Stress and risk – the secret of happiness

I recently participated in a debate entitled “The good society: virtues for a post-recession world”. A couple of my fellow panellists emphasised the importance of promoting happiness rather than material wealth as a true measure of human progress. They believe that advances in gross domestic product are an inferior way to achieve greater wellbeing, and that a concept such as “gross national happiness” might be a better tool.

As I listened to their definitions of happiness, I realised that not many coincided with my view of what made entrepreneurs tick. I have spent decades partnering entrepreneurs, trying to understand their psychology and motivation. I find them hugely exciting to work with, because it is only thanks to their ambition and ingenuity that enterprises are started and fresh wants satisfied.

There is no stereotypical personality, but one can identify characteristics that most entrepreneurs share. At heart they are highly competitive. They do not seek security as their main goal – rather, they actively seek risk, and enjoy overcoming stressful challenges. They are not sheer gamblers, but they embrace dynamism and are willing to invest in spite of the possibility of failure – to have the chance to win.

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About the authors

Stefan Stern writes a column on Tuesdays on management. He is winner of the 2010 Towers Watson award for excellence in HR journalism, and has previously won awards from the Work Foundation and the Management Consultancies Association.

Ravi Mattu is the editor of Business Life, the FT's management features section, and a former editor of the Mastering Management series. He joined the FT in 2000 from Prospect magazine

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