NEW YORK -- In ways big and small, Americans have been looking to rebalance their lives since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
Many -- especially baby boomers, who have made multitasking a lifestyle -- have begun asking questions like, "Do I need to work 60 hours a week?" "How much house is too much?" "What do I really want for my kids?"
The answers are still emerging, but J. Walter Smith, president of Yankelovich Partners, a marketing consultancy, believes they will center on a half-dozen values: family, community, integrity, authenticity, security and balance.
"In the year and a half prior to Sept. 11, we were already seeing some shifting in peoples' priorities," Smith said. "What Sept. 11 did was accomplish in a day what might otherwise have taken years. It gave people permission to talk about these things and to begin to actively look for ways to reconnect with these values."
Some of this, he feels, is a reaction to the excesses of the 1990s, when "we had more stuff, more wealth than ever before, but it didn't make us feel happier."
Ruth L. Hayden, a financial consultant in St. Paul, Minn., believes many families are re-evaluating their lives.
"I think people are slowing down and saying, 'Let's think about this,"' Hayden said.
She's seeing clients who are cutting down their work hours, turning their cell phones off so they can have uninterrupted conversations, spending more time at home -- and actually enjoying it.
"What seemed important on Sept. 10 didn't seem important on Sept. 12," Hayden said. "They want their lives to work better."
Maui Meyer, a real estate developer in Hood River, Ore., believes many people in big cities are considering a move to a smaller town. He says that since the attacks, he has seen a 20 percent to 30 percent jump in the number of people looking for houses.
"People who thought of Hood River as a place to buy a vacation cottage are now asking about bigger houses," Meyer said. "Let's face it, people can work from anywhere these days."
Meyer, 35, believes the attacks shocked a lot of people into "trying to make more sense out of their lives." And he sees them asking a progression of questions that can only be answered by major lifestyle changes.
"Start with, I want to spend more time with my kids, but I can't because I have a long commute to work," he said. "If I shift to working at home, do you need that SUV anymore? Do I need to live in a big city?"
Clinical social worker Janet Strassman Perlmutter, who operates a psychotherapy practice in central Massachusetts with her husband, psychologist Joel Perlmutter, says change could take time.
"Lifestyle changes, to put work and life in better balance, are often a series of small decisions that sometimes lead to bigger decisions," she said. "Two years from now, people may look back and say, 'After Sept. 11 I obviously needed to make changes in my life, and I did."'
Joel Perlmutter thinks many Americans, especially boomers, "need to teach themselves that we don't have to be busy and running all the time and that quiet time is also important for spiritual, emotional and personal growth," he said.
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