The Business of Happiness: 12 Personal Choices

By Jim Rohrbach |

You owe it to yourself to be happy in your career, don’t you?

“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”


Face it. You spend a lot of time at work—more than you spend with your family, more than with friends, more than you have for yourself. So if you’re going to be that involved with your business, you might as well enjoy it, no? So if you’re going to have that much time invested in your business you might as well enjoy it. You owe it to yourself to be happy in your career, don’t you?

Let me begin by sharing what I consider to be the benchmarks of a successful career:

  • You love what you do
  • You love who you do it with
  • You are compensated adequately to support the lifestyle of your choice

You need all three to be happy. If you’re coming up short on the first two, you’re probably not happy no matter how much money you make. Income issues aside, let me introduce some ideas from a book called The How of Happiness. Author Sonja Lyubomirsky (I’ll refer to her as Dr. Sonja), a Ph.D. research psychologist and psychology professor, has provided useful insights on the concept of happiness.

First, she says that 50% of our happiness is fixed—a genetically dictated set point. Ten percent is circumstantial, or event driven: closing a big deal, getting a new car, or taking a dream vacation will temporarily make us happy before we backslide to our set point. So, contrary to the popular saying, whoever has the most toys does not win, at least not in the long haul.

Finally, Dr. Sonja has scientifically documented (with 44 pages of footnotes!) the effectiveness of a dozen “happiness activities”—daily, intentional behaviors—that will help us permanently increase that remaining 40% of our personal happiness equation.

Let’s look at these 12 activities in the order they’re presented in the book. I’ll raise questions to get you thinking about how each can apply to your career:

  1. Express gratitude. How many ways can you show that you’re grateful to those you work with? Who has helped you along the way to your position today that you can acknowledge? How can you show your clients and your team members that you appreciate their contributions to your success?
  2. Cultivate optimism. Your attitude is a reflection of your thoughts. What effort do you make to keep yourself thinking positive and hopeful thoughts every day despite the difficult times we are living in, the doom-and-gloom media, and negative people? What kind of attitude do you bring to the office every day that lifts others’ spirits?
  3. Avoid overthinking and social comparison. There’s always somebody richer, smarter, better looking, in better shape, or whatever it may be in your marketplace. Are you willing to give up comparing yourself with them so you can value the unique human being you are?
  4. Practice acts of kindness. How can you be a “kinder, gentler” person in the office? Do you go out of your way to do the little things that build your emotional bank account with your associates, no matter what their level? How can you display generosity toward others, not so much with money as with your time and a listening ear?
  5. Nurture social relationships. “To have a friend, you’ve got to be a friend,” the saying goes. How do you go about building business friendships? Do you feel you have to always compete with your peers? If so, can you turn those into friendly rivalries that spur better performances from all?
  6. Develop strategies for coping. The world of work is not always fun and games. Sometimes the going gets rough, as we’ve all experienced during the pandemic and a recession. By what means do you keep yourself on a reasonably even keel during stressful periods? How quickly do you bounce back from the inevitable setbacks you’ll face?
  7. Forgive. Occasionally (but I hope not often) people will do you wrong in your career. Do you understand that holding onto vengeful thoughts toward others holds you back? What do you do to get over a hurtful business relationship so you can move on?
  8. Increase “flow experiences.” We’re all familiar with “being in the zone.” Are there certain behaviors you do that increase the likelihood you’ll get there more often? What changes can you make to your physical workspace to facilitate this?
  9. Savor life’s joys. How often do you take time to smell the roses? Or even smell the coffee at your local Starbucks on your way to the office? Are there other things you take for granted that you could take a moment to enjoy throughout your day?
  10. Commit to your goals. Goals are essential for achievement. It’s one thing to write them down, but are you committed to making the effort to stretch yourself to achieve them rather than giving up when things get hard?
  11. Practice religion or spirituality. It appears the most successful people have found a way to develop a strong sense of faith. No bible thumping here, but how are you making the effort to evolve yourself spiritually, whether through a traditional religious practice or via your own path?
  12. Take care of your body. The benefits of healthful eating, regular exercise, and appropriate rest are well documented. Have you been carrying around an extra 20+ pounds from a junk-food diet? Does your health club membership card sit in your wallet unused? Are you getting enough sleep to be bright-eyed on the job without being a caffeine junkie?

As with any self-improvement regimen, Dr. Sonja asserts that you must make a sustained effort with these intentional activities to upgrade your level of happiness. In other words, you’ve got to turn them into habits. She provides clear guidelines on how to apply each of the 12, recommending you try a combination of several to see which ones fit best for you.

Interestingly, many of these activities dovetail with what I prescribe for my financial advisor coaching clients. I have each client develop what I call a daily success ritual, which includes goal setting, cultivating optimism (affirmations), and increasing flow experiences (visualization).

Though I bill myself as a “Success Skills Coach” who intends to help my clients improve their financial bottom line, having them adopt these activities is really intended to help them improve their personal happiness. So, within the context of growing their business, aren’t I really their “Happiness Ritual Coach?” Yes, I can hear you groaning; I know that sounds awfully awfully “touchy-feely.”

But the real bottom line question is this: Isn’t being happy really what it’s all about?

Aristotle addressed that question almost 2,500 years ago. And his answer still rings true today.