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Why all happiness and success fades away (and how to stop it)

Why all happiness and success fades away (and how to stop it)

Happiness and success go hand in hand for entrepreneurs. Business owners tend to measure their life-satisfaction through their bank balance. Even if it’s not money, but we all have a metaphorical tape-measure tracking our state of happiness.

The way entrepreneurs create happiness in their life is broken.

Some internet entrepreneurs measure happiness by audience stats. They get thrilled when their blog’s subscriber count hits a milestone. Blog comments evoke pure joy.

Last week, I was talking with a client who shared another fantastic example. They were explaining how they desperately wanted a shiny office, with lots of glass and chrome. It wouldn’t help their sales, since they rarely ran face to face meetings on their home turf, but they wanted it bad.

Setting goals like a new office, X number of subscribers or pushing up balance of your business account are all attempts to find happiness through success. Fast cars, designer clothes and expensive gadgets serve the same purpose. They make us happy and there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that. Except…

Happiness never lasts

When we tie happiness to success, the feeling never sticks around for long. It fades away and leaves us as unsatisfied as before, or more so! The weird part is that even if we maintain the level of success that once brought us happiness, it still fades away.

Six months after buying the latest convertible, Joe entrepreneur is just as stressed and unsatisfied as before. He used to smile every time he fired up the engine.

Three months after hitting 1000 subscribers, Jill blogger is staying up late, checking google analytics and wondering why she can’t hit 1300. When she hit 1000, she popped a bottle of champagne to celebrate.

It’s just the way entrepreneurs are

Success-based happiness always dwindles, because the psychological make-up of entrepreneurs demands that we constantly lift the bar for our achievements higher and higher.

Buy a Porsche and soon you’ll be ogling Ferrari’s. Take a three week vacation and you’ll crave three months of work-travel freedom. Make a few thousand dollars a month and you’ll soon be staying up late, working on the product that’ll earn you six figures.

This is a good thing. Motivational leverage is good. Pushing ourselves to achieve greater and greater levels of success is great! So what’s the problem?

Most entrepreneurs don’t feel “happy” while they’re chasing goals

That feeling of success, joy and celebration that happens when we hit a big milestone, win a reward or earn big dollars is a fantastic feeling. It’s what the entrepreneurial dream is all about and yet so few manage to hang onto that feeling for more than a few days per year.

As soon as the milestone of success is accomplished, you start to look for the next big goal. Sure, you stop to enjoy the rewards of what you’ve done. You may even deliberately celebrate. However, give it a few days, weeks or months and you’ll be back to aggressively chasing the next thing.

Your recent achievements are left, forgotten. Buried in the dust behind you.

Recently, I performed a small experiment in entrepreneurial freedom. I put my consultancy on hold, moved the crucial clients over to email & Skype and set off on a blogging sabbatical.

I ensconced myself deep in the mountains of New Zealand’s frozen south, where I would perform a daily commute from mountain cabin to local cafe. Each morning I’d drive through scenes of indescribable natural beauty (see this post’s photo or my Flickr page). I was filled with joy at the lifestyle my business afforded me.

Then, something happened. I got offered an exciting corporate consultancy gig that would line up perfectly with the end of my sabbatical. It was big dollars and big prestige. I wanted it bad.

(Random note: Those of you following my twitter stream may have noticed I FINISHED the above mentioned contract on Saturday night! Celebration ensued…)

One morning I drove through the mountains to the cafe, yammering at a colleague on my cell phone excitedly.

I was absolutely blind to what was going on around me.

In that moment, I felt vexed, excited and motivated – all the great entrepreneurial feelings that happen when you chase a big deal. It was a good way to be, but I wasn’t “happy”. My happiness had been replaced by desire for the next big mission.

Then, the sun came out. Sizzling rays of bright, winter light set the snowy mountains on fire. Pine trees glittered and everything popped into focus, as though the air had suddenly turned to crystal.

Gratitude changes everything

I pulled over, got off the phone and stopped to look around. I remembered where I was, where I had been and how far I had come. Instantly, I connected with that feeling of happiness through success.

Happiness fades out of the lives of entrepreneurs because we lose track of the achievements that lie behind us.

We forget how far we’ve come.

We fail to remember that, a year ago, we would have killed to be where we are now.

However, when you deliberately remind yourself of the things you have to remember and be grateful for, the following happens:

  • Desperation disappears: You realize you’re doing good already. Even if you want more, you don’t need it. Less desperation = more success.
  • Your state improves: Being in a positive emotional state guarantees you can think and problem-solve more resourcefully. Life seems (and really is) much easier.
  • You find true happiness: Gratitude reconnects you with what is really important. Materialistic and unimportant goals disappear while you reconnect with your biggest values.

Really, how happy are you?

