It’s too easy to be a happiness guru these days

One of the factors evaluated when an entrepreneur decides what kind of business to get into or when an investor looks at a new business is whether future competitors can get into the same business easily. A preferred business model is one that cannot be readily replicated.

Barriers to enter the business are hopefully high and strong. Patents can be good walls of defense, although it depends upon what kind of patent it is. Trade secrets can be better, if the secrets are kept, and kept in the prescribed fashion that case law has defined as necessary.

High capital costs can also be a great barrier, if a new competitor cannot enter the business without also spending the same or more money on creating the business. Expertise is another good barrier, since skills that can be sold for a high price usually take many years to develop.

These days, I would not invest in the burgeoning field of "happiness." There is nothing stopping anyone from hanging out the proverbial shingle, and there is instant exposure through the Internet that used to take lots of money and time to develop.

With no licensing requirements, no educational requirements and no way to test the advice before you take it, gurus of happiness are everywhere.

Do a search on any browser you want for "happiness expert" and you will get many pages of self-proclaimed experts. You'll also get references for the "latest research" on happiness: how to get it, how to keep it.

The Huffington Post online lists several proposed principles from studies done by people who actually have doctoral degrees, although it's unclear as to where and in what field they received those diplomas.

One such study by Richard Wiseman is the subject of his book, “The As If Principle” (Simon and Schuster, 2012). His premise is that if you act happy, you will be happy. OK, I've got a broken foot and I'm 10 miles from base camp. Now I'll act happy, and everything will be OK?

Happiness is not a guaranteed outcome of any human endeavor. Its pursuit is considered an "inalienable right" in our Constitution, but even the founders of our country knew that pursuing doesn't necessarily mean getting.

And happiness is overrated anyway. I mean, have you ever known somebody who is all giddy with joy all the time? Don't you just want to smack them and shout, "Go do something meaningful with your life!"

A meaningful life is actually achievable, and much more enduring than passing through an endless series of happy moments. People who get addicted to crack, crystal meth and ecstasy are the ones looking for endless happiness.

We know this, of course, if we've lived a few years on the planet and had our eyes even half-open. But it doesn't stop the temptation to believe that if we follow this course, go on this nutritional regimen, rub this oil on our bodies or go to hear this particular guru that we might enter an earthly nirvana of constant bliss.

So there is a massive market of potential customers for the purveyors of pleasantness. The weight of that large population of people who would love a formula for fabulousness creates a gravitational pull that draws entrepreneurs into the industry of Telling How Things Are and How They Ought to Be.

When Werner Erhard, L. Ron Hubbard and Tony Robbins started out, they were attracted to the business by the realization that there were a lot of people who wanted to be told how to live their lives. They charged lots of money, which actually increased the odds that their customers would feel what they got was valuable.

Then they turned customers into a sales force. Just brilliant. And they built their businesses the old-fashioned way, through personal contact, word of mouth and targeted advertising.

These days, with the instant inflammation we call the Web and its constituent tools of networking, everyone who has a desire to earn a living by telling people how to live can get into the business instantly. There are thousands of gurus, happiness experts, life coaches and ministers who would be happy to give you their "secrets" for a fee, and maybe even personal attention on a Skype call for a bit larger fee.

My advice to aspiring life experts, as an investor in new business models, is to first get famous at something completely different, perhaps even infamous. You have to differentiate yourself so your brand will rise above the ocean of competition.

Use the public media's need for a constant flow of scandal to gain audience share. Once notoriety is achieved, then go through a public transformation of soul. Come out the other side an enlightened being. Then start charging for classes.

I think I just gave our mayor an idea for life after politics.

Sewitch is an entrepreneur and business psychologist. He serves as the vice president of global organization development for WD-40 Company. Sewitch can be reached at

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