If you're looking for happiness as an entrepreneur, then you're probably barking up the wrong tree. JetBlue Airways has a new, fun short film, HumanKinda, exploring how little enjoyment we get out of our overscheduled lives. The elusive feeling of happiness, though, seems inversely proportional to the time we set aside to create it. And business owners don't have a lot of time.
Instead, we should be looking for meaning in our lives, argues Dr. Christine Carter, the featured sociologist in HumanKinda and author of The Sweet Spot. I talked with Carter about how meaning leads to happiness, what tech does to our focus and why it may have been easier for our entrepreneurial ancestors to have balanced lives.
What is the biggest misconception we have about our own happiness?
For high-achieving people, the big problem is confusing happiness with gratification. We've learned happiness is very fleeting. Getting meaning is more lasting, and meaning almost always leads to happiness. It's important to understand the difference.
It's important to know that meaning does not always lead to happiness, either-think about Nelson Mandela. He probably gained a lot of meaning in his life, but probably was not happy when he was in prison.
High achievers often cut meaning out of their lives to achieve. They can do things to feel pleasure, but without meaning, they don't have the deep, lasting joy in the same way as when we have a sense of meaning.
Often, the less successful entrepreneurs or novice entrepreneurs have lives rich with meaning: There are exciting new ideas and bonding with colleagues. They have a strong sense of social value, both at work and at home, and understanding their daily activity is valuable not just to themselves, but to other people. They take the time to be more connected to other people.
Being successful doesn't mean you won't have meaning, but it just sometimes happens. In a culture like ours that values achievements at any cost, we're pushed into materialistic views of success, and it is an easy mistake to make.
The most successful people have very fulfilling, very meaningful lives. They understand their purpose for other people, not just themselves.
Was having well being easier for previous generation or are we just more aware of our own imbalance?
I do think it was easier for other generations, as now we can do meaningless things 24/7. I look at my grandfather, who was CEO of a company that my younger brother later took over. My grandfather's life was so different: He got in at 9 and left at 5. He had a successful company, but came home and had dinner with his wife and two sons. He had hours to do other things, like get involved with his church, his family and his community, was on a bowling team.
He had free time, and that led to meaningful connections with other people. We are so focused on ourselves, "What can I get?", but we are happiest when we give to other people... Probably two generations ago, it was easier to really be connected to other people in a real life kind of way-you knew the grocery checker, you chatted with your neighbors. Not to idealize it, but as a sociologist, I can say there is a lot of data proving that it is harder to get connected today. And that connection is the key to our sense of self.
We're also able to use technology to connect with people in ways we could never before. Do you think it balances out some of the personal disconnection?
I don't see that happening. I don't think social networks are all evil-we see lots of positive as well as negative, but I don't think they are the same thing as real-life connections. The more positive aspect is that they enable real-life connections to deepen, but it will never compensate for real-life connections. Yes, as we become more mobile, we can stay connected to people we met in our old neighborhood. Is it the same as having the close connection? No.
But as entrepreneurs, are we more susceptible to having an unbalanced life? Is it just reflective of our personality?
Ha! I think so, as I have a very similar life, but this is the wave of the future.
My main suggestion is to really let yourself focus. The opposite of business is not boredom, but slowness-letting yourself get into the zone. But we can't get into a state of flow because we're working on 60 million things at once, as the phone is buzzing and the email is going. Build yourself a fortress around that interruption. Act like your grandparents: Sit down, put on noise-cancelling headphones, and focus for 45 minutes to an hour to get things done. It could be a list and just getting things done from start to finish. Create a reasonable task list and get it done one thing at a time.
The reason I worked on the JetBlue film is that there is humor to how we are living. There is a real irony is that we want to get everything done, but we can't get anything done because we won't let ourselves focus.
It's very much a structural situation with the technology we're using. Our brains did not evolve to multitask and to deal with the amount of information we're getting-and our bodies did not physiologically adapt. We still have a caveman brain that can't handle it.
It reminds me of 1970?s proclamations that technology would speed up our productivity so we could spend more quality time with our families!
We do have this technology that gives us greater ease and more power. It's up to us to choose what we do with this. My grandmother spent a lot of time hand washing clothes and dishes. I relatively have a lot more time to spend with my four children, but I can choose to just check my email.