So when was the last time you were really happy?
Most of us when asked that question would recall the birth of a child or watching a golden sunset on an idyllic holiday. I am sure most of you would not describe an episode from your working life.
Carmel McConnell has written an excellent book, The Happiness Plan: Simple Steps to a Happier Life, which unsurprisingly is selling like hot cakes.
She also has an interesting day-job, essentially going into large organisations to help them increase profits whilst at the same time increasing their social contribution. As both a former Greenham Common protester and a former senior executive at BT, she has an unusually wide perspective on society and its strengths and weaknesses.
Her process for achieving happiness is simple but effective. She first suggests that you should really understand the purpose of the organisation you work for, to get the big picture. What are you actually here to do?
This has to be something more relevant and personal than just ‘to increase shareholder value’. What is it about your products and services of your company that brings joy to your customers, where you personally can make a difference?
Once you have worked this out, then you should find a way to be effective in a way which builds trust with people around you. Trust is a very simple premise; it means always doing what you say you are going to do.
Carmel finally recommends you try and understand what really makes you happy, urging everyone to ask themselves the question ‘when and where am I happiest?’ and then do more of whatever comes to mind. She observes that it is often when you help people to feel better about something, or even when they just say ‘thank-you’.
Entrepreneurs are the happiest people I meet. They are in control of their own destiny, can make a real difference and are working to increase their own shareholder value. But even the most successful entrepreneurs can feel unfulfilled without a sense of purpose over and above simply making money.
I always advise early stage entrepreneurs to put a social purpose to their business from day one; to find a way of helping people who need it, without detriment to their business. When they are successful, they can scale up this purpose, make a real difference to the world around them and feel better about themselves.
Money does not make you happy in itself, although I have observed that it does make misery more comfortable. But wealth does bring freedom, the ability to spend more time doing what you really enjoy, such as providing free mentoring for up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
Carmel McConnell’s purpose is to use her management consulting and training to subsidise the charity she founded, called Magic Breakfast. Twenty-five percent of children in London go to school without breakfast, too hungry to learn.
She arranges free healthy breakfast deliveries to 32 London primary schools, then heads off to large organisations and teaches them vital business skills by getting them to work with the same kids. If you can work out how to motivate them, she reckons, you can then motivate anybody.
And maybe one day those same kids will remember you and ask for a job in your business. Keen and eager to learn, they will really enjoy doing all of those mundane jobs that you really hate, thus enabling you to spend more time with your family or on holiday, creating more happy memories.
Carmel McConnell founded and leads food aid charity Magic Breakfast, which has delivered over a million free breakfasts to primary schools since 2002. It won Guardian Charity of the Year in 2005. She is a passionate public speaker on social change and business, and author of four books published by FT/Prentice Hall, including business bestseller Change Activist and The Happiness Plan. She was voted UK Social Entrepreneur of the Year in 2008. www.magicbreakfast.com
The Happiness Plan: Simple Steps to a Happier Life is published by Prentice Hall.
This article is based on a chapter from ‘This Is How Yoodoo It’ – a collection of Financial Times columns written by Mike Southon. You can buy this book in hard copy and in Kindle version here: http://tinyurl.com/YoodooBook