Can having a small business make you happy?

and if you don't have one of those yet…how to be happier at work

Nope, that's not an oncoming train. Promise.

Nope, that's not an oncoming train. Promise.

The problem in my life, and yours, is essentially how to be happier. Marketing 101 will bang on about “happy customers”. But how do you structure your business to make your favourite customer happy? And yes, I am talking about YOU. Not that "special" type of happy, either. Ahem.

Right now I’m working my way through a free course on edx, which is an online course created by the boffins at UC Berkeley in the USA. This ticks off one of the key factors for a happy life: personal development.

What’s fascinating about this however, is it makes me think that if you’re running your own business, or in the process of setting it up, you CAN STRUCTURE THE WHOLE THING TO MAKE YOU HAPPY. How wonderful is that?

The core elements of happiness research touches on the following:

Having gratitude

Showing compassion

Learning how to live

Spending money on others

Combatting loneliness. And when you’re a small business, working from home, that can be very real. Being at the helm of the ship means you get to steer, but it’s also pretty lonely.

Eating cake*

*subject to wheat intolerance, or a preference for real cake with icing on and not that nasty fruit stuff. Yuk. This might not be based on actual research but my own carefully cultivated understanding of the nuance of cake. Just saying.

So why bother thinking about happiness?

By structuring a business which tapdances a happier tune on the head of misery, you can build happiness into every working day. Because running a business should ultimately make you happier (as well as richer, if that’s your thing). And because being nice is a positive benefit for everyone, people who are happier, according to the research by Sonja Lyubomirsky :

Make more money

Are more productive at work

Are more creative

Are better leaders and negotiators

Have more friends

Are more philanthropic

Have better sex*

Happy people are also more other-centred and it also boosts your immune system.

*I made that last one up. But I hope it’s true.

So let’s draw out one concrete thing you can do today to boost your happiness and be more creative and innovative at work:

I’ve talked about how powerful purpose is before. So how do you give people more purpose? Let’s look at a low-cost step:

So, imagine it’s your first day in a call centre, raising money for a charity. They split you and the other 29 new starters into three groups. Group one is told how working at the call centre sharpened the sales skills for former employees. Group two is told tales of how much people had benefitted from the funds raised by the call centre. And the third group get told a load of random unrelated stuff (this last one sounds a lot like most inductions I’ve been to).

Funnily enough, group two, who are given purpose, raise double the cash of the other groups. In the words of Marcus Aurelius, who may, or may not, have looked pretty sexy in roman armour “Work itself is but what you deem of it”

The beauty is that when people report being happier at work, it’s not what they are doing, but who they are doing it with (fnarr!)

Another nice take on this comes from Simon Sinek. His beautifully simple take on it (and I wholeheartedly recommend his TED talk): People don’t buy what you do, they buy Why You Do It.

So where do I start to become happier?

Easy peasy first steps: Tasks.

Concentrate on the tasks you’re good at, and enjoy, and delegate the stuff you’re not as much as possible, even if it seems expensive. Why? Because losing the will to eat/sleep/continue with the business is much pricier in the long term. And doing the tasks that have purpose for you will make you…wait for it…happier.


Helping other people is also a vital part of the mix. As well as giving you the warm fuzzies, it’s actually shown as a proven way to get ahead. I like this quote from Wharton Professor Adam Grant

According to conventional wisdom, highly successful people have three things in common: motivation, ability, and opportunity. If we want to succeed, we need a combination of hard work, talent, and luck…. a fourth ingredient, one that’s critical but often neglected: success depends heavily on how we approach our interactions with other people. Every time we interact with another person at work, we have a choice to make: do we try to claim as much value as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return?
— Adam Grant


So, it pays to be giving with clients, staff, customers. And not just for altruistic means – it’s actually an incredible way to get ahead. Who could you mentor? Who could you help? And for the love of cake, make sure you make at least one friend at work. That single factor is apparently enough all by itself to make work fun. (Kajsa take a bow…you’re keeping me just the right side of sane. Just.).

Now you see you don’t: Perceptions

There’s an argument here for crafting your role in “rich relational terms", i.e., its value as you relate to others. The trick here is to reframe how you think of your job, in order to make it more meaningful. Are you a third-class technician aka chicken-soup vending repairman, or involved in providing the ship’s crew with nourishment?  Many years working in finance has taught me that really, when I’m putting on a positive spin, I’m helping people live well in retirement, or save for their dreams.  With Behave London it’s about living closer to my purpose (make the world a nicer place, helping businesses do better, having fun, and a lot of laughing).

Of course, I’m aware this smacks of Pollyanna thinking (the film about the little girl who always saw the bright side of everything), but whether you like it or not…

Suck it up. It’ll make you happy.

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Can you think of other ways to make you happy (and your customers, ‘natch)? Tell us in the comments!


Hannah LewisComment