A new vision of Prosperity and Business for our future.

In this post, I’ll cover:

  • What makes us prosperous?
  • What makes us happy?
  • How our vision and worldview influences our happiness, our prosperity and our businesses

What makes us prosperous?

On the surface, personal prosperity comes in the form of income, money, investment equity and personal assets. But when you really think about it, prosperity isn’t a physical thing. It’s a feeling of gratitude. When we feel thankful, we also feel richer.

So for example, if I have a Lexus and I’m thankful for it, I might feel prosperous. But if I lack gratitude when I realize that it’s a 20 year old car, that feeling of prosperity rapidly dissipates. Or supposing that my colleague has a more expensive BMW that I’d rather have or that someone has the same car but a bigger fancier house that I am envious of. Without gratitude, at very best, this kind of prosperity is relative to your surroundings.

Physical prosperity is also fleeting. In one moment you may have equity in the form of investments, in the next minute, your life savings can be lost as confidence in the stock market crashes. Assets, likewise, can change hands in a single moment, lost by one and gained by another. And health problems can plague anyone and rob them of their life savings.

Business prosperity also comes and goes. As business leaders we strive to deliver profits to shareholders quarter after quarter and we think we are deserving of their recognition for making the company prosperous. But have one or two bad quarters due to lost consumer confidence, an unforeseen recall or some other market related challenge and see how long the respect lasts.

Global prosperity is another factor. Even if we are personally well off but live in an unstable economy where others are struggling, where there are poverty related crimes and corruption, we are unable to fully enjoy our wealth.

True prosperity is something else. It is the kind of wealth that comes from a loving family or being held in high regard by friends, and in spite of worldly “success” not because of it. It is the ability to hold one’s head high knowing that we have done the right thing for the world in our personal and business lives. It is having a place of security that will last throughout out our life time by having trust in our fellow human beings or our Creator. It is knowing that our wealth has been fairly shared and that no child will suffer as a result of our negligence. It comes from ensuring that we have done everything possible to make the world a better place for ourselves and others, regardless of our rank or role in life and it is demonstrated in gratitude for all that we have.

What makes us Happy?

If we think very short term, happiness is a rush. For example, winning makes us happy. Have you ever noticed the short term rush of endorphins when you win any sort of competition. This is certainly true in sales. Sales people get a huge rush on signing a big contract and they smile a lot when that happens. Sadly it doesn’t last long. You may also get a low dose of this sense of happiness when you find a good bargain at the store. Or worse, addictions such as gambling, food, alcohol, or even romantic love can make us feel “happy” but only short term. Our bodies somehow tell us that we are happy and we generally try to repeat that experience, each time with less success. But this is what you might classify as chemical happiness.

If we allow ourselves to think short term, we also allow this sense of “happiness” to dictate our behavior and eventually lead to characteristics that are less than desirable. We compete in many ways. We strive to ”get ahead” (even though by implication others might be left behind), we demand the highest quality products at the best price (ignoring how they came about, in some cases by slave or child labor), we find the “best” investments (irrespective of the impact on our environment), we buy the most expensive homes and cars we can afford (sometime even if we can’t afford them and don’t need them), we travel freely (ignoring that fact that our travels may contribute to a global climate crisis).

Why? Because all of these give us a short term rush that we equate with “happiness”.

But true and enduring happiness is something else. It is good feelings that we have about what we are doing right now, what we have done in the past, and what we hope to do in the future that benefits others in a meaningful way. It comes from accomplishment, contribution, service to others and building something better and more sustainable for the future. It comes from the bounty of being in the presence of people we deeply admire. It has very little to do with things or even competing.

If we focus entirely on ourselves, we become aware of all the immediate things, the temperature of our bodies, what we are wearing, what we look like, what we feel, our aches and pains, our itches, etc. When we are happy, however, we forget all of that. We might be cold, hot, hurting, bumped or bruised but in moments of happiness we forget ourselves and we feel wonderful and content. True happiness is a state of inward reflection on a positive situation. When we see a friend or someone smile, we reflect on their happiness and how good we feel at that moment, we feel the glow of being happy inside. For that moment, nothing else matters. This sense of happiness can also build our character. If we learn to be inwardly reflective and outwardly focused, to speak words of encouragement, to love others and to focus on their happiness, to be of service through our words and actions, through building something better for the future, we become naturally more happy.

