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Boost your Business by Creating Happiness
Last week I was looking into the curriculum of Startup School from the startup accelerator Y Combinator. In the first module, there was a reference to an essay named “Before the Startup” by Paul Graham who is a co-founder of Y Combinator.
That essay warns aspiring founders that they should be very committed to the mission of their business if they want a chance to succeed. It’s actually a little bit scary, especially the part where Paul talks about a start-up being all-consuming.
Startups are all-consuming. If you start a startup, it will take over your life to a degree you cannot imagine. And if your startup succeeds, it will take over your life for a long time: for several years at the very least, maybe for a decade, maybe for the rest of your working life.
This made me think about the relationship between happiness and work.
So on the one hand, I was thinking that successful entrepreneurship and achieving happiness are hard to get right. Running a business requires so much from an individual. It seems almost impossible to stay happy when mental and physical health is often ignored.
On the other hand, I can also imagine that there is happiness in the journey of founders and their businesses. Reaching a vision or milestones towards that vision should bring at least some excitement and pleasure.
In this article, I will briefly talk about what happiness is and what exactly makes people happy. Then I will dive into who’s generally happier: entrepreneurs or employees.
Finally, I will demonstrate how it should be possible to boost your business by focusing on company-wide happiness. Sounds like a win-win isn’t it?
What is Happiness
First, let us focus on what happiness is. According to the Greek philosopher Aristotle:
Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.
It’s possible to interpret happiness in 2 ways:
An emotion that can bring you intense pleasure, excitement, and satisfaction
A long-term feeling of inner peace and contentment.
Aristotle was referring to that last one and it’s also that one that I will be referring to.
What Makes us Happy
I watched a talk this week by Daniel Gilbert about happiness. He’s a social psychologist and author of an international bestseller Stumbling on Happiness. So, this guy knows his stuff and everything he says is backed by science.
The talk provided some interesting insights into what makes us happy:
Marriage makes us happy, but ONLY if it’s a good one.
Children on average do not make us any happier. For younger people, single or divorced people, children actually make us (on average) unhappy. It seems that the harder you have to work for it, the less happy they make you. That’s also why men are on average happier when they have children compared to women.
Money makes us happy when we have more of it. But the more you have, the less an increase impacts your happiness. So, when poor people become middle-class, they become a lot happier. On the other hand, If you are already rich and you become Bill Gates rich, it does not make you any happier.
What we do with our money also impacts our happiness. We become happier when we spend it:
more on experiences and less on things
more on others and less on ourselves
We become happier from spending the same amount of money on travel and dining compared to spending that amount on a fancy new car. When we buy a coffee or a present for someone else, it also makes us happier than buying the same things for ourselves. (So being cheap does not make you happy)
Work on average does not make us very happy, the same goes for resting. Even TV and talking to people make us on average happier than working and resting. So millionaires that only take naps on their shiny big boat are not necessarily happier.
In order to be happy, life needs balance. We should not focus exclusively on money alone, but also on our mental and physical health. Career, family, friends, exercise, and eating healthy should all be balanced if you pursue happiness. It’s hard to do a better job explaining this than Matthew McConaughy.
The whole point of this story is that we become happier from experiences and having a healthy and social life. Working and resting and spending your earned money on material things will not bring you any long-term happiness.
Are Entrepreneurs Happier than Employees?
Science shows a strong link between entrepreneurship and mental and physical health. Entrepreneurs are on average happier and healthier than employees. Money can buy happiness but only to a certain degree. According to this study, the biggest predictor of health and happiness is entrepreneurship.
What causes this, is the mindset of the average entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are driven by a vision. They have autonomy and are more confident that even when things are uncertain, they will figure it out.
Employees can reap some of the same benefits as entrepreneurs by taking more control of their time and what they do with it.
As a Leader
While some might argue, I still believe that people are a company’s greatest asset. An inspiring vision helps to attract talent and to convince them to join your mission.
Hire people that share your vision. People with a ton of scarce skills that don’t believe in the company's purpose are not a great fit. It’s better to have people with fewer skills, that are willing to work for it because they are passionate about the vision. Also, a lot can be trained on the job and by coaching them.
Pay employees enough so they won’t leave you. Money is important, but it is not the greatest driver for employees. People are looking for a sense of mattering and autonomy where you as a leader trust them to get the job done. Pay them for results and not time spent. Don’t wait for them to increase their salary, take the initiative.
As a leader, use a delegation framework. Aim to make yourself replaceable. Gradually give team members more autonomy. Be available when they need help and help them grow with the company. Make sure goals are visible and transparent and that they are aligned with upstream goals. Everyone should feel like they have an impact on the progress towards the ultimate vision.
In my opinion, the most important values to create a thriving business are autonomy, trust, and transparency. A transparent, visible vision aligned with cascading downstream goals will create a purpose for everyone in the company. Using a delegation framework and incorporating proper coaching will create growth opportunities and more balance in people's life. Everyone should also invest in their physical and mental health. Remember the quote from Peter Drucker:
Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
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