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Why You Can Choose to be Happy

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Understanding how happiness gives you a competitive advantage

I grew up in a middle-class family in a little town called New Providence, New Jersey, just outside New York City. Like so many people, I bought the age-old story that, in order to earn a living, you have to go to work, get your paycheck, pay your bills, then repeat. So I went to work, earned my paycheck, and paid my bills, month in and month out. After years of doing this, I realized I really wasn’t getting ahead. And I wasn’t happy about it.

Even though I had earned a degree in marketing from the University of Hawaii, school taught me very little about money and personal finance—and virtually nothing about entrepreneurship and investing. I knew something was missing.

About that same time in 1984, I met my future husband and business partner, Robert. Right from the beginning, we started talking about dreams, business, and money. In fact, on our very first date, Robert asked me, “What do you want to do with your life?” Without hesitating, I replied, “Well, number one, I’d like to own my own business.” We hit it off immediately.

I started my first business in 1984 and, as our romance grew, Robert and I started building businesses together. That’s when my happiness blossomed. But what, exactly, is happiness?

Defining what happiness looks like for you

Years ago, I attended a seminar where the speaker on stage said to the audience, “I bet I can tell you the goal of every person in this room.” I thought to myself, “How in the world could he know the goals for each one of us?”

Then he said, “Everyone in this room has one primary goal: to be happy.” I had to agree with him. My number-one goal was to be happy. He then continued by saying, “It’s the definition of ‘happy’ that will be different for each person.”

So I asked myself, “What does it mean to me to be happy?” I created a checklist for myself:

  • ✓ a successful business
  • ✓ a great marriage
  • ✓ lots of money and all the good things that money brings — such as financial freedom
  • ✓ a wonderful network of friends and family
  • ✓ a cat
  • ✓ world travel
  • ✓ great health
  • ✓ a sense of purpose in life

I wanted all that, and then I’d be happy. So I began to work toward all those things. Now, that may not be your definition of happiness, but what’s important is that you define happiness for yourself and then have the financial means to achieve and enjoy it. Pause here and create your own checklist — what brings you joy? What does happiness look like to you?

It all ties back to finding your why

A person’s definition of happiness is often their reason “why.” Why would a person sacrifice hours at night doing market research after coming home from a full day’s work, making dinner, doing dishes, and putting the kids to bed? Why would someone forfeit their weekends to evaluate real estate properties? If it were only for money, a new car, or for recognition, they would probably tire of the process and give up. That’s why your “why” is so important.

You see, being rich doesn’t make you happy on its own. A greater incentive is to use money as a resource to provide what’s truly important to our happiness and fulfillment, such as:

  • Freedom to spend time with children and loved ones any time and anywhere,
  • Vacations and special memories that will last a lifetime,
  • Time and money to donate to causes that are meaningful to you, and
  • Being a role model for your children to show them the options they have in life.

No matter what your definition of happiness is, it requires work and sacrifice to get there. You actually have to choose to be happy. So, the question is, “Do you want to put in that work and make those sacrifices to achieve the happiness that is important to you?”

Happiness isn’t an end point

In 1994 Robert and I “retired.” We weren’t rich by most people’s definition, but we did have more money coming in every month from our investments (primarily real estate), than was going out each month in living expenses. In other words, we were living on our cash flow and no longer had to work for money. We were happy.

But after a few months of retirement and vacation, we had to face the harsh reality that we were bored to tears. One morning we were sitting outside with a cup of coffee. We looked at each other and asked, “Now what?” We had all of the things on my happiness checklist, so did that mean we were done? Robert and I were supposed to be happy for the rest of our lives. Wasn’t that the formula? Obviously, it wasn’t. We were learning firsthand that being rich doesn’t make you happy.

Everything we had, and that we have today, brings us contentment and a sense of satisfaction, but I discovered early on that happiness doesn’t have an end goal. You don’t wake up one morning and say, “I’ve made it. I’m happy. And I’ll be happy from here on out.”

It’s no different than working out at the gym — I would love to get to the point where I can say, “I’ve reached my workout goal. I’m in shape. I’ve made it, and I don’t have to work out any more.” Unfortunately, that’s not quite how it works. As such, we needed to figure out how to be happy and rich.

