Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent the past six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
“For every minute you are angry, you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Rarely will I start off any writing with a quote. Mr. Emerson, however, nailed it. As I traverse across the internet, and through countless personal conversations with real estate professionals, I’ve come to a couple of conclusions:
- There are a lot of folks out there who are just not very happy.
- There are also many out there who are happy, and happy people seem to be the most successful people — by any definition of the word “successful.”
“Happiness” is not easy to define. It’s much like what Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said in 1964 about pornography and obscenity — ”I know it when I see it.”
I think we all know happiness when we see it.
No, this isn’t about those rare individuals who always have a smile on their face and seem to have no cares in the world. Those who just skip down the road, oblivious to all, supremely happy about everything. Let’s be honest, those people are annoying.
Skipping down the roads without a care is just not a realistic goal for your happiness level.
What is realistic is being happier in your career, which will result in a happier life.
So let’s talk about how to be happy in real estate, the chosen profession of virtually everyone reading this column.
Look, I’m not a happiness expert. I’m not a psychologist. But I am a student of the human condition. My college degree is in human resource management, and HR was my life prior to real estate.
So while not an expert, years of observing humans in the wild has left me with an opinion or two, and because this is an opinion column, guess what you get to hear about this week?
It goes without saying
You have a really hard job. Years ago, my friend Vicki Moore said something that resonated and stuck with me. It perfectly captured the trials and tribulations of being a real estate agent.
“Every day I wake up unemployed,” Moore said.
This is a true statement. If you have nothing in escrow, you don’t get paid. When one transaction closes, where does the next one come from? Ever had three active buyers just up and quit in the same week? That big transaction that falls apart at the last second? The gnawing feeling in your gut that the market is about to shift.
I could go on and on. The bottom line is you’ve got a very difficult job. It’s full of stressful situations and people. So much is out of your control (yet, guess who always shoulders the blame?). It’s somewhat of a wonder that any agent can lead a happy life. Despite all that, you can, and should, lead happy lives because what you do is important and rewarding work.
Feeling like what you do doesn’t matter? Read the article “Dear Agent,” by industry consultant Marc Davison. If that doesn’t show you how important your job is, I don’t know what will.
I suspect if you read Davison’s article, it will make you happy. If nothing else, you’ll be able to say: “Finally, someone gets it.”
What you need to know to be happier
When I worked for Zillow Group, I was a member of over 120 real estate-related Facebook groups. I used to somewhat jokingly say that was “about 119 too many.”
Jokingly. Yeah, not really. My experience with Facebook groups leads to my first tip for bringing more happiness into your job and life.
1. Avoid toxic places
While there are some tremendously useful Facebook groups, many are virtual toxic waste dumps. Bastions of negativity. Full of “woe is me” and “the sky is falling.”
People lamenting “how things used to be.” All the “if onlys” — if only there were no discount brokers, no portals, no third parties. If only “we had control of the data.”
If only, what if, the way things used to be.
There are different brokerage models. Portals aren’t going away. The internet killed controlling the data. Real estate isn’t going to flip back to the 1980s. The internet isn’t a fad, and it won’t just fade away, no matter how many lament its existence.
Simply avoiding toxic places and situations can go a long way toward increasing your overall happiness.
To quote Oddball from the movie Kelly’s Heroes, “Why don’t you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don’t you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don’t you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?”
Yes, I’m fully aware that Oddball is a fictional character. But he provides sage advice. Knock it off with the negative waves. Negativity begets negativity. Negativity is the antithesis of happiness.
Which leads directly to my second tip.
2. Attitude is everything
About a week into my real estate career, I went to an office meeting where I met my first title rep. She brought donuts (or maybe it was bagels.) She also had a sticker on a folder that said, “Attitude is everything.”
My immediate thought was, “How corny, and over-simplified.”
Then I got to know her. Sandra was one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. She was incredibly encouraging, wicked smart, and she was right — attitude is everything.
If negativity begets negativity, what do you think a positive attitude does? Yep, it leads to positive things.
No, you can’t positive attitude yourself out of every situation. But maintaining a positive attitude can certainly help mitigate those bad days. Try to “find the good” in everything. Even the worst situations usually have some learning moment. Seize that moment rather than brooding over what shoulda, coulda been.
Festering negative attitudes rarely do anyone any good. Think positive, be positive.
Whenever I bring this up, someone will look at me like I’m some old hippie that should be living in a commune in the hills, rather than a condo near the beach in Seattle.
Meditation has changed my life.
It can change yours too.
In May, my Inman column was dedicated to meditation. I think maybe five people read it. That it probably had the most life-altering material of all my columns combined means nothing.
As mentioned in that piece, some feel meditation is nothing more than psychobabble. I know for a fact that practicing regular mediation can work wonders for your mind, attitude, life and happiness.
Give it a try. What do you have to lose?
4. Give back, or find a cause
Retirement has provided me some opportunities that never really presented themselves before. Actually, those opportunities were always there — I just didn’t see them, or more accurately, felt like I didn’t have the time to pursue them.
Because that hustle culture we’re all slaves to was controlling much of my life.
One thing I’ve done since retiring is volunteer to answer an online sexual assault hotline. This required many hours of training, and traveling across the continent on my own dime for certification.
I’ve spent dozens of hours in an online chatroom, talking to victims of rape, incest and human trafficking. Some of these conversations are gut-wrenching, brutal looks into the very dark areas of human behavior. It’s hardly the stuff of happiness.
Yet I find when a hotline session ends, there is often a paradoxical feeling of happiness that overcomes me. Of doing good. Of helping a fellow human.
Painful as it can be at times, this is incredibly rewarding work, and there is no question in my mind that it makes me a happier person.
Find something you’re passionate about. It doesn’t have to be real estate related (it’s probably better if it isn’t). It just needs to be something you care about. Giving back, helping that cause, will go a very long way toward raising your general happiness level.
5. Love more
Here comes the hippie again, swinging some burning sage and making love chants.
I get that image, it’s easy to see when some random dude you probably don’t know starts talking about how the world needs more love.
But I don’t think it’s possible to be truly happy without having some love in your life.
Earlier this month, my only daughter got married. Like any father, all I ever really wanted for my kids was for them to be healthy and happy. My daughter met and fell in love with a wonderful man. My wife will tell you that throughout their relationship, I asked her several times if they were “really, deeply in love.” I just wasn’t seeing it.
But I saw it in their wedding.
Their love was obvious, deep and powerful. A picture of my wife watching me dance with our daughter screams love. I wept like a baby during parts of that dance. Not because I was sad, far from it. I was so happy to see my baby girl so in love with another person. Their love made my love stronger. Love for my daughter, my son, my wife, our new son-in-law and his family.
Love is powerful. The world needs more of it. That wedding was a veritable love fest, one of the happiest days in my life, and I’m actively looking for ways to keep that sort of love front and center in my life.
6. Read this
It’s probably a little strange to send a reader off the website they are on, but if you are remotely interested in happiness and things you can do to be happier, you should read “How to Be Happy” from The New York Times. It is lengthy, but isn’t your happiness worth a few minutes? Read, follow the links, and go be happier.
Yes, you can be happy in real estate. You should be happy. You deserve to be happy.
“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” – Abraham Lincoln
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree in Seattle, as well as the mastermind behind Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook or Instagram. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty.