How to Win in Business

One trick can make you happier immediately, says a man who has lost and regained millions

You may not be able to change your circumstances right away, but there is one way that you can immediately increase your happiness: change your expectations.

That's according to James Altucher, a self-made millionaire who has swung through success and failure multiple times in his 49 years.

He has launched more than a dozen businesses. Most of them have failed and a couple have been successful. He had a hedge fund for a while and has had as much as $15 million in his bank account. He has also had as little as $143.

He has been married and divorced twice and has two children. He has written books and puts out a podcast.

"I know billionaires who are so unhappy because, 160 hours a week, they're working hard to run huge mega businesses and yet someone has a billion dollars more than them." -James Altucher, author and entrepreneur

As Altucher ping-ponged between financial success and failure, he has chronicled his depression. He has also reflected on what happiness means.

"I know billionaires who are so unhappy because, 160 hours a week, they're working hard to run huge mega businesses and yet someone has a billion dollars more than them and they're incredibly upset and angry and anxious about this," Altucher tells CNBC.

A man could be unhappy because he has $15 billion and wishes he had $100 billion. Meanwhile, most people could only dream of having $1 billion.

James Altucher
Photo by Frazer Harrison
James Altucher

Altucher defines happiness as reality divided by expectations.

While it can be a slow process to change your reality, "you could change your sense of well-being immediately by changing your expectations," says Altucher.

Unrealistic expectations virtually guarantee misery. If you moderate your expectations, then you are more likely to feel at peace.

Altucher does take issue with the word "happiness," as it comes from the same root as happenstance, something that takes place outside of yourself. Altucher prefers to use the phrase "well-being," because that can come from inside, he says.

This philosophy could be misunderstood to mean that ultimate happiness can be achieved by expecting nothing. But Altucher isn't maintaining that the secret to happiness is to have no ambition or desires.

"I'm not saying you shouldn't need any money or you shouldn't do things that make money," he says. "I'm just saying, manage your expectations, be creative and be healthy, and I bet you — I know for me — I have a much greater chance of experiencing freedom and huge amounts of well-being during the day."

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