How to align money and happiness and achieve real, lasting prosperity

Redefining Prosperity

by Ethan Willis and Randy Garn

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A few years back, The Great Recession (the worst economic downturn since the 1930s) casued some of us to take a hard look at our financial habits. As a result, many people are rebooting, reinventing, and retooling. They're also rethinking what it means to be prosperous.

Prosperity, to be sure, is personal and multidimensional. Still, in universal terms, it's possible to define it. How? By one simple yet significant equation.

A Prosperous Equation

Prosperity has three pillars that together create the "Prosperity Equation": Money + Happiness + Sustainability = Prosperity.

Money isn't everything, but it is an undeniable part of prosperity. Yet, what's most important about money is how it interacts with your life and how you spend your energy and effort earning it.

The big question, then, is this: How much money is "enough"? If you want to achieve real, lasting prosperity, you need enough money to support your financial goals and honor your values and principles, but not so much that money serves to distract or alienate you from those very values and principles.

Happiness has been discussed and debated for centuries. At heart, however, it embodies four key elements: health and well-being (supporting a healthy mind, body, and spirit), values (committing to what you cherish, such as family, faith, and friendships), authenticity (living aligned with your personal principles and passions), and state of mind (having positive feelings about yourself and the world around you).

Sustainability can be more fluid than constant. Still, if you can answer "Yes" to three basic questions, the prosperity you seek is probably sustainable.

  1. Do I feel good about it? (it aligns income and happiness)
  2. Will I be able to maintain the effort required? (you can keep at it over the long term)
  3. Is it ethical, environmentally responsible, and beneficial to others? (it can, and will, be measured by more than profits alone).

Six Practices

There are no shortcuts to attaining true prosperity. Yet, with a smart, specific action plan, along with hard work and perseverance, you can do more than dream about prosperity. You can achieve it.

Based on thousands of student success stories at Prosper, our one-to-one distance education company, we recommend applying the Six Prosperity Practices™:

  1. Find your personal Polaris Point™. In astronomy, there is but one Polaris, or North Star. It stays fixed in the heavens, and by its very essence, reveals true north, a phenomenon guiding travelers since the dawn of history. Your personal "Polaris Point" is your true north, or envisioned future. It is what you aspire to become, to achieve, to contribute, to create. It is uniquely yours, and as a unifying focal point, it helps ensure you're moving in the right direction.

    Prosper Tip: A true Polaris Point is clear and compelling yet not restrictive. Start by thinking about the people you most admire and how you might want to emulate their lives. Consider family, friends, teachers, world leaders, and even fictional characters in your favorite movies or novels.
  2. Balance money and happiness. As Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak once said, "My goal wasn't to make a ton of money. It was to build good computers." When your earnings and your Polaris Point are in balance, you're living in your "Prosperity Zone." Your prosperity will continue not as your income or happiness increases but as a function of the difference between your income and happiness.

    Prosper Tip: Most people say their income would have to double to free them from money worries. Yet, when that actually happens, the financial security and happiness they anticipated doesn't materialize. So, they "double down" or redouble their efforts and keep chasing a moving target. (Researchers call this tendency the hedonic treadmill.) Ask yourself, "To pursue my Polaris Point, what would my annual income need to be?" Figure out the answer and stick with it!
  3. Earn from the inside out. Passions and profits really do mix. Think about your core values, strengths, and desires. The more that you "earn from your core" (tapping into a deeper kind of energy and passion) the greater your competitive advantage and earning potential.

    Prosper Tip: Inventory your personal attributes and capabilities. What sets you apart and makes you truly unique? Determine what really motivates you and where you're most excited, eager, and energized. And think about what draws people to you. These and other "ahas" will help you formulate your brand or "personal vibe."
  4. Focus on what you already have. Whether they start with a little or a lot, people who emphasize what they already have (abilities, work and life experiences, contacts, and more) usually end up with the most. Be acutely aware of your own abundance, not your lack, and your "glass half-full" can become even fuller.

    Prosper Tip: You get more of what you focus on. So, instead of thinking about what you don't have or want (i.e. "I have no experience in that" or "I don't want to dread Monday mornings"), start thinking about what you do have and want.
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  6. Create and commit to a plan. Something powerful happens when you "decide to decide" to live the life you really want. In creating a prosperity roadmap, you can plan your work and work your plan. Also, be sure to write it down. Only then can you really visualize your goals, pinpoint your targets, and mark your milestones.

    Prosper Tip: Write your plan by hand (infusing it with a kinesthetic physicality) and use a narrative form, not bullet points or a spreadsheet. Create a shortened version (a 25-word elevator speech) and memorize it.
  7. Take profound, continuous action. A plan is meaningless if it's left to collect dust. Take profound action and persist, persist, persist. There is no room for "if only..." or "woulda coulda shoulda." Akin to that old saying, "Play the hand you're dealt," the road to prosperity begins when you realize that you're the dealer.

    Prosper Tip: Hesitation is the enemy of action. Don't dither, dillydally, or delay. Instead, move ahead quickly and efficiently to get into a flow. If you start to lose faith or courage, reach out to people in your network who can provide encouragement and guidance.

Ethan Willis and Randy Garn are co-founders of Prosper, a one-to-one distance education company specializing in entrepreneurship, e-commerce, personal finance, real estate and stock market investing, and career and personal development. Their new book is Prosper: Create the Life You Really Want (Berrett-Koehler, 2011). For more information, visit

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