How our vision and worldview influences our happiness, our prosperity and our businesses

For this section, I’ll encourage you to add this article to your list of favorites so that you can come back periodically when you need to re-focus. Make 10 minutes right now to think about it.  Find a pen and paper ideally or on your computer get ready to write a few notes.

Ask yourself this question:

Is my worldview leading to enduring happiness and prosperity?

If you are a business leader, are you focused on serving your customer’s greater purpose? Is your company making an important contribution to the future world without causing any damage?

As an investor, are you making your investments speak for your highest values and your vision of a future world? For example, my fund manager often told me that funds which invest in “Socially Responsible” companies (i.e.  SR funds) often invested in the same companies that other funds invest in and that’s absolutely true. But it’s not just about which investments we make. It’s also about how we make them. An SR Fund is a block of investors and the Managers of those funds have a responsibility to make our voices heard as shareholders. If your investment is through a standard fund, the Manager votes according to what is profitable short term. An SR Fund manager, on the other hand, has a responsibility to vote the shares in ways that contribute to creating a sustainable and socially just world. So even though they may invest in the same companies, the message they send to those companies is very different. It is not so much what you invest in as how you invest.

As customers, of course, we should demand quality and a reasonable degree of competitiveness but if we are going to have  long term senses of happiness and prosperity, we must also know that we have been just and fair in our purchases. We may not always know exactly how to purchase products which help others in the world, but means are slowly being devised. Concepts such as Organic and Local farming, as well as Fair Trade, although perhaps not perfect, do contribute and we do send a message to Vendors by supporting these efforts.

Keys to Success

Purpose - It is generally true that successful businesses and successful people are driven by purpose. Happy people have a purpose which focuses on the happiness of other people. When you see someone smiling, especially when they are smiling because you have done something for them, you will generally feel happier than after having achieved a specific monetary or production goal. At very least, the memory is lasting and more gratifying. We are happy as business owners when our employees and our customers are happy, when their lives are good, when they are prosperous, when they have no worries and when they enjoy the pursuits of a challenging work environment while receiving the benefits and services we provide.

We are miserable as business owners when employees are complaining about working environment, money, family worries or when the quality of work is less than desirable and our customers are complaining.

But we should never forget that if we provide customers with products that provide a short term rush, it is not the same as providing them enduring contentment. If we make plans that provide a high quarterly result but which sacrifice the environment, the short term gain may be overcome by long term pain.

What makes us, our customers and our workers happy?

When we contemplate the future, if we think in terms of having enough money, assets or pension, security, or ensuring that our family members have access to everything they need, good health, food, decent housing, etc., we will tend to feel happy as long as that future seems secure. After all, no one wants to imagine their family members destitute or in need. We feel sad when we begin to doubt our future prospects. But the reality is we really don’t know what our future will bring.

When we think of the past, we feel happy when we have positive memories, however, our brain’s are wired such that we often focus on what’s not working and so many or our memories are often about negative events.

On the other hand, when we get deeply involved in the present and we focus on the task at hand, we tend to be happier than if we think about the future or the past. We establish a kind of flow where time passes quickly. When we complete our task, if we realize that we have made a contribution during that period, we feel extremely satisfied. On the other hand, if we get into flow with a time-wasting activity, we may feel a loss as a result of the time we’ve wasted and feel dissatisfied.

As business owners or managers, when we engage our customers we can make them feel happy by ensuring that there is purposefulness in their activity or in their purchases. For example, in my work as a consultant, if my client decides that they have a problem they are unable to solve themselves, they will feel great satisfaction if they take the action of purchasing my service to solve that problem. They know that they have moved forward in a meaningful way by engaging me and I will gain the benefit of knowing that I have helped them.

