Business owners aren’t immune to mental health problems – we need to learn to apply the ‘science of happiness’ to business to support entrepreneurs’ mental health and business growth
For Britain’s 5.7m small and medium-sized enterprises, poor mental health seems to come with the territory even if you’re not a particularly anxious person. There are innumerate factors which we could note that may contribute to this, from solo working, uncertain finances, and blurred work-life boundaries to name a few, and while statistics are widely publicised about the number of employees that are likely to struggle with their mental wellbeing, entrepreneurs and business owners are rarely given the same media attention or support, and rarely get the same care and attention about their mental health.
While building a successful business can bring passion, joy and success for many of us, we know what it feels like to have the level of pressure and responsibility that can weigh heavily on our minds. In a study by the University of San Francisco researcher Michael A. Freeman focusing on the entrepreneur mental health crisis, it was found that approximately one-half of the entrepreneurs who participated experienced at least one form of mental health condition during their lifetime.
Freeman’s research has shown that start-up founders are: twice as likely to have depression, six times more likely to have ADHD, three times more likely to have substance abuse problems, 10 times more likely to have bipolar disorder, twice as likely to require a psychiatric hospitalisation and twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts. Fairly brutal statistical reading.
There are many sources of stress for today’s small business owners – from the threat of business failure to late payments and poor work-life balance, and this constant pressure takes a well-documented toll on the mental and physical health of entrepreneurs. However, it’s vital that we develop long-term wellbeing strategies, rather than simply tackling tension as it arises. Starting a business is not just about your product or brand, it’s about you as a business owner and working hard to grow your business in a world where ‘success’ is rammed down your throat 24/7.
So what can we do to help?
Amid growing concerns for the mental health and wellbeing of students, and following a successful pilot back in 2018, The University of Bristol has begun offering a ‘science of happiness’ course to its students, to resounding success. Drawing upon the latest research in neurosciences and psychology, all new students have the option to learn what happiness is, and how they can achieve it. Furthermore, as of May 2020, Yale University is now offering its course The Science of Wellbeing online for free – after Professor Laurie Santos taught a class called Psychology and the Good Life first in spring 2018 in response to concerning levels of student depression, anxiety, and stress.
Covering topics such as: Misconceptions about happiness, Why our expectations are so bad, How we can overcome our biases, Stuff that really makes us happy and Putting strategies into practice there seem to be many elements here that business owners can make use of, not just students.
Could being happier help you run a more successful business?
Could shifting that mindset, and breaking down some mental barriers help you unblock your next level of entrepreneurship?
Generally, I’m an inherently positive person – so you’ll often find me giving high-fives and big hugs to those who need it. Whilst I find it a bit disheartening to dwell on the negative beliefs we hold, these do need to be perfectly paired with all the positive elements that are hiding out of your reach, to persuade you to tackle those negative thoughts once and for all. Negative thoughts are said to be ‘landmines along the pathway to being your best’, but fortunately the exact opposite is also true. If you consistently nurture the positive thoughts and intentions, then you begin to paint a picture of success in your mind that you will slowly become accustomed to, and learn to expect. In the end, you’ll settle for nothing less than greatness.
As Henry Ford famously said ‘whether you think you can or cannot, you’re right’. In other words, whatever you believe about your abilities or possibilities, is true. This is why it’s crucial to take a look at the factors and limiting beliefs that are holding you back, and do the inner work to tackle our biases and put strategies in place, for our own well-being not just our business.
For us business owners, its important, vital even, to unpack our own definitions of success, expectations, and mindset so that we can learn to embrace and tackle our business journey from the ground up. What I consider to be success is different to that of your friend, your mum or your next door neighbour. It varies for everyone, and doesn’t always include money. The same goes for what makes us happy.
How we perceive our business has a huge impact on how we conduct business and The Science of Happiness can show us that by conducting practices to help understand habits, we can build to lead truly happier lives… and ultimately more fulfilling work and business.