“I’ll be happy when I…” You’ve probably had this thought; most of us have. Common conditions for happiness include everything from earning that promotion, getting a raise, or changing jobs to meeting one’s future spouse, having a family, buying that car you’ve wanted, or moving into a bigger house or to a new city.
Many of those conditions are related to acquisitions—to symbols of achievement. A funny thing happens, though, when you just happen to achieve that condition. You buy that new car, it’s great for about a week, and then you ask the inevitable question: “What’s next?”
You may have read the news earlier this year about a class at Yale University, “Psychology and the Good Life,” in which almost one-quarter of Yale’s 1,200 undergraduates enrolled within three days after registration opened. Taught by Professor Laurie Santos, the course challenges students’ preconceived notions about what brings happiness. Spoiler alert: It’s not the perfect grade point average or the prestigious job after graduation, but rather things like genuine connection with others, reflection and gratitude. (The course is now available free on Coursera.)
The reality is that the “I’ll be happy when” approach doesn’t really work, because there’s always someone with a bigger house, a better title, more money, the seemingly perfect life. Where are we going wrong?
Jeff Olson, founder and CEO of Nerium International, a skincare and wellness brand, has dedicated much of his time to answering that very question. Olson—like many direct selling executives—has spent countless hours researching how to help field members achieve their maximum potential. Personal development is the vehicle by which direct selling has traditionally helped new business owners cultivate leadership skills. One of the biggest selling points of a business in this channel is the opportunity to strengthen emotional intelligence, resilience, negotiation, overcoming rejection and other traits that contribute to longevity and success. Personal development offerings are often structured in a format resembling academics: readings, courses and curricula, videos and the like, and field members review the material on a schedule of their own choosing.
The reality is that the “I’ll be happy when” approach doesn’t really work, because there’s always someone with a bigger house, a better title, more money, the seemingly perfect life.
There’s no denying the value of personal development. Many have witnessed the kind of incredible transformation that a direct selling business paired with a commitment to personal development can bring; ask any leader onstage, and she’ll be glad to tell you about how her direct selling journey has changed her. According to Olson and many other leaders in the channel, though, if direct selling executives truly want to help as many representatives as possible reach their goals and create successful businesses, not just based on financial rewards but personal ones as well, they need to examine the role of happiness in the equation.
Before he discovered the happiness factor in success, Olson says, personal development seemed to increase engagement for some representatives, after which point progress seemed to stall. “It was very frustrating,” he recalls. But he had a theory for why people were hitting this roadblock. “Personal development, from my perspective, was hard. It felt like going back to school.”
Then Olson met Dr. Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Known as the founder of positive psychology, Seligman defines the term as the “scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive.” It’s a perspective that moves from the inside out, rather than the outside in. In other words, when you assume that a better job title will bring you happiness, you’re expecting an external source to provide personal fulfillment. Positive psychology takes the opposite view, asserting that your personal thoughts will have a direct impact on external results. This field of study examines how people frame their past, present and future prospects. Well-being, satisfaction, hope, optimism, altruism, forgiveness, tolerance and perseverance are all qualities or conditions associated with a positive outlook. Seligman’s evidence-based approach for the active ingredients of well-being is known by the acronym PERMA: Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment. The principles of positive psychology can be applied at work by adopting a grateful mindset (reflecting on what you have), forging meaningful connections with others (finding friends among colleagues), contributing individual strengths and capitalizing on the strengths of team members, finding meaning and purpose in work, setting goals on a regular basis, giving oneself a pat on the back for a job well done, and recognizing others for their efforts.
Olson started reading the research by Seligman and others in the academic world, where the discipline of positive psychology was almost exclusively limited. What he learned, he says, completely changed his viewpoint on how to help independent representatives be more successful. “Clinical data was proving the power of happiness,” Olson says. “They were finding that happiness was a precursor to success. It’s easy to do. It’s not a quantum leap. Most people think, ‘If my direct selling business is successful, I’ll be happy,’ but it’s the other way around.”
Appreciation, Optimism, Hope
Personal development and positive psychology have a lot in common. Skills associated with personal development, like resilience, confidence, gratitude, compassion and other traits associated with emotional intelligence, can ultimately increase one’s sense of well-being and happiness. For companies who are examining ways to better engage their field members, however, approaching the conversation from another angle may be worthwhile. Positive psychology—adopting an appreciation for the past, optimism for the present and hope for the future—could offer another viable route to success.
“The same people who are drawn to personal development are very easily drawn to happiness,” Olson says. “For a leader who’s already going down the path to personal development with reading, listening, going to seminars, we’re just giving them another tool. We’re all aware that the more personally developed people are, the more successful they are. But happiness is an untapped segment, and a big group of people will be attracted to it.”
Happiness Is a Competitive Advantage
So is positive psychology really that simple? Do we just need to help field members learn to be happier? And how do we do that? Happiness isn’t a switch you turn on for immediate gratification; it’s a long-term commitment, a shift in thinking that we have the power to create through a series of incremental changes. The subsequent benefits can be profound; a leader’s mindset rubs off on her team and even on her customers. In a channel that’s all about personal connections and exceptional service, happiness is a relevant and timely area of focus.
“As a direct seller, the key to developing and maintaining a positive mindset and lasting customer relationships is to understand where and how to best invest your energy,” says Jim Ayres, managing director of Amway North America. “People tend to dedicate time, money, talent and other resources to areas that are most important to them. If you are passionate about what you are doing, who you are serving and identify the necessary steps to bring it to life, you can unlock the power of positivity to fuel the success of your business.”
