10 Rules for Happiness in Business and in Life

happiness

The Rules I’d have if I didn’t hate Rules

I’d love to hear about your Rules in the comments below

I hate Rules, as a Rule (!!), but if we must have Rules, I’d rather we had Rules about happiness than about eating chocolate or wearing helmets.

I recently watched a great video by Robert Waldinger about a 75 year Harvard study on Happiness (watch the video here). It’s a fascinating talk and a fascinating research project. It got me to thinking about the good life and happiness and I arrived at these 10 Rules. As a business coach who’s focus is helping his clients feel great about themselves and build great businesses, my perspective is tilted in that direction of course. Robert Waldinger talks about the value of relationships and at some point in the video he says: “On the whole, the people who do best in their lives as they get older are those who have leant into building relationships during their younger years”. I am completely convinced that he is right, and so I offer these 10 Rules as additional to the findings of the Harvard study.

BTW, they’re not really Rules of course, think of them as food for thought and conversation starters instead.

Also, you need to know, that for me, there is little difference between Life and Business, so I suggest you consider these 10 Rules in whatever context suits you best.

And I’d love to hear about your own Rules for happiness… Please share your thoughts in the comments below… I dare you!!!

So here goes:

Rule 1 : If you know where you’re going and you’re in control of the ship, it’s easy to get up in the morning.

I believe there are two reasons we get to feel overwhelmed and stuck in life. The first is when we don’t know where we’re going and the second is when we feel that life is living us instead of the other way round. The Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland told Alice: “If you don’t know where you’re going, My Dear, any road will do“. I’ve always loved that quote (as long as you keep Rule #2 below in mind as well), but what is just as important is that we have a sense of agency in our lives, of having our hand on the tiller. Nothing is more stress inducing in my experience, than feeling we are being pushed and pulled in directions that we have no input over. It is one of the reasons I believe we, as business owners, suffer from depression less than the average population, because even though business might be terribly stressful and frustrating at times, at least we have this sense of being in control of the levers.

Rule 2 : Goals are merely directions on a compass, not destinations to get to.

The self-development craze of the past 30 years has sent us up the garden path with it’s focus on goal setting. We’ve been told that you must set clear measurable goals in life and strive to achieve them (Remember SMART Goals?). But goals can never be anything else than a Hail-Mary: “Given everything I know right now and assuming my best efforts in the future, I am going to achieve XYZ”. You don’t actually know anything about the future. Tomorrow the world will be a different place than it is today; Tomorrow you’ll be a different person than you are today. You may well decide to change your mind about your Goal tomorrow. So Goal setting is indeed a very useful thing to do, as long as you treat the Goal as a direction, a course to travel in, not a destination. And when circumstances on the journey change, you should of course always be prepared to change your direction, if that is what’s required to keep your journey going.

Rule 3 : The smallest difference that makes a difference will change your life.

Forget Change with a capital “C”. Sustainable change in life or business happens by taking one small step at a time, one day at a time. Every day a tiny step forward is a much more effective recipe for effecting change than attempting to jump forward in big leaps. Small step change is much less risky, it allows for everyone to adjust to changed realities and if one of the steps doesn’t work out, it’s no big drama to take one small little step back again.

Rule 4 : Forget growth, concentrate on delivery.


The myth is that business must grow or else it dies. I’m not sure where the myth comes from, but it is a myth, and a dangerous one at that. Focusing on growth as the measure of success in anything is a recipe for disaster and many businesses have grown themselves right into oblivion. The trick is not to grow your business or your organisation, it is to do so while continuing to deliver the quality and consistency and reliability that you aspire to. Growth will follow automatically if you do what you say you’ll do by the time you say you’ll do it at the price you say you’ll do it for, every time, with a smile.

Rule 5 : If you want something you’ve never had before…. You’ve got to BE someone you’ve never been before.

Your business (your career, your relationships, your health) is what it is today, because of WHO you are today. It follows that if you want your business to be something else, you have to Be someone else first. Change in other words, personal Change with a capital “C” (don’t forget to take Rule #3 above to heart as well). You simply can not create the business you dream of and do so without putting your face right up close to the mirror, looking yourself in the eye until it gets uncomfortable, and stay there.

Rule 6 : Today’s plans are tomorrows toilet paper.

Someone once said that planning is guessing, and a famous general is quoted as saying: “No battle plan ever survives the first contact with the enemy”, and in my days as a builder I used to say that all project plans I’ve ever created were out of date before they’d come off the printer. But don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that planning is therefore a waste of time. Quite the opposite as a matter of fact. The conclusion to draw is that we must always be planning. Because planning is a verb, it is what we must do all the time. We must constantly ask ourselves “what-if” questions, imagining the possible scenarios we might encounter and how we’ll respond to those should they come to pass. The value of the plan is never in the piece of paper but in the work done to create it.

Rule 7 : Change is uncomfortable, and that’s OK.

Human beings don’t like Change, we’re scared of it. And that’s because change happens as a result of going on a journey. And going on journeys is scary. Think of the anxiety you feel before going on a big trip, especially a trip where not a lot has been pre-booked. And a journey of change is like a journey where nothing is pre-booked, it’s a journey out on the open ocean, out of sight of land. Journeys of change never take place in the safety of the harbour. It takes courage to leave the harbour behind.  After every visit to the harbour, we have to take a deep breath to push off again, set a course for the horizon and resist the temptation to turn back as soon as the first big swells hit. But then once the sails are set and the ship settles on its keel, we start to revel in the possibilities of the open ocean again (even if we might feel sea sick from time to time).

Rule 8 : Feeling fear and anxiety means you’re not a psychopath, and that is a good thing.

Fear, anxiety, nerves, worries… They’re normal human emotions. There is nothing wrong with feeling fear. Being nervous about the outcome of things is a good thing. Worrying about things means you’ll double check that your parachute is shackled on securely before you jump from the plane. Feeling anxiety before making a new investment, employing a new staff member or signing a contract is healthy. Love your anxieties I say; Seriously, they’ve gotten you this far, don’t knock them.

Rule 9 : Presence is a great thing to aspire to, but un-achievable for normal humans.

Yep I know, it is a great thing to be Mindful, to be “here and nowhere else” and to always remember that Now is all there is. I know it, I feel it, I hear you… and… I also know that I will not attain that state of mind until about 1.5 minutes before I die, and I suspect, nor will you. So by all means, remind yourself to be in the Now from time to time, but don’t give yourself a hard time when you’re not… Noone else is either.

Rule Last : You’ll never be as cool or as rich as Richard Branson, and that’s cool.

‘Nough said…

Here’s how I help my clients life and work by those 10 Rules

Tagged with: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*