What Selling a Business at 24 Taught This Entrepreneur About Happiness and Success Ever-increasing wealth isn't necessarily a path to either. Here's what she learned.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Humans have always been eager to create hierarchies and divide the population based on different factors. Those indicators have been changing over the years, and they still vary greatly around the world, but one of them is universal wherever you go — success.
But how can you measure success and expect relatively accurate results? The answer seems to be simple because we have used the exact same criteria over millennia, yet more and more people are starting to disagree. Interestingly enough, those who are against it speak from the top of the pyramid, telling us how wrong we have been.
Key success indicator
If you want to probe strangers and see how successful they are, the process has to be easy above all. With access to the internet, you can check people's social-media accounts, related news stories or even their legal history.
Combined with our own desires, this tool gives us a unique insight into people's lives and allows us to see how much they resemble our image of what the perfect life is supposed to be. The main box to check? Wealth.
The price of happiness
We have all heard people saying that money doesn't buy happiness, with another group claiming that it's just a trick used by the rich to keep you away from this pursuit. It is true, though, that you will mostly hear it from those who have already got their fair share of zeros in their bank account. So, who is right here?
When faced with two sides voicing their own opinions, the best idea is to take a look at what science says. A 2017 study examined a sample of over 1.7 million individuals worldwide to determine how annual household income relates to overall life satisfaction, and the findings were striking.
For Northern America, the mean life evaluation seems to increase steadily as the income goes up, yet when it eventually reaches $105,000, a visible plateau emerges, no matter how much further the income increases. This is present in every region studied, with some even showing a decrease in happiness as the income goes up.
The curse of a CEO
If you take a look at the list of the world's billionaires, you will see that virtually all of them, besides heirs, preside over some of the biggest companies, which they often also founded. So, considering some of the compensations are as high as $211 million, their happiness should be through the roof. But it is not.
According to a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, the average CEO works around 9.7 hours a day during weekdays. In addition, they spend around 79% of their weekdays and 70% of their vacation days conducting business for an average of 3.9 hours and 2.4 hours, respectively.
In total, that gives us 62.5 hours on average every week. To put it into perspective, the average American works for around 34.9 hours every week, as per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which equates to close to half of their CEO counterparts.
Finding the balance
But what does this have to do with happiness? After all, those people are working tirelessly to make the world a better place, and they chose this career for themselves, so if anything, it should be the definition of happiness. But is it really?
The three main contributors to a happy life seem to be speaking to a friend or family member, listening to music, and prayer or meditation. The lack of time CEOs face effectively stops them from indulging in those activities that require them to stop working and enjoy the moment.
I was one of them. In my early 20s, I used to be among the nonbelievers. I thought that the relation between your income and happiness can scale infinitely. It came to me that I might, in fact, be wrong, when I sold my first business at 24. The pursuit made me millions, but for some strange reason, my happiness chart plummeted.
This is when I realized how fundamentally wrong, and dangerous, this belief is. But it took me a couple more years before I discovered that this assumption wasn't that bad, after all. It was just reversed. It isn't money that brings happiness, but rather happiness that brings money. That happiness is, in turn, derived from helping others.
But I didn't get there overnight. It took me years until I found the bridge between life and happiness, and there are three things that have helped me redefine success.
Happiness comes from a healthy mind, which is interconnected with the body. The first step to happiness is therefore taking care of your physical well-being. This not only includes staying hydrated, getting at least 8 hours of sleep every day and other things you might hear from a doctor, but also exercising, meditating, yoga and other practices that help you put your mind at ease.
The pursuit of materialistic goals will eventually end with you getting your dream car, buying a new house or fulfilling any other desire you had. When that happens, many people will get used to those objects, which no longer give them the happiness they experienced when writing the check.
That is why we need to focus on what we have rather than what we don't have and make sure that those things aren't materialistic. For me, it is my family and friends who make this journey so much easier, especially when I am facing hardships, which are plentiful if you are an entrepreneur.
Put life over likes
The way we see ourselves is often dictated by how other people see us. That is why many people spend lavishly on things they don't need to impress people they don't even like. As a result, you will become more successful in their eyes, but, to you, life will become more and more miserable.
Trying to impress others is the primary culprit of an unhappy life because instead of fulfilling your own desires, you are now trying to meet some imaginary criteria you didn't even sign up for.
After changing my life and taking hundreds of people on this journey with me, I am happier than ever. In part, it is thanks to a sustainable balance between work and life that allows me to make money doing what I love while also spending enough time with my loved ones, sharing my happiness with them.