The more I read and think about happiness and my business life, the more I find money to be irrelevant. It’s not that money can’t or shouldn’t come out of the business life, it’s just that it is seldom the true raison d’etre for the passionate, creative entrepreneur. More a byproduct.
Michael Douglas in Wall Street, Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glenross, Lionel Barrymore in It’s A Wonderful Life, and numerous others have etched a popular trope of the businessman as a cold-eyed darwinian killer who lives for nothing but swag—a mean-spirited, joyless Uriah Heep of lucre, a cretinous Babbitt who lives by the cynical mantra of Joel Grey as the cryptic, menacing, Nazi MC in Cabaret.
“Money makes the world go aroundThe world go aroundThe world go aroundMoney makes the world go aroundIt makes the world go ’round.A mark, a yen, a buck, or a poundA buck or a poundA buck or a poundIs all that makes the world go around…”
Big government constantly reinforces these impressions with rhetoric about control of and protection from the money-centered businessman.
Most of this is, of course, a bunch of hooey. If the entrepreneur equates money to happiness (and I believe most do not), he is certainly misguided.
The latest nail in the coffin of “money as meaning” in business come from the research of Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton. As with many other “happiness” researchers over the last decade, Dunn and Norton (NY Times, Sunday Review, July 8, 2012) have found that additional income buys us little additional happiness once we reach a livable, comfortable standard. They quote a Princeton study using Gallup polling data from almost a half million American households that shows that money creates little beneficial effect after reaching the $75,000/year level.
So what should this say to the motivation of the entrepreneur? (Or, as Dunn and Norton ask rhetorically, “Why, then, do so many of us bother to work so hard long after we have reached an income level sufficient to make most of us happy?”)
For me, personally, that answer lies in creating a mini-world I can live happily in—a private Idaho, if you will, of ethics, value, freedom, personal dignity, usefulness. and occasional laughter. It lies in creating something that is good, salubrious, and helpful to the world. That is the unique guerdon for the entrepreneur and of the creative, self-made risk-taker.
I’m always uncomfortable in discussions about monetizing or selling my business. Questions that center around “What’s your number?”, or questions that focus on “Beach Money.” (What the hell is “Beach Money” anyway? I hate the beach!) My one-day-at-a-time and my long-term goal is a happy, meaningful, free, well-lived, independent life. Creating, growing, and living in my entrepreneurial company is a goal in itself.
“I’ve always wanted to be successful. My definition of being successful is contributing something to the world…and being happy while doing it….You have to enjoy what you’re doing. You won’t be very good if you don’t. And secondly, you have to feel you are contributing something worthwhile…If either of these ingredients are absent, there’s probably some lack of meaning in your work.”
Thank you, Norman.