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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 around
The world go around
The world go around
Money makes the world go around
It makes the world go ’round.
A mark, a yen, a buck, or a pound
A buck or a pound
A buck or a pound
Is 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.

Norman Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed Martin, puts it like this in an interview with Mihaly Csikzentmhalyi (Good Business, Viking Penguin, 2003)

“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.

7 Responses to “Money, Happiness, and Entrepreneurship”
  1. Hey Tim –

    I’ll take a 6-pack of whatever you’re drinking! The idea of being happy while you work, a sense of contribution AND getting paid for same is the American Dream manifest.

    I repeat, where’s the package store to get my 6-pack?


  2. tim askew says:

    Dear Matt,

    The entrepreneurial 6-pack is not available at the package store. It’s customized and micro-brewed. It only occurs after experimentation, tasting, and prayer.

    Always love your wonderful comments, Matt. Thanks.


  3. Tom says:

    Great blog post. I reposted a link on Facebook & Twitter. I’ll post it on LinkedIn too.

  4. Nick says:

    Just read your lates, and it is another great one! I love the quote from Norman Augustine.

  5. tim askew says:

    Dear Tom,

    I’m glad to have readers like you are so at ease with Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for reposting. And thanks for your very kind words.


  6. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Dear Nick,

    Yeah. Norman Augustine sounds like a wonderful guy. Very humble and practical and clearheaded about happiness and life. Thanks for the comment.


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