although FAM-III provides much more information.

A copy of the full scale can be found at the York University Psychology Resource Center.

4. Work Stress Questionnaire (WSQ)

The WSQ (Holmgren, Dahlin-Ivanoff, Björkelund, & Hensing, 2009) is a self-administered questionnaire developed to assess individuals at risk of work-related stress and imbalance in the work domain.

This 21 item questionnaire is self-administered and considered to be reliable and valid. It covers four key themes:

  • Organizational conflicts
  • Demands and commitments
  • Influence at work
  • Leisure time interference from work

There are multiple-choice responses.

This assessment is an essential means of assessing work-related stress and imbalance in this specific domain.

A copy of the full scale is provided by Kristina Holmgren.

5. General Health Questionnaire-28 (GHQ)

The GHQ-28 (Goldberg, 1981) is a globally used assessment of general health that includes physical and psychological health and provides an overall opinion on the quality of a person’s life, given their health.

It provides four scores:

  • Somatic symptoms
  • Anxiety and insomnia
  • Social dysfunction
  • Depression (severe)

The measure is self-reported with multiple-choice options. The higher the score, the higher the level of distress, indicating an imbalance within the health domain.

A copy of the full scale can be requested from GL Assessment.

6. Community Quality of Life Survey

This Community Quality of Life Survey (Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, 2017) is a self-report survey for adults over 16 years old, examining their identity, sense of community, civic engagement, social action, volunteering, loneliness, and subjective wellbeing.

It provides an overall idea of whether this domain is imbalanced due to too little community involvement. It includes information on social cohesion, community engagement, and social action.

A copy of the full scale can be found on GOV.UK.

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PositivePsychology.com’s Relevant Resources

As a helping professional, it is valuable to know how to guide your clients in effective life balancing as it is associated with higher levels of wellbeing. To jumpstart the journey of helping your clients balance their life domains, we have provided some of our relevant resources.

Balancing Life Domains© Coaching Masterclass

Balancing Life Domains© is a coaching masterclass that will teach you how to help others effectively manage attention and energy between our most valued life domains, such as family, work, and leisure. This is taught by addressing the roles of attention, needs fulfillment, and actions required to create life balance.

Your clients will be given all the necessary tools to create a more balanced life through fun and engaging exercises and techniques.

The Balancing Life Domains© Masterclass is exclusive to The Complete Life Navigation© Masterclass Series, our comprehensive positive psychology certification program. As such, it can only be accessed by joining Life Navigation© and cannot be purchased as a stand-alone masterclass.

Free Worksheets

In addition to our Balancing Life Domains Masterclass, we also have several free worksheets that can help you or your clients learn to balance life domains effectively.

  • 3 Month Vision Board
    This exercise helps clients break significant personal transformations across different domains into smaller, achievable chunks across a three-month time horizon.
  • Self-Care Checkup
    This worksheet helps clients consider the frequency and quality of their self-care across five important life domains and includes a useful list of more than 40 self-care activities.
  • Personal Values Worksheet
    This worksheet helps clients explore what they view as meaningful and important across ten life domains, serving as a basis to determine how they might focus their energy and time.
  • Basic Needs Satisfaction in General Scale
    This validated 21-item assessment allows practitioners to assess the extent to which a client’s core needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness are generally satisfied in their life.

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others develop strategies to boost their wellbeing, this collection contains 17 validated happiness and wellbeing exercises. Use them to help others pursue authentic happiness and work toward a  life filled with purpose and meaning.

A Take-Home Message

It is difficult to balance the different domains in life. It is a juggling act, and skill is needed. Many problems can occur, and the consequences of dropping a ball can leave you with the shattered pieces of ill health or a broken marriage.

It is vital to be cognizant of your domains and not overload anyone. There needs to be a continuous awareness of any one area becoming ‘top heavy.’ It is important to understand what a balanced life looks like, and it differs for all individuals.

Regularly evaluating life domains keeps them balanced and ensures happiness and a good overall quality of life. It develops a good sense of flow and ensures equal presence in all aspects of life.

As a coach, you will find that a good way to identify the current status of your clients’ life domains is to use appropriate assessments. Once the imbalance has been evaluated, consider the clients’ values and goals within each life domain.

It is best to focus and tackle one domain at a time to implement change. Start with the easiest one first. Once the implemented change has reached the desired balance, the next domain can be tackled. Building momentum with changes can start to create a balance. Even small changes in each domain can have a positive impact on overall life satisfaction.

A new balanced life can start with just one step.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Happiness Exercises for free.


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