Elite financial advisors recognize an important fact about their careers that escapes many others: The main reason they are in business is not so they can simply keep getting more and more clients — it’s so they can build a business that supports happiness and a great quality of life.

Happiness is an increasingly popular topic these days among executives and business owners, including advisors — and with good reason. Working to enhance happiness creates a tangible return on investment and will make you more successful. If you are happy and you have happy people around you in your organization, your organization’s performance and productivity can improve by 10% to 30%, according to a variety of studies, including one by a team of economists at England’s Warwick Business School.

If your team is happier, you will take better care of your clients and have greater impact on them — which in turn will enable your team to do well financially.

I’ve learned that lesson, as well as a great deal more about happiness and its role in success, from Henry Miller — an exceptional trainer, coach and consultant who helps companies and organizations improve their performance and productivity.

He’s spent the past few years analyzing the growing research on well-being and synthesizing it into a road map to greater happiness. His book, The Serious Pursuit of Happiness, came out last year, and he’s worked with the elite advisors in our coaching program to implement his lessons.

So how do you get serious about happiness? Miller suggests the following three-phase process.


Some people think they’re predisposed to be happy or unhappy and that’s just how they are. Not so. You can take steps to enhance your happiness and that of your team.

Roughly half of people’s happiness level is driven by external factors such as deliberate thoughts, attitudes and actions, says Miller, citing a study by U.K. and Australian psychologists. This is great news: It means a big chunk of the happiness you feel is up to you.

Start by building a framework for happiness based on four tenets:

  • Effort: Don’t expect happiness to wash over you. Creating and enhancing happiness in your organization is just like any other major initiative you undertake — it requires time and effort to get it up and running smoothly. This is good news for anyone who likes tackling new initiatives and making things happen.
  • Frequency: The frequency of positive events in your life matters more than the intensity of those events. You need to maintain a 3:1 ratio of positive events or emotions to negative ones, according to research by psychologist Barbara Fredrickson. One really strong positive event — such as landing one huge new client — matters less than many smaller positive events (winning a steady stream of clients, for example, or meeting weekly goals you set with your team). So look to boost your frequency of positive moments.
  • Habits and rituals: Make happiness habitual — incorporate positive habits into your life while removing other habits. If stressful weeks in the markets or busy end-of-quarter reporting periods prompt you to overeat or drink, skip the snack machine and carve out time for the gym. Repeated over time, those positive habits will become your new normal.
  • Focus on others: When you spend time doing things for other people and trying to make them happy, you end up happier than when you do things to please just yourself. Research shows, for instance, that people feel happier spending money on others than on themselves. This one should be a natural for advisors, who spend their days helping clients.


Research has shown that basing decisions around several imperatives will increase your happiness.

A few examples:

  • Seek pleasure within limits: Real, lasting happiness doesn’t come from chasing lots of short-term pleasures. The high from short-term pleasures — making a killing for clients on an investment in Tesla, for instance — doesn’t tend to stick with us very long. If you pursue only hedonism, the moments when you do feel down tend to overwhelm you.
  • Think happy: Avoid excessive rumination on the minutiae of your own life. Focus on building resilience and taking control. Your feeling of well-being rises when you do these things. 
  • Act happy: Expressing gratitude for the good things you have shuts down feelings of envy and jealousy that block your path to more happiness. Pay closer attention to the good things that are going on in your business and thank the people making them happen — whether it’s a great receptionist who makes clients smile when they walk in, or the rep whose integrated CRM system keeps you out in front of client relationships. If you buy a “gratitude journal” and write in it every Sunday night, you can increase your happiness by 25%, with the positive effects lasting for six months, Miller contends. 


Ultimately you need to act to achieve results. Here are proven happiness-enhancing steps you can start taking immediately and that you will find relevant to your career as a financial advisor and entrepreneur.

  • Savor the future: Write a description of what your ideal practice will look like five years from today. Are you serving a small number of ideal affluent clients whom you would love to see every day? Do you have a team in place handling day-to-day issues while you enjoy more time with family or volunteer work? Your vision of your ideal future will act like a beacon, drawing you to it. Take notice of how you feel when you envision a great future. Savoring the future will help elevate your positivity.
  • Be grateful for your past: Think of someone who positively affected your life — an early client, perhaps, or a mentor or employer — and whom you never thanked properly. Write a thank you letter, explaining what they did for you and what it has meant to you over the years. Your kind words will probably have a positive impact on the other person — but research also shows that expressing gratitude enhances a person’s own feelings of well-being. (There may also be an additional payoff: Even if you keep it personal and not about business, reconnecting with a person sometimes leads to new business wins for my firm.)
  • Reimagine your role: Think about what you do for clients. Are you just helping them make more money, or is there a higher benefit that you deliver? Look to identify that benefit — perhaps it’s helping families achieve peace of mind or guiding women in transition through divorce or death of a spouse. Whatever it is, write it down and share it with your team. This is a way to frame what you do in a manner that makes it clear to you and everyone around you how you bring real, high-level value to others’ lives.

More broadly, take time to examine the choices you and your staff make daily in your practice. Are those choices guided by actions that have been shown to enhance and maintain higher levels of well-being? If not, remember that you can change those choices starting right now.
There’s a quote I like from the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre: “We are our choices.” When it comes to our happiness and our overall success, that’s truer than you might have realized.

John J. Bowen Jr., a Financial Planning columnist, is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide, a global training, research and consulting firm for advisors in San Martin, Calif.

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