“It’s easy to do. It’s not a quantum leap. Most people think, ‘If my direct selling business is successful, I’ll be happy,’ but it’s the other way around.”
—Jeff Olson, Founder and CEO, Nerium International
An entrepreneur’s success can depend almost entirely on her mindset. And today, more people are directly responsible for their own income and financial success, both inside and outside the direct selling channel. The more accountable you are for your income, the more important happiness is, according to Deborah Heisz, president of Nerium International and CEO of Live Happy, LLC. In contrast to a corporate job, where you’re paid whether your mood is good or bad, “if you’re not happy, you’re not going to make that sales call or have the confidence to get in front of that room and speak,” says Heisz, who also is the co-founder and editorial director of Live Happy, a positive lifestyle magazine. Happiness, she adds, is a competitive advantage, especially as the direct sales channel competes with other opportunities in the gig or freelance economy.
A significant contributor to happiness is the recognition and appreciation of one’s own strengths. “Everyone has natural strengths that focus individualized thoughts, behavior, and feelings,” says Missy Larsen, senior director of government relations and corporate partnerships at dōTERRA, an essential oils company. “As we focus on these strengths through positivity, we recognize our natural abilities and unlock our incredible potential. When we choose to focus on our unique strengths, we are more productive, more engaged in our work, and three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life than individuals who do not.”
Combating Negative, Fearful Genetic Wiring
It’s not always easy to remain optimistic in Western society. People are bombarded with information, much of it negative. “We still have the genetic wiring to look for the negative and be fearful,” Heisz says. “If you start looking for the good, you’ll find it.” If people are not reading the news, they’re on social media, which is dominated by a culture of comparison. “This obsession with what I don’t have that Western culture has created through social media and advertising is the wrong thing to focus on. There is no ‘enough.’ ”
Learning to be selective about the information you absorb can be a challenge even for the most seasoned direct selling executive. “How many negative things can we face, even as a CEO?” asks Dr. Traci Lynn Burton, CEO of Traci Lynn Jewelry. “There are some things I don’t do first thing in the morning, like email or Facebook. You’ve got to command the morning to get your attitude right. When I come into work, I’m already on a high—a 10—and I work from there. Joy comes from knowing who you are and what you need. Comparison can be very dangerous. That’s why you’ve got to limit this stuff. My mind is an asset, and I’ve got to protect it.”
“We still have the genetic wiring to look for the negative and be fearful. If you start looking for the good, you’ll find it.”
—Deborah Heisz, President of Nerium International, CEO of Live Happy
The most common enemies of a positive mindset include internal and external factors like fear, hopelessness, low self-esteem, and your associations. Lynn encourages her field members to consider “who’s really close to you. Who are you allowing into your life? Who’s in your space? Who are you listening to? All of this you can filter once you’re really clear on who you are and what you can bring to the table. And you attract what you put out.”
A positive outlook is associated with more than just the attainment of one’s goals. It’s also linked to a host of health benefits, including increased lifespan, lower rates of depression, lower levels of distress, better resistance to the common cold, better physical well-being and better coping skills during times of stress, according to the Mayo Clinic.
It’s Not About the Dollars and Cents
The direct selling channel is focused on the business of serving others through quality products and personalized service. In most cases, high-performing independent representatives have invested the time and care to build and nurture not only their teams, but also their customer base. The financial rewards are a natural result. This approach may not be fast, but it leads to greater stability in the long term. From time to time, though, some individuals may try to motivate others with earnings claims and trappings of financial success. New business owners who have the “I’ll be happy when” syndrome might be swayed by such false assurances. However, money really doesn’t bring happiness—and there’s solid science to prove it.
“Joy comes from knowing who you are and what you need.”
—Dr. Traci Lynn Burton, CEO, Traci Lynn Jewelry
Studies have shown that happy people make 30 percent more at the same job. However, research conducted by Seligman, Ed Diener of the University of Illinois, and the Gallup Organization finds that contrary to what many people believe, money isn’t a lasting contributor to happiness or well-being. “The intuition that one will be happier with more rather than less income might be correct, but this effect occurs only at the individual level and is negated to the extent that everyone’s incomes and desires increase.” Further, Seligman and Diener found that the desire for material goods keeps pace with rising income, therefore negating the benefits of a pay raise, for example. In other words, the goalpost keeps moving.
Changes to Make Now
If happiness is up to the individual, then one can start making some little changes that, over time, can add up to big transformations. Write down three things you’re grateful for each day. Take an inventory of the information you’re taking in each day, and strive for balance by including more positive books in your reading list. Aim for eight hours of sleep each night. Pay someone a compliment. Exercise daily. Spend time outside. Find your favorite positive affirmations, and repeat them often. Focus on remaining in the present. Invest time in your family, your hobbies, and in serving your community. For the long term, focus on financial security versus material acquisition. And, if you’ve been dreaming of moving to a place where you enjoy a higher quality of life, make a plan, and get to work.
Heisz also recommends these four keys to resilience:
- List your wins. What have you already accomplished in life?
- Choose your thoughts. Don’t dwell on the worst-case scenario. Focus on what you can control in the moment.
- Give yourself some grace. You’re going to make mistakes. Allow yourself to fail in order to succeed.
- Don’t go it alone. Build resilience by finding someone to talk to, someone who lifts you up. In this business, it’s often your upline or your sideline. Find that person by becoming that person for someone else.
Direct selling leaders are in a powerful position to give people tools they need to find meaning and purpose in their own lives while they enhance the lives of others. That, in turn, can grow exponentially, making the world a happier place and creating a lasting impact.