The one point I’d like you to take away from this post is that, as an entrepreneur, you can live a more fulfilled life and be more successful in business. The secret lies in never forgetting your past, where you’ve come from and how much success you’ve already created.

This is the easiest and most instantly achievable advice that leads to the trifecta of Wealth, Freedom and Sanity. So, what achievements can you already be grateful for?


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  1. Oh man, Peter, this post (and your Flickr stream) have me even more pumped about heading off to New Zealand in December.

    Sometimes I forgot how far I’ve come. One year ago I was living in NYC, which is my least favorite city on earth. I was in a horrible job with a boss I wanted to strangle. Six months ago I picked up my life and moved to London. I’ve started my own business, my site has grown beyond my expectations and I’m able to travel wherever and whenever I want. I often forget this when I’m stressed or have too much work or whatever. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Hi Peter,

    A related thought.

    I believe there’s a strong connection between happiness, self-confidence and self-discipline.

    When we are disciplined and we do what we should do when we should do it, we feel more confident in our abilities to achieve and influence. We then feel a general happiness, even if we experience a setback.

    Happiness then comes from success with ourselves first, whether or not the outside world molds itself to our hopes and expectations on any particular day.

    Dov Gordon

    1. Hmmm…. interesting. I think you’re right but I also think that too much discipline and rigidity can lead to an insidious unhappiness.

      Whenever I hear a phrase like “we do what we should do when we should do it”….

      …. I always want to ask “Should? According to whom?!” 😉

  3. Peter,

    You’re on the right track. Happiness doesn’t come from the accumulation of toys. Happiness comes from doing what you enjoy and remembering to be grateful for the intangibles you have attained…good health, good friends, and goals achieved.

    Enjoy life’s journey, you only go this way once.

    John Gilger

  4. Hi Peter,

    So much truth here! Happiness has become a moving target. The more we have the more we want, never satisfied with where we are and what we have. Instead of saying, “if only I could have more x, y or x,” I now try to say, “I can’t believe how much x,y and z,” I have! The former doesn’t let you appreciate the wonders and magic of your life.

    Everyone ought to read Ben Franklin’s autobiography for the true meaning of entrepreneurship. I wrote about it in my e-inspire at my design site. His goal wasn’t to make more and more money, it was to do public good. Our definition of entrepreneurship has warped over the years.

    Just making money without intrinsic value leaves one empty until the next more money-making fix comes along.

    Most enjoyable read! Giulietta

    1. Hey Giulietta, thanks for joining the discussion. I love the Ben Franklin example – I think that great entrepreneurship, by definition, does public good too. After all, it’s all about adding *value*.

      Great comment 🙂

  5. WOW:

    That looks like it is straight out of one of those Computer Wallpaper websites haha.

    It’s always good to be reminded to remember what we have and are grateful for. As you said, it’s so easy to forget what is around us when we get the tunnel vision locked on something in front of us.

    My most precious thing I have acquired being an entrepreneur is the time and freedom to hang out with my son whenever I want. That in of itself makes it worth it. 🙂

    1. Hey Dave, glad you liked the photo! That was a weird one – I had no idea why that cat was hanging out in the wilderness. He wanted to be friends though!

      I like your example. Sometimes we don’t even need grand mountains and lakes to remember to be grateful – just an extra half-hour with loved ones will do 🙂

  6. I love this.

    I recently (this weekend!) came to the realization that in order to be happy with my work, it must have meaning. I’m not especially motivated by things like money and freedom, not that I don’t enjoy them. But, I must feel like I’m contributing something worthwhile that means something in order to be happy. I’m working on it!

    Gorgeous photos, omg.

    1. Hey Naomi!

      Doing “work that counts” is an important part of the equation. As for the money and freedom… I agree! Money doesn’t buy happiness – but it sometimes rents it for a while 😛

  7. This was an awesome post, Peter. And one of the best things you’ve taught me was that I needed “grateful” moments – and how to cultivate them more often. It took me a while to accept them easily and *want* to make them happen, because of my natural resistence (ha!) to all things fu-fu, but…

    Yeah. They. Are. Awesome.

    When you can get up from your computer after a rockin’ morning and go step outside for just a few minutes to breathe deep and say, “Life’s pretty damned good,” and appreciate what you *have*… you gain a much deeper appreciation for how far you’ve come and create a comfortable inner sense that basically makes you feel pretty damned satisfied and happy with life.

    Which sounds fu-fu. But I swear it’s not.

    I’ve found that since doing these “grateful moment” exercises more often and making a point of having them in my life, my work has become better. I’m doing more meaningful things that leave me feeling good about everything, I feel less like I’m scrambling and I’m making positive choices all the time about the right work *for me*. The results have shifted the biz into whole new levels that I’m enjoying.

    It’s made for some adjustments (with plenty more to come), but I have to say… I like where I am now. (And I want more of it!)

