Building a startup is hard work for low pay, it’s risky, and it requires total responsibility to make it work. Yet, many entrepreneurs are the happiest people I know. On the other hand, I know many unhappy individuals who are always partying, have minimal commitments, and little responsibility. I suspect the real parameters of happiness have eluded these people.
According to one of my favorite authors, Brian Tracy, in his book “The Power of Self-Discipline,”happiness is not even a goal that you can aim at and achieve in and of itself, but it is a by-product that comes to you when you are engaged in doing something you really enjoy while in the company of people you like and respect.
He defines the five key ingredients of happiness that every potential and existing entrepreneur, including Mark Zuckerberg (and every non-entrepreneur), should evaluate relative to their own situation:
1. Happy relationships. Fully 85 percent of your happiness – or unhappiness – will come from your relationships with other people. For entrepreneurs, that includes business colleagues, but it also still includes spouse, children and friends.
2. Meaningful work. You must be doing things that you love and give you a sense of fulfillment, as well as making a contribution. Studies have shown that the three most motivating business factors include challenging work, opportunities for growth, and pleasant coworkers.
3. Financial independence. The happiest of all people are those who have reached the point at which they no longer worry about money. That doesn’t mean unlimited funds, but enough that they don’t fear being destitute, without funds, or dependent on others.
4. Health and energy. It is only when you enjoy high levels of pain-free health and a continuous flow of energy that you feel truly happy. For many, health is only a “deficiency need,” meaning you don’t think much about it until you are deprived of it.
5. Self-actualization. This is the big one, the feeling that you are becoming everything you are capable of becoming. Before this can happen, you must first feel that all deficiency needs are satisfied, and you have achieved self-esteem:
o Survival. Basic survival is the top deficiency need, meaning sufficient food, water, clothing, and shelter to preserve your life and well-being. You cannot be happy, and you will experience tremendous stress, until survival requirements are met.
o Security. The second deficiency need encompasses financial, emotional, and physical security. You have to have enough money, security in your relationships, and physical security to assure that you are not in imminent jeopardy of any kind.
o Belongingness. The final deficiency need reminds us that we are social people, and we need social relationships with others, both at home and at work. You need to be recognized and accepted by other people who count in your world.
o Self-esteem. Your self-esteem is the core of your personality and largely determines how you feel about everything that happens to you. Are you liked and appreciated by peers, doing a good job and being recognized for it, and achieving your ideals?
According to Abraham Maslow, a noted psychologist, less than two percent of the population ever reaches this height of self-actualization and personal fulfillment. But the wonderful thing about self-actualization needs is that they never need to be completely satisfied. As you stretch yourself in this direction, you experience a steady flow of happiness and contentment.
In all of these areas, you need to exert self-discipline and willpower to overcome the tendency to take shortcuts. When you keep going in spite of all obstacles and hardships, you feel powerful. Your self-esteem and self-confidence increase, and then as you move, step by step, toward your ideals, you feel genuinely happy. Are you a satisfied entrepreneur?
CEO & Founder of Startup Professionals, Inc.; Advisory Board Member for multiple startups; ATIF Angels Selection Committee; Entrepreneur in Residence at ASU and Thunderbird School of Global Management.