Hard Times and Happy Times

The entrepreneurial experience produces emotions of all sorts, often extending across the positive to negative spectrum and all in the same day! Most entrepreneurs will attest to the fact that there have been hard times at different points in their careers. These hard times may be the result of personal challenges, professional challenges or both. They run the gamut from aging parent issues, marital strife, divorce, rebellious children, lawsuits, financial pressures, unfair competition, loss of market share/customers, and a multitude of other mole hills and in some cases, mountains – really big mountains. Through it all, there’s a central question that we grapple with. How do we make hard times into happy times? Is it even possible?

Let’s start with the whole notion of happiness. Are you happy overall? Where do you land on the happiness scale? Are you happy some of the time but not always? Are you moderately happy or are you ecstatically happy? When you encounter hard times, are you able to maintain your level of happiness or does it slide down (or off) the scale? Obstacles are a part of life. They’ll always be there. When we sign on to be an entrepreneur, we also understand that we’re signing up for a roller-coaster ride. Our gut check is determining if we can be happy while we’re riding the roller-coaster, the bucking bull or whatever metaphor is chosen to represent the challenges we inevitably will face.

Over the course of my 65+ years I’ve learned many things about happiness. Allow me to share them with you.

  1. Happiness is a choice. First and foremost, I’ve come to understand that my happiness is 100% my choice. Where I land on the happiness scale is totally my choice. This concept may not be easy to grasp when we’re in the throes of a crisis. But I’ll be darned if I’m going to let what is happening around me determine whether or to what degree I’m going to be happy. Some may say that this sounds like a Pollyanna type of response – after all the world is crumbling around us and we’re going to choose to be happy? Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. It may not be as easy to dial up happiness when we’re getting punched in the gut . . . but it definitely is a choice that we make.
  2. Go to bed with a clear conscience. My wife is constantly shaking her head. When my head hits the pillow at night, I’m fast asleep within 30 seconds or so. One of the reasons is the fact that I go to bed every night with a clear conscience. I know that my integrity is intact, and I haven’t intentionally stepped on anyone’s toes. A sure-fire way to unhappiness is breaching the trust of others. There may be other problems that crop up along life’s road, but this isn’t going to be one of them.
  3. Be grateful. Gratitude is one of the keys to happiness. I find that when I am grateful to someone and express it, I feel an endorphin rush. And because it feels so good to express gratitude, I try to do it every single day. I have found that being grateful helps to create a balance in my life that pushes up the happiness meter.
  4. Serve others. Years ago, I discovered that getting out of myself was a major factor in being a perpetually happy person. Rather than dwelling on my own inadequacies, mistakes and failures, I found that serving others produced those same endorphins I felt when I was in gratitude. When I could make others happy it became infectious and made me happy as well. I volunteered at a children’s hospital; have served as a mentor to aspiring entrepreneurs; created a scholarship program for young people studying to be teachers, and many other examples.
  5. Turn the tables. Look, I said it before. Hard times are inevitable. But we can use them to learn and grow. We can use them to stimulate creativity and innovation. I have come to thrive on complexity and challenges that some might find would push them over the edge. Instead, I say, “bring on the tough stuff!” I’m not about to be defeated by hard times because they present an opportunity to excel and move to even higher levels of performance. And that’s just as applicable in my personal life as it is in my business.

Hard times and happy times can coexist. We need to recognize that happiness is a choice and it can be realized when we operate in integrity, express gratitude, serve others and use our challenges as opportunities for growth.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Vreugde (and More Gioia!)

Yeah, I had to look them up too. The first word is Dutch and the second word is Italian. But they mean the same thing. In Spanish the word is alegría and in Swedish it’s glädje. So enough with the mystery. The word is JOY. Unfortunately this is a word that is foreign to many entrepreneurs.

You see, we entrepreneurs are a pretty serious and driven bunch. We have important stuff to do and companies to build. We’re always moving at the speed of light and struggle to find enough hours in the day. Joy? Let’s see, maybe we can squeeze it on the calendar three weeks from Thursday at 2:00 PM . . . for 20 minutes. Is the picture coming into focus yet? The point is that many of us don’t allow joy to get within two miles, much less become an integral part of our lives. After all, feeling and celebrating joy isn’t very macho and we don’t want someone to get the wrong idea.

Why do we persist in having such an allergic reaction to joy? Can we become one of the next captains of industry and still allow for a modicum of joy? Of course we can answer in the affirmative and actually we must. Joy and success are tied inextricably by definition. If you don’t believe me – look it up! Merriam-Webster clearly states that “joy is the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” But here’s something else that I’ve learned. We can feel great joy when we celebrate the success and good fortune of others.

I believe that joy should become a part of our daily lives. It’s one of the healthiest emotions we can have. And here’s something I’ve learned that can become your secret weapon. Do you know what it feels like to get stuck in the downward spiral of negative thinking? We lost a deal to a competitor that we were sure we had in the bag. Or one of our key team members just quit. And maybe the bank wouldn’t make the loan we needed. When faced with these kinds of issues our thoughts can turn dark very quickly. But we can just as quickly turn the tables by “jumping into joy” and with both feet. I started practicing this concept a number of years ago. Every time I’d start to feel down, I would intentionally find someone who was in a good place – a friend, family or team member. Then I would applaud their success or good fortune. It’s amazing what a lift this provided for me, not to mention how it made the other person feel.

Joy is uplifting. It’s shout-it-from-the-rooftops passion. It’s at least one level above happiness if not more. Joy kicks the endorphin rush into high gear and does all sorts of positive things to our bodies. We can experience joy through all five of our senses – sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. If we don’t practice it or if we wait for it to come to us, then in effect we’re suppressing it. But if we go looking for joy it’s incredibly easy to find. And don’t we like to be around people who are joyful? They are easy to spot. Their facial features are etched with a permanent smile and a twinkle in their eye. They radiate warmth and bubble with personality.

We can continue to be Mr. or Ms. Seriously No Nonsense, or we can lighten up and have some fun at work. For a number of summers, we had an Ice Cream Day. I dressed up in a ridiculous looking ice cream cone suit and pushed an ice cream cart around the office passing out Nestlé drumsticks, fudgesicles and other delectable delights. I had a blast and everyone had a good chuckle. This truly was a joyful moment for all.

Life is pretty boring without joy – and so are we. Joy tramples negativity and helps balance our emotions. There’s no downside whatsoever to reveling in joy.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Audio Episode 15 – The Royal Treatment.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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