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As an entrepreneur you probably know that constant, high stress levels undermine your performance. When highly stressed, you don’t sleep as well, your concentration suffers, your patience bucket shrinks to the size of a teacup, and your ability to generate strategies and solutions plummets.
So one way to become a better business owner, leader and visionary is to be happier. Why? Because happiness has been shown to lower stress, increase well-being and boost daily energy. No surprise, perhaps, that feeling good creates a better work performance.
Maybe you’re thinking, the best way to be happier is to have a more successful business or make more money or move into a grander house – so I’ll just work harder to be happier. It turns out this is not true. You’ve probably heard of the Princeton study that found that an annual household income of $75,000 (about $83,000 in today’s dollars) is the happiness tipping point. After that, people are no happier. So we can’t attach our happiness to dollars earned or the status of our neighbourhood.
So how can you become legitimately happier – thereby reducing stress, sleeping better, focusing more sharply, maintaining the patience of a saint, and generating effective business strategies and solutions?
Researchers suggest that happiness varies considerably between people, and a significant amount of that variability appears to be due to genetics. You have inherited, to some degree, your potential for happiness.
But let’s consider other factors. Another signifiant contributor to happiness variability is due to your own thoughts, actions and behaviours, and only a small amount is due to external circumstances (Source: Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness). Taken together, these ideas indicate that money (and cars and houses and so on) only buy happiness when you are below that $83,000 total household-income threshold. Humans are highly adaptable. We do very well at getting used to our circumstances over time, so less extravagant holidays don’t affect our happiness.
So let’s focus on those elements that we can affect. This is where your own thoughts, actions and behaviors come in, which you can change and develop. Here are some approaches to life that researchers have shown increase happiness and decrease stress levels.
1. Practice daily gratitude.
When I was working with the national swim team, we spent a lot of time on the road at training camps and competitions. These situations can become stressful and decrease performance. A key habit we developed in daily meetings was to have each team member say what someone else had done to help them that day. Expressing gratitude helped to bring the team together and make everyone happier and healthier. Science now backs this up. Practicing daily gratitude for anything helps you recognize the good parts of life and appreciate them even more.
2. Spend time on relationships.
Happy people tend to have deep relationships with others. So invest some time each week on building deeper relationships with your family and friends. Make a phone call to catch up with someone, go to the park with your kids, take your spouse out for dinner, or go do a workout with a friend. Leaving work behind to build personal relationships has a positive impact on your work performance.
3. Buy experiences not possessions.
Research shows that spending our hard-earned money on experiences can increase our long-term happiness. Recently, I spent $150 on surf lessons. I loved the experience and will remember it fondly for many years. Replace “retail therapy” with adding more fun experiences to your life.
4. Volunteer your time or money.
Contributing your time and/or resources to help people has been shown to improve happiness as well. Find a cause that you care about and get involved. You’ll be amazed how little time and money it takes to make a difference that you can really feel good about.
5. Exercise = endorphins.
Exercise releases endorphins, which cause deep feelings of well-being and sometimes even euphoria – also known as the runner’s high. Daily exercise is a powerful way to improve happiness. Amplify this experience by working out with a friend.
6. Engage deeply with life.
We live in the age of distraction, constantly bombarded by emails, text messages and phone calls. This disrupts our ability to engage with our activities and experiences. Put your phone away at dinner and while working out. My 5-year-old daughter quoted a line from Shrek once when we were in the park and I was responding to an email: “Your job is not my problem!” This priceless moment reminded me to be mindful and present when I was with her. Research tells us that distractions distract us from our own happiness.
If you practice these techniques, you will amplify your happiness, increase your energy, decrease your stress, and boost your performance in all aspects of life, including – and especially – at the helm of your business.
Want to read more about this topic? Check out Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being by Dr. Martin Seligman.