When we engage employees, we must ensure that the work must be rewarded by it’s own meaning. For example, in my other role with Partners for Prosperity, if I engage a Volunteer in a task, there is no financial compensation. The Volunteer benefits by deeply understanding their contribution to the outcome and that contribution becomes the source of it’s meaning. It  has to be framed in an understanding of the greater good it is serving even if the task itself may seem menial.

And what happens if your business is one where you are potentially doing harm to the environment or where, if viewed by the greater good of society, it is actually harmful even though it may satisfy the immediate needs of the lower human nature?  Executives are often put in a compromised situation by virtue of running a company knowing full well that their work may have negative consequences. In order to keep performing at a high level, they cloud their internal vision and twist their thinking just enough to defend their actions. But are they truly happy? Not in my experience. Ask yourself a question: After all is said and done, you retire from a role and you realize after the fact that, as an executive, there were things that you knowingly ignored, responsibilities that you abnegated in favor of making profits, that caused harm to either your employees, or your clients, or your world; will you feel happy about the purpose that your life has served?

Without attacking a specific company, let’s look at a few examples.

Soft drink companies serve a specific demand. No doubt they are profitable because of that demand. But much of that demand is created through marketing of the brand. Soft drinks, in addition to fulfilling a demand, contribute to childhood obesity which is a serious health and social problem. The bottling of beverages contributes to water shortages in some environments where the poor people rely on the water for farming, fishing and livelihood and yet have no voice with their own government. They contribute to dental problems for millions of people who have no dental coverage. After retiring as an executive of such a company, wouldn’t it be difficult to ignore the consequence of your company’s success? Every time you saw an obese child, a toothless adult, someone with diabetes, or pictures of thirsty dying cattle, you would have to wonder if some of those lives had been negatively impacted as a result of your success. Depending on your business practices, you might wonder how many people had to go without water or how many people had their teeth rot from your product. It is true that you might hold the consumer ultimately responsible, but as the supplier, you are certainly part of the equation. Even though you may have done many good things to try to erase the social negatives, the responsibility still remains. There are many soft drink companies that support amazing social programs that do much good. But do those programs erase the problems that their products have created? At best the two activities are not in integrity with each other.

Or supposing you work in the oil industry. This is an industry that serves an important need. Yet it has great potential for harming society both in creating an unsustainable future and in climate change. Many oil companies are deeply involved in social change. But that doesn’t eliminate the harmful outcomes of their work. It is only as the Oil companies begin to see their responsibilities in the light of creating a sustainable energy future that they will fulfill their true destinies and allow the executives to feel truly at peace with their own spirits. Even for the most diligent of climate change deniers, they must wonder if they have made a mistake with the increasingly frequent onslaught of storms like Yolanda, Haiyen, Sandy and the expanding areas of drought in many parts of the world.

And there are many more examples.

To have integrity and happiness over the long term, it is not enough to do a few good things. We must also cease doing things which are fundamentally destructive to the people, the planet and ultimately the nobility of our human spirit. So for example, if a soft drink maker can find ways of increasing healthy ingredients and eliminating harmful ingredients, if they can find ways to make their bottles either disappear or go around again, if they can increase the water available to local residents rather than draining their resources, if the health of their clients improved, what would be the impact on the company executives, employees and potentially their long term profits?

If abiding happiness and prosperity are to be the outcomes, our work should never contradict the spirit of service to humanity.

What if we all decided that our gift to our children would be a world that is 100% healthy, 100% educated, 100% sustainable, 100% prosperous, 100% secure, and 100% unified?

Your immediate response to this statement is likely, “that’s impossible, anyone who would write that is dreaming!”

And fair enough! We know that the world has and will always have many challenges. But having those thoughts in our mind is still beneficial. By nature, we tend to manifest actions that move us closer to ideas that we hold in our minds and to those we believe we can achieve. So what would be the harm in looking at our lives and our contribution to humanity from a bigger perspective? What would be wrong with striving to increase long term health, happiness, education, security and unity for all people and not just for those in your immediate circle?

If you aren’t certain that you have lived a perfect life, I encourage you to look again and to decide what changes you may have the power to make and even to take some bold steps to make changes that you thought you were powerless to make. It’s a small thing we can all do once in a while.

Keep well, be grateful, be generous,

Garth

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