In January this year a single class at Yale University registered over 1,200 students for one class – the biggest in Yale’s 316 year history. That class was PSY 157, Psychology and the Good Life, better known on campus as “The Happiness Class”. But what would cause 25% of all undergraduates at Yale register for this one course? 

I guess we’re all interested in our own happiness, and how we might increase it, indeed it seems to be preoccupation with our society, so I thought I’d do some investigation to find out what it is that really makes us happy. Money? Sex? Relationships? Our jobs?

A study by Sonja Lyubomirsky showed that 50% of individual differences in happiness are determined by genes, 10% by life circumstances, and 40% by our intentional activities. So it looks like we can have a positive effect on our own happiness if we are intentional about what we do.

So let’s look at some of the areas we can affect.

Money: How much you earn as a household is a determinant of happiness… an extent. The magic number is somewhere around $50,000. If you earn less than that you are likely to be less happy, but there is no strong correlation with earning more. Americans who earn $50,000 per year are much happier than those who earn $10,000 or less per year, but Americans who earn $5 million per year are not much happier than those who earn $100,000 per year.

Sex: Sex makes us feel good (duh!), but the happiness we experience has very little to do with the sex itself. Surveys by the Society for Personality and Social Well Being have shown a strong correlation between sex and positive emotions, but only when affection is factored into the equation. When affection is removed, the link almost disappears. Sex actually starts off a cascade of happy feelings, and the feelings serve to bind people together not just in the moments after sex, but for hours and days later. In other words, it’s the ultimate pair-bonding glue. As an aside, in a University of Chicago study, researchers found that regular church goers (4 times per month) not only experience more personal satisfaction but also rate their sex partners as “extremely enjoyable” significantly more often than other demographics.

But as this newsletter is specifically directed at business owners and entrepreneurs, I think it would be more appropriate for me to ask, “What is it that makes entrepreneurs happy?”

Simon Sinek, the author and marketing consultant says that happiness comes from WHAT we do. Our fulfillment comes from WHY we do it, and our fulfillment comes when our work is connected to our “why”.

Jobs: Well there is (possibly) good news, because a whole raft of research exists that shows that if you are already an entrepreneur you are likely to be happier than your employed counterparts. The reasons seem to at least partly stem from the fact that even though you may work longer hours and earn less than employed workers, you benefit from the delusion that you are actually in control of your time (yes, as a business owner I’m silently laughing inside too!).

Daniel Gilbert in his book “Stumbling on Happiness” states that when people daydream, they tend to imagine themselves achieving and succeeding rather than fumbling or failing. As entrepreneurs we dream more than employees, because we have so many more potential possibilities available to us. Indeed, Gilbert goes as far as to say that thinking about the future can be so pleasurable that sometimes we’d rather be thinking about it than actually getting there. Can I hear an Amen?

Here are some other interesting facts about happiness and entrepreneurship.

  • The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor published findings that showed female entrepreneurs have relatively higher levels of ‘subjective well being’ than male entrepreneurs. Women are even more likely to have a smile on their face during the early stages of setting up their businesses. There are still, however, fewer women becoming entrepreneurs than men.
  • Being an entrepreneur will only make you happy if you want to be one. The report makes the distinction between entrepreneurs who started their own business because they wanted to, and those who had no other option in order to earn an income.

But you’re already an entrepreneur. What can you do to increase your disproportionate amount of current happiness? came up with these results.

  • Find your purpose – It’s a lot easier to be happy when you know you’re working on, or towards, something that you love
  • Envision your very best – You will never achieve a goal that you can’t see yourself reaching. It doesn’t matter what you are going after in life, you have to first have the courage to see those goals happening and believe in yourself.
  • Understand that there is no such thing as perfection – perfect is the enemy of done. If you constantly strive for perfection you will end up being frustrated and unfulfilled. So, seek out greatness, not perfection — there is a big difference.
  • Listen to both your gut and your heart – some decisions are head decisions and some are heart decisions. Only you know what makes you happy, so take advice, but always make your own decisions.
  • Surround yourself with other happy people – Jim Rohn famously said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. If you want to be happy, associate with other happy people. It makes a lot of sense!
  • Don’t blame other people for your problems – be accountable for what you do (or don’t do). You alone are responsible for your happiness. You need to take control. As MK Mueller says, forgive the past, have gratitude for the present and have hope for the future.
  • Take time for the people and things you love – all work and no play makes Jack (or Jill) a sad boy (or girl). Don’t ask yourself “why?” you’re working, ask “what?” are you working for. If you are working towards having an easier retirement, maybe start practising now, by taking up a hobby, or taking the time to have a walk with your spouse.

Other studies have discovered one activity that dramatically increases your happiness. It’s volunteering

  • Sonja Lyubomirsky studied a large group of people who had an unpaid role in which they “helped others.” And then, after comparing this group to a large group of people who didn’t volunteer anywhere, they wanted to find out if there were any disparities in lifestyle satisfaction. The study found, those who volunteered experienced seven times more life satisfaction than those who didn’t volunteer.” Although the study didn’t explain which way the causality ran – do happy people volunteer, or does volunteering actually make you happy?

So statistically what is the happiest demographic in the nation?

Well it seems that if you are a lady who decided to become an entrepreneur, regularly volunteers, earns at least $50,000 per year and attends church on a regular basis, not only do you have the best sex life but you are likely to be REALLY, REALLY happy too. I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on any of this research – both from guys and girls -if you have time between your volunteering, church attendance and rampant sex lives!