    @Naomi – Something else Peter taught me about is the sense of contribution and making sure that what you do aligns with meaninful work. Again, I resisted this *hard* – fu-fu, you know. But tapping into this has been life changing and led me to work that leaves me not just victoriously satisfied, but innately satisfied and also much more confident.

    Also? I can say no a hellufalot more easily now than I used to – giving the shirts off our backs isn’t the right way to create contribution. It just leaves US naked and cold while everyone else gets the snazzy shirt. Giving the proper shirt for the moment at the right time for us… Well, I suppose the analogy is that everyone gets to keep their clothes on, but clearly that’s irrelevant and I should drink more coffee. 😉

    1. Glad I’ve finally managed to sell you on practicing “gratitude”…. and you’re right, this pays dividends for work output, family life and more! Though you may not known yet, it’s proven that people with gratitude in their lives are healthier!!

      Healthy is good, especially if you’re walking around without clothes on…..

    1. Dude! I’m in Sydney! Happy I can blow your mind from afar though (ahh, the magic of technology)

      I’ll be back in your ‘hood toward the end of October. We must do a dinner or something.

  8. I checked out the Flickr pictures, and you weren’t kidding. What gorgeous country! I am just at the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey, and signed my first client (ever) just three days ago! It was such an amazing feeling, and one that I am still high from. I will definitely keep this post in mind as I move further along, as I can certainly see how “shiny things” syndrome strikes entrepreneurs.

    1. Hey Justin! It’s nice down there eh?

      Congrats on the first client signing. It’s a wonderful feeling once you start putting points up on the board 🙂 I look forward to hearing about the next sale 🙂

  9. Peter, I love this post and it speaks to what I try to share with my entrepreneurial friends. I’m an outlier in the entrepreneurial set…I do what I do for the freedom and flexibility first. The money is there, but it isn’t how I measure success.

    MY success is how much time I can have with my young son while at the same time making a decent living. Time with AJ is my barometer. And I’m happy and grateful for the ability to maximize that time every day!

    Thanks for making me feel less like an oddball in the world of self-employment :-).

    1. Hi Susan. I see money and freedom as pretty much the same thing – money on it’s own isn’t worth much…. but you sure can buy a whole lot of freedom with it!

      You share a similar goal to me (although I don’t have kids) to create maximum *leverage* of time spent work. If you can have the impact that gets you the freedom you want in 10 hours a week – why work more?

  10. I haven’t had much time to post a comment and it’s been on my mind all week. Congratulations about your corporate client! That’s awesome!

    I totally agree that I forget about how far I’ve come. I learned a trick this past week when I get caught up with an “eyes on the prize” focus. I learned that it’s okay to take a breath and remember that it’s going to be okay. I might feel fear about the future and my plans, but then I focus on remembering that I am working toward my goals and tell myself to relax.

    I have been doing this all week and it has helped me not get wrapped up in the idea of accomplishing the goal, instead I can focus on what I have to do now to get there. In that space I am relaxed and happier than I was trying to speed myself up to meet the goal and getting wrapped up in fear.

    1. Hey Gabrielle! Thanks – winning that one was a big deal.

      Sounds like you’ve gained a really practical learning from this post – great to see the power of gratitude in action!

  11. This is a kick-ass post. I wasn’t going to comment, because I’m feeling lazy today, but reading the last part just made me go yeeah, yes, while furiously nodding my head.

    Chasing goals, desires, and the next thing is cool, but it much more cooler when you can enjoy what you have, and be grateful, although I still enjoy achieving more and more, I’m dramatically happier now than just a few years ago.

    Rock on, Sir Peter!

  12. A lot of this is true, not just for entrepreneurs but for many who seek happiness through material well-being. As you rightly point out, it’s impermanent, we quickly find ourselves desiring the next big thing. Our possessions end up owning us.

    I prefer to think of happiness as a strategy. I don’t want to become an entrepreneur to become happy. I want to be happy so I can be a successful entrepreneur. The causality is backwards. Happiness comes from within, and then it expands outwards in our actions.

    Thanks for this great piece!


  13. So VERY TRUE Peter! I currently work for a small family owned corporation. Even though I’m going to finish this year 13% of budgeted revenue I’m being bantered over how I’m not producing enough and need to find ways to produce more. Next year,the end result ultimately will be even if I achieve the 12-20% increase this years revenue, they’ll still want to know why it couldn’t be more!

    The more people have, the more they want! Just as in driving, we need to periodically look in the rear-view mirror to be reminded of what’s behind us so we can appreciate the distance we’ve come and take time to appreciate the destination when we arrive!

  14. Lovely photos – your part of the world looks as beautiful as mine, Peter.

    James mentioned “grateful moment” exercises you’ve taught him. I’ve found that’s a good use for Twitter, to share a moment of #gratitude.

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