Entrepreneurs Among Happiest People In The World, Except In The U.S.

Do happiness and entrepreneurship go hand in hand? A recent study of business owners in 70 countries uncovers how entrepreneurs really feel.
Freelance Writer, Self-employed
January 22, 2014

Compared to her past jobs in brand management at big consumer products companies, Allison Fowler’s typical day at work is anything but easy. “You have to wear so many hats—it’s absolutely exhausting,” says the co-founder of Denver startup Sneakz Organic. But for Fowler, running the year-old purveyor of vegetable-infused milkshake drinks for kids is far more rewarding than punching a corporate time clock.

The first thing Fowler lists when asked why she loves being an entrepreneur is the independence. “Compared to a large consumer goods company where layers of decision-making, bureaucratic red tape, analysis paralysis and process-driven cultures makes it difficult to react and respond quickly, an entrepreneurial operation's success is dependent on your ability to move nimbly and make decisions on the move,” she says. 

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Fowler’s appreciation of the entrepreneurial lifestyle is typical of business owners worldwide, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, which found entrepreneurs were among the planet’s happiest people based on personal well-being and satisfaction with their work. The report, released Tuesday in Santiago, Chile, surveyed nearly 200,000 people in 70 economies, covering 75 percent of the world's population.

Female Vs. Male Entrepreneurs

Another finding of the study was that female entrepreneurs were in some cases happier than male entrepreneurs. This was true mostly in the more advanced or innovation-based economies, which were distinguished from the factor-based economies in developing nations. 

Donna Kelley, an entrepreneurship professor at Babson College who participated in the study, points to the business owner's ability to have more flexibility and better work-life balance as reasons why female entrepreneurs enjoy it more than their male counterparts.

Fowler says what she finds particularly motivating as a female entrepreneur is that she doesn't have to adhere to the conventions of a male-dominated corporate environment. “You get to define the leadership culture of your business,” she says. “And for me, it's about being purpose-driven, collaborative and respectful.”

Are U.S. Entrepreneurs An Anomaly?

One of the surprising findings of the study was that U.S. entrepreneurs were actually less happy than other Americans. Kelley said this was possibly due to the fact that many Americans had started businesses during and in the aftermath of the last recession because they couldn’t find regular employment. These necessity-driven entrepreneurs are distinguished from opportunity-driven entrepreneurs, who start businesses not because they have to, but in hopes of achieving greater economic success and personal fulfillment.

“In every economy, it’s the opportunity-driven entrepreneurs that have the higher well-being scores,” Kelley says. “Often, it’s lower among the necessity-driven entrepreneurs.” He adds that the U.S. entrepreneurship rate had slumped during the recession, implying that fewer Americans saw opportunity in business ownership, but has recovered in the last few years.

Today, about 13 percent of Americans have recently started a business or are in the process, according to the study. That is the highest among developed countries. The relative well-being of male and female entrepreneurs also differed from the norm in the U.S., where men and women were about equally happy as entrepreneurs.

Joe Silverman, owner of New York Computer Help, a New York City tech support and computer repair service for homes and businesses, says what he enjoys about running the company he founded in 2000 is knowing that his rewards are based on the effort he puts in. “Yes, there’s a lot of pressure to succeed, but the risk/reward analysis here makes it worth it,” Silverman says.

Like Fowler, Silverman, who worked jobs as a network administrator and marketing director before starting New York Computer Help, cites freedom as a major benefit. “Making my own hours, implementing my strategies, and having 100 percent decision-making is a great feeling,” he says.

More Americans may be joining Silverman and Fowler as owners of their own businesses, based on the GEM survey’s finding that Americans are highly positive about the opportunities for entrepreneurship. Nearly half—47 percent—of Americans say they saw lots of opportunities to start a business, the highest reading since 1999, Kelley says.

If they do take the entrepreneurial leap in search of greater opportunity, the evidence suggests they’ll like—or even love—their new vocation, and agree with what Silverman says: “Every day does not feel like work because I love the company and industry I am in.”

Read more articles on leadership.

Photos: Getty Images, Sneakz Organic