We've all had those moments where time is frozen. Athletes describe it as being in the "zone." Some people describe it as perfect euphoria. Author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it Flow. Those times in our lives are what I consider happiness. While we usually read about how to improve our companies, it's worth thinking about how our businesses help us achieve that mindset.
If the state of mind I described above is what makes us happy, we should aim to engage in activities that enhance it. What's interesting is that when many of us look at why we are entrepreneurs and what makes us happy, there are differences. The common belief is that making more money will increase how happy we are. In truth, data suggests that after around $75,000, diminishing returns start happening.
If we believe that a "flow" state of mind is what will make us happy, this makes total sense. While money can provide short-term experiences of happiness, it is not able to provide long-term joy. The only way to keep the euphoria of money alive is to keep upgrading your material goods. Cars must turn into boats, boats into planes, and so on. Over time, these material goods will have diminishing returns as well.
So if money does not make us happy, what about fame? In the United States, we obsess over celebrities. Gossip magazines and blogs are everywhere. With the rise of social media, we can always know what the famous are doing. We see these lavish lifestyles and get the impression that being famous brings happiness. This starts a domino effect, and pretty soon everything we do is aimed at pursuing more notoriety and attention.
Unfortunately, this, too, will not work. As a group, celebrities have tremendous difficulty achieving happiness. This is why it is so common now to see the famous involved with drugs and contending with sadness. Yet we still believe that this is what we need to be happy. Studies show that people who stay on Facebook for long periods of time have a higher chance of becoming depressed. This should not be surprising. It is common practice to advertise your ideal life on social networks, not reality. When others see celebrity lifestyles, they compare their life with what they see, leading to dissatisfaction.
The Real Way to Find Flow
So if fame and money are not good reasons for being an entrepreneur, what is? I believe the answer is relationships and self-growth. When we experience "in the zone" states as entrepreneurs, there are common symptoms. The activity we're taking part in is challenging, and measurable. Also, at those moments in time we don't care what others think. When you see world-class athletes perform, you'll notice how they are able to screen out all other distractions. The motivation to succeed is produced internally. This is happiness through self-growth. We enjoy these moments as entrepreneurs because we are improving ourselves through challenging activities.
This is why people who watch excessive amounts of TV have trouble finding happiness. According to Csikszentmihalyi, watching TV rarely ever produces "flow." Instead, to achieve the most happiness, we need new and exciting challenges that we have the capabilities to solve. Think of a tennis match. The most fun we get is when the player is close to our skill level. Too challenging or too easy and we get bored. And while money itself cannot make us happy, it can be used to help us achieve more of those moments. When our companies make more money, we get new challenges. When we have more money ourselves, we can use it to learn new skills that are challenging.
The second reason entrepreneurship brings us happiness is through the relationships we develop. These connections have now become less common, as technology has allowed us to focus on relationships less. For example, let's look at school violence. In recent years, there has been a huge spike in school shootings. According to Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last, there is a correlation between these events and a lack of belonging. A majority of the school shooters suffered from alienation from their peers. Unfortunately, alienation is becoming more common in today's society.
As opposed to 50 years ago, today we can work and function without needing much human interaction. While at times this is convenient, it runs the risk of allowing us to never establishing strong bonds with others.
Thus, it is in our best interest as entrepreneurs to make sure we work with people we can develop strong ties with. We can optimize our happiness by having a company that has people who are close, work together, and trust one another. It is when we hire strictly for talent rather than culture fit that we start thinking running our company is "work." It is not the talent of your team that will make you happy; it is the challenges that you overcome together. Working in the trenches with the people you trust creates happiness. The constant obstacles you overcome and learn from create flow. And the journey of creating a company with people who look out for one another is what gives us happiness as entrepreneurs.
As business owners, we will always have more to learn and new challenges to overcome. We will always be able to improve the relationships within our companies. Unlike money and fame, our businesses don't have to have diminishing returns. Everlasting happiness comes from the bonds we create and the growth we go through. And those parts of life are priceless.