Ask any business owner and they’ll happily tell you about why they started their business. It was to solve a problem that they saw in the world or create a solution that they couldn’t find themselves; to gain more control over the quality of their lives and maybe even create a little work-life balance. It’s pretty simple, and pretty inspiring…we want to use our businesses to Change The World.
It’s a dream big enough to deserve those capital letters, to stand out from others. It’s a vision that pushed us through the crazy start-up years, the late nights and early mornings of work, the million and one small, frustrating, necessary parts of keeping our business going. And the research says, it contributes directly to our health, happiness and wellbeing. But sometimes life can get in the way…and business can be tough! But I want to share with you my ideas to help overcome those realities, and make even more of a positive impact. Small Business Owners, I’m going to make a bold claim: Together, we CAN Get Happy and Change The World (even more than we already are!).
To understand happiness in business, first a little primer on the science of happiness. According to a very large body of psychological research, we need TWO types of happiness in our lives for deep, lasting satisfaction. We need the everyday pleasure of hedonic happiness – the pleasure of laughter, enjoying a delicious meal or a precious weekend off! But we also need eudemonic happiness, which is a deeper, longer-lasting satisfaction, that comes from living our purpose and making the world a better place. Eudaimonia is tricky, because it often does not feel pleasurable at first. Think about it – many of the things that we find most satisfying in life look a lot like hard work in the beginning! But when we contribute in meaningful ways to others through acts of kindness or service, working towards a vision larger than ourselves, knowing and living in line with what is meaningful to us, the discomfort is forgotten. We gain the longer-lasting satisfaction of knowing we are living a life of real purpose and meaning. And the benefits are enormous – studies have discovered that people with higher overall happiness are also healthier (being more likely to exercise, having better immune systems, lower stress, and longer life expectancy). Happier people are also more likely to enjoy success at work, too…with higher loyalty, more caring attitudes towards customers and colleagues, and more energy for their work. So it’s worth thinking about how to embed more of BOTH types of happiness in our businesses, where we spend so much of our lives.
Let’s face it, we all love the good days where we are high on hedonic happiness! A satisfied customer or big contract win gives us a nice big hit of pleasure. But the basic laws of business (The Tax Man Cometh, The Law of the Returning Grumpy Customer, Murphy’s Law of Tech Fails) mean that not every day is a good day. The problem is that the bad days can get in the way, and stack enough of them together, we can tend to go into a bit of a downwards spiral. Who’s got time to think about happiness let alone purpose or meaning when their printer has just crashed for the third time today?! Sometimes it’s a battle to even survive, and dreams of making a real difference can get lost in the noise. We get stuck searching for the next quick hit of hedonic pleasure, anything to help us feel a bit better…and we start to lose sight of our vision of Changing The World.
The best way to build real, lasting satisfaction and happiness into your business (regardless of whether it’s a “good” day or “bad” day) is to INTENTIONALLY build something pleasurable AND something meaningful into every day (remember: TWO types of happiness for lasting satisfaction). Routinise it, schedule it, and execute it ruthlessly, without fail.
Let’s face it – it’s your business, so it’s YOUR choice.
When I learned about the neuroscience (and benefits) of the two types of happiness, I started doing this – and this small but radical step changed EVERYHING about the quality of my days, my weeks, my years, and my business!
The first type of happiness, hedonic happiness is pretty easy to build into a day:
Make an intentional effort to stop and sip your favourite tea for five minutes;
Enjoy a walk in the fresh air at lunchtime; or
It’s not too hard to find little moments of happiness in your work, even on the toughest of days. But how about the second type of happiness, linked to meaning and purpose? How do we build something truly meaningful into every day when we have such limited resources?
We can contribute time, or money, or expertise to a worthy cause;
We can practice preferred pricing for not-for-profit clients, contribute expertise through pro bono work; or
We can give the occasional freebie to someone who really needs our help.
These are all wonderful ways to contribute and use our businesses as a vehicle for good – and they feel great, bringing longer-lasting satisfaction, too! If you want to fall back in love with your business, and really start to feel that heart-warming sense of purpose again, then I encourage you to think about how your business can become a vehicle for contributing to others!
If you really want to take it to the next level, consider contributing to a regular program of giving through your business, and reap the considerable business advantages as well. Embedding giving into your business DNA has incredible benefits not only for your own happiness, but for your customers’ as well. You may have heard about the research that Millennials want to do business with – and will seek out – purpose-driven companies. But it’s not only Millennials who care – increasingly, consumers of all ages are looking for businesses with a strong values statement, who contribute to their communities and who are helping solve some of the world’s biggest problems like poverty, inequality and environmental degradation. Make a strong statement about how you’re contributing and to whom – and embed it into not only your marketing, but your customer experience. You can do this through your own regular giving programs, ethical and sustainable business practices, or a regular program of volunteering or pro-bono work. Another solution is to align yourself with a giving organisation like Buy1Give1 (B1G1), who help small businesses make micro-donations with every business transaction and make it an elegant part of the business model, and customer experience. This is the path that I have chosen in my business, and it has changed my life, as well as so many others. Every time I deliver a workshop for a client, I know that kids in Aboriginal communities in the remote outback will receive 30 days of IT education; every time I fly for business, I offset the carbon emissions by planting trees. Making this a regular part of my business has made the good days great, and the bad days much more bearable. I’m happier. I’m healthier. And my customers and I know, for SURE, that together, we are Changing. The. World.
This article by Catherine Bell is reproduced with the permission of Flying Solo – Australia’s micro business community.
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