5 ways investing brings me happiness

Becoming an entrepreneur was my true calling in life — one that has brought me immense happiness over the decades. Since being rich doesn’t make you happy all by itself, I learned that happiness came from some unexpected places and in unexpected ways:

  1. Independence

    I learned independence and discovered that, no matter what happens, I can take care of myself. The knowledge I gained during that process instilled a freedom and happiness in my life and my spirit.

  2. Successes and failures

    I did not find happiness just in my successes, but in the failures too. I found happiness in the knowledge I gained with every decision, action, and mistake I made. Every time I was knocked down, I reflected, learned from the mistake, and got back up.

  3. Learning and teaching

    I discovered what truly makes me happy is the knowledge I learn while on this journey we call life. When you own your own business, you learn every day of your life. I’ve learned about entrepreneurship, the stock market, real estate investing, investing in commodities, and more. The learnings have also allowed me to share my knowledge with others, which creates another layer of happiness.

  4. Being my own boss

    In my own life, I have discovered that “being my own boss” through having my own entrepreneurial business and my own cash-flow investments has given me the resources, freedom, and time to pursue what truly makes me happy in life. After all, if you’re constantly worried about keeping your boss happy, putting in enough hours at work, and paying all the bills, how can you truly be free to enjoy life to the fullest and pursue happiness with the people you love?

  5. Experimenting

    My business and investments are where I get to experiment. I test strategies, make mistakes and learn from them. The more I learn and grow, the more success I have. And the more I learn and grow, the happier I am. So from this point of view, success and happiness go hand in hand. It’s not the success that makes me happy. It’s what I learn getting to the success that brings me happiness.

The relationship between happiness and success

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’d rather be happy than rich?" How about, “Once I’m rich, I’ll be happy?"

Both statements are false dichotomies. After all, I’ve known plenty of people who were poor and miserable, and I’ve also known plenty of people who were rich and miserable.

Being rich or poor isn’t the pre-requisite to happiness, though having money does help. (Anyone who doesn’t agree has probably never been homeless before and begged for food.)

A while back, Robert and I had the privilege of interviewing Shawn Achor, the author of The Happiness Advantage on the Rich Dad Radio Show.

In that interview, Shawn discussed how ancient Greeks didn't believe happiness was about pleasure. In today's world, it's not about getting a promotion, buying your dream car, being rich and retiring young. As President John F. Kennedy summed it up, it's about “…the full use of your powers along lines of excellence.”

After years and years of research, Shawn has discovered as a scientific fact that it isn’t our accomplishments that make us happy. Rather, it’s our happiness that fuels our accomplishments.

This is why Robert shares that when he was in the process of becoming rich, when he was in the game, he was happy. But years later, once he had attained everything he had set out to accomplish, he began to battle depression. He had fundamentally misunderstood that happiness doesn’t come from what we have, but rather our happiness allows us to attain all that we have by changing our perspective on the world.

You can choose to be happy

In his book, Shawn shows how choosing happiness through small actions performed consistently each day — such as thinking of three new things we’re grateful for and cataloguing them for 21 days — can literally rewire our brains. This change in perspective can significantly improve how our brains function in terms of strategic thinking, creativity, problem solving, and more.

In essence, happiness becomes our competitive advantage as we biologically outperform those around us who lack happiness and indulge in pessimism.

The key to achieving happiness

One more tidbit of advice, and this comes from my own personal experience. It is the one key that I feel is the most important for anyone seeking any level of success and happiness in their life: Surround yourself with supportive people.

Said another way, get rid of the negative people in your life. Supportive people encourage you to go for your goals and dreams. They want you to win, they tell you why you’ll succeed, and they offer their guidance and support.

Negative people will tell you all the reasons why you can’t do something. They’ll tell you, “It’ll never work,” “Don’t be ridiculous,” “What makes you think you could pull that off?” or “Don’t take a risk. You might lose.”

I made the decision years ago to get rid of the negative people in my life. The price was too high and it was too tough to be polite and keep them around me. Negative people kill creativity. They squash your dreams. They keep you doubting yourself. They drain your energy and waste your time. Negative people keep you small and unhappy.

If you have negative, toxic people in your personal or professional life, walk away from them. It’s rarely an easy thing to do. It wasn’t for me. But knowing now that these people no longer have any influence on me, I wish I had made the decision many years earlier.

The answer lies within

So, if you’re looking for that competitive advantage in your own life, business or financial portfolio, you need to look no further than yourself and your own happiness. Once you choose to be happy, everything else will flow from there.

Original publish date: August 06, 2015

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