The Happiness Factor

Forbes, Trip Advisor, the United Nations, and other entities rate countries annually on the “happiness” factor. Costa Rica, Norway, Denmark, Vietnam, and Canada all rate rather high. The United States is somewhere in the mid-20s or lower. This year, ask strangers, friends, and family the question: “Are you happy?” and see what you learn. My guess is that, like asking “How are you doing?”  and hearing “Fine,” people will tell you they are happy, when in fact they’ve not communicated that message to their eyes and dimples, smile and general humor.

What is happiness and why is it so elusive? From our side of the desk, does a client’s “happiness” or “state of mind” or “sense of well-being” influence how we serve them, the questions we ask, the guidance we recommend, and the sincerity we show. Defining happiness varies from person to person. Both pastoral work and now client engagement tell me happiness is:

  1. highly overrated
  2. more passing than morning mist
  3. impossible to quantify much less own

Golfing legend Gary Player has reminded audiences around the world that in the morning when he gets up, he says to himself: “Gary, today you can be happy, or you can be miserable.  I choose happy!”  And if you’ve ever met Gary Player or watched him being interviewed, you know that he chooses “happy.”

What do you choose? What have your clients chosen on any day when you call or see them? Hard to say, isn’t it? As difficult as happiness is to define, measure, or maintain, we who traffic in the people business can be of even greater value to our clients if we take a “happiness inventory” on a regular basis.

Start by admitting to yourself that happiness is temporary whereas joy-fulfillment-meaning-satisfaction are more lasting. You may call a client the day her husband has been admitted to the hospital or you might dial a friend five minutes after she’s become a new grandmother. The swings in emotion between the two are significant but passing. Husbands and wives in a committed marriage know joy and fulfillment even though some days are anything but happy. In business, we rate the new, larger relationship “high” and the loss of an account “low.”  How do you rate happiness?

Advisors who take time to ask open-ended questions about lifestyle, family, meaning, and the future know that such questions not only populate our prospecting but always season every lasting relationship. What I’ve learned is that when we keep asking those kinds of questions, others feel valued, heard, and important. More than just a feeling, such questions give us perspective with which to serve clients when life hands them a difficult painful situation.

If our quest in life is to find and possess happiness, we are in for much disappointment. If on the other hand, we accept in our lives and the lives of those we serve that happiness shows up unexpectedly and always leaves without our permission, we might begin to cultivate other fields of meaning both in ourselves and others.

When family and friends invite us to experience with them the best life has to offer, ask questions about joy, meaning, satisfaction, fulfillment, dreams, memories, love, friendship, family, and faith. You will witness flashes of happiness in all those places marked by a smile or a laugh; but, the joy, love, memories, fulfillment, satisfaction, friendship, family, and faith remain. Therein exists the location to which we might move and let Forbes or the United Nations know it is the happiest place on earth.


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