In my Yahoo!Finance column that posts Feb. 7, I report on a new study that finds people who rank themselves an “8” on a happiness scale of 1 to 10 achieve more in income and education than people who rank themselves a “10.” The theory is that the “8s” experience some level of dissatisfaction that may drive them to pursue their goals more aggressively.
I thought I would put the study to a thoroughly unscientific test with a group of very driven people. I was a guest on CNBC’s The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch on Monday night. The program featured several entrepreneurs who have gone from zero to building multi-million dollar businesses. They include:
-Cameron Johnson, author of You Call the Shots, who made his first million before graduating high school;
-John Assaraf, founder of One Coach and author of the best-seller Having It All, who started his business at age 26 and now runs a company with $5 billion in sales (he appeared in the video The Secret);
-Dawn Barnes, who built a successful chain of karate schools in California, going from zero to more than $3 million in revenue in the first dozen years;
-and Kaile Warren Jr., who went from being homeless in 1996 to founding the handyman franchise Rent-A-Husband, which now has $13 million in sales, and a new partnership with Ace Hardware that could boost growth 10-fold in the next few years.
I asked them, considering all aspects of their lives, how would they rate their happiness on a scale of 1 to 10? They were all 10s.
Warren rated himself a “12-and-a-half.”
“I am more driven now than ever,” explains Warren, “because of starting from where I started. When you’re homeless, you have no confidence, it’s like you’re not really there, you’re hollow inside. If you then find something that recharges you spiritually and emotionally, it becomes addictive – you can’t get enough of it.”
After a car accident left him injured and unable to run his small construction firm, Warren fell deep into debt, and lost his home and marriage. Sleeping in a rat-infested abandoned warehouse in Maine, he prayed one night for a break, and got the idea for Rent-A-Husband, a handyman service for all the minor jobs that never get done.
“I want to redefine this fragmented and unsophisticated business; take care of the customers’ needs, and create a career path for handymen,” he told me. (Warren’s company offers a nationally certified apprentice program that allows participants to become master plumbers, carpenters and electricians.)
Johnson, 23, says he is a 10 in happiness, but that hasn’t affected his drive. “If you asked me if there was anything not fulfilled in my life, I’d tell you ‘no’ — which would lead me to choose a 10 rating,” Johnson wrote in a follow-up email. “But I’ve always said you should make your future bigger than your past, and nothing is ever perfect. So going off of that, and knowing my own goals and ambitions — I’m a 10 and want to be a 20.”
I think the key here is that entrepreneurs are relationship-savvy – and so are people who rank themselves “10” on happiness surveys. In a survey of college students, for instance, the 10s had more self-confidence, more energy, were more outgoing, and had more friends. The 8s were more conscientious, more likely to attend class, and had higher grades, and had fewer friends.
Consider the fact that many high-flying entrepreneurs didn’t perform well in school; Assaraf says he was running with street gangs at age nine, and left school when he was 19. Last year I interviewed Barbara Corcoran, who built New York City’s largest residential real estate company over three decades, before selling the Corcoran Group for $66 million in 2005. Corcoran was a dyslexic who said she was “terrified” of being called on in school, and nearly flunked out. (Dyslexia and attention deficit disorder are common among entrepreneurs – check out this new study covered in The New York Times, and this piece in Businessweek.)
“I think poor students make excellent entrepreneurs,” Corcoran told me. “School is often a cookie-cutter system that evaluates kids based on a narrow definition of what’s great. When I got out of school, I felt like a jail bird that had been set free.”
She recalled a conference of the Young Presidents Organization, which includes wealthy people from all over the world who own large businesses. “There were 1,500 people in the room, and a child specialist was speaking,” Corcoran recalls. “She asked, ‘How many people in this room were horrific students?’ And one by one, people raised their hands until it was more than half the room.”
Corcoran, the author of If You Don’t Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails, says the key to her success was hustle, confidence and relationships. “You build wealth through people,” she says. In other words, those high-achieving “8s” end up working for people like Corcoran.
For Assaraf, scoring a 10 on the happiness scale without losing his drive is a matter of discipline. He’s a 10, he says, ”because I have been a student of (happiness) for 30 years and apply what I have learned,” he says. “Most people don’t research how to be happy, and what really constitutes their happiness.”