Dennis lived among the Amish for three and a half years. He shares his observations relating to life and business.
Why Are the Amish a Good Model for Happiness and Success?
We are using the Amish people as model because for the most part these are the happiest people you could ever meet. They are passionate about what they believe. With large families to support they have also learned to use this passion in business.
The Amish are a religious group who believe in preserving their culture to be as close as possible to what it was right after they immigrated from Europe. It is their belief that being part of the grid is not for them. They keep themselves separate for the most part from the world around them.
They have no problems with friendships with people not of their faith; however, those friendships never run very deep. If you ask them a question, they will either answer or defer you to their local leader.
My personal experience with the Amish comes from the fact that my step-father lived next door to an Amish family, and when I lived there I asked them questions. I also made it a practice to ask questions of any other Amish person I met. I always heard the same types of answers, no matter who I spoke to.
They don't allow photos; they believe this promotes vanity. This means that I have no pictures of actual Amish people. The mother and granddaughter shown in this article are not Amish, but the grandchild had a nanny who is Amish.
If they choose to run a business, they are successful because they know that their families depend on them. Community is a very important value; their community is a tightly knit one. Keeping their geographic world unspoiled ranks high on their list.
Out of the Mouths of Babes
Babies and toddlers can teach us that we are born passionate enough to make our world better. From birth, babies are able to let us know what they do or don’t like.
During the terrible two’s, youngsters become verbal and can more actively (and passionately!) express their likes and dislikes. Few if any parents or grandparents aren't aware of what these likes and dislikes are. At this time they believe they are the center of their universe.
None of these things are inherently bad—as long as they learn to temper their thoughts and actions. Amish parents start teaching Gestalt at this age. Gestalt means accepting authority as well as obedience.
When we become older, many of us forget to pay attention to what makes us tick. We know what we like but won’t pursue it in the same way that we did as children. In my experience, people who have remained passionate are either happy, successful, or both.
Innovation Is Encouraged
The structure of Amish life is different than that of others. They don't have toys that run on batteries or have automatic features. Television is not allowed. Time has to be filled with something, so they learn to create their own games.
Creating requires innovation. Children learn to use this part of their brain more effectively than many who are raised in the "modern society." This creativity aids them if they go into business later in life.
Where modern parents use the word "no" constantly, the Amish use this word much less frequently—unless a child is breaking religious rules. Children are encouraged to create about anything their heart desires. At the same time, however, they are taught to be subservient. This helps them later serve their customers if they go into business.
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I saw examples of this when my neighbor visited. We were asked that our child not play with toys not allowed by their religion. My step-daughter and the neighbor's son would play outside for hours.
Beliefs About Productivity
Following their beliefs keep them off the grid, which translates to they have no electric lines, telephone lines, or natural gas lines running to their houses or schools. If they want or feel they need something the grid provides the rest of the world they find a way.
They do this however within the confines of their beliefs. They make it happen without disobeying religious rules. This again requires creative thinking.
What lets them achieve is passion. When they figure out what they want, they passionately pursue whatever it is until they make it work. What they don’t know they learn from others in the community.
The people of the community and the person who is doing the innovating make time without taking from other things which they feel are required of, or otherwise important to them. Family is always foremost in their minds.
Their formal education setting by America’s standards today is over a hundred years outdated, and end at grade eight. Each school is a simple one-room schoolhouse. The schools they attend have no running water, electricity, or indoor plumbing. In each case where a school exists the land was donated by a farmer. All Amish children use outhouses while in school. This I saw first hand. Many of the school houses I passed five days a week during the school year. My step-daughter's private school was 18 miles from where I lived.
Yet some of these people become millionaires and many others have a standard of living which in ways exceed the bulk of the American population. If they realize they are teaching their children both at school and at home to be business people is unknown. What a person needs to succeed in business is in reality taught to Amish children starting at age two.
Without their religion and passion, these people would have mainstreamed into the American culture years ago. This is something the leaders deal with daily. How do you give a people what they want without them becoming part of the modern world?
The Freedom to Choose
All Amish children are given the freedom to choose their own future. This also is something important to business people. Mainstreamed Americans take this for granted. Amish children are trained that they will be given a choice.
The training to make this choice starts around age eight. They know their future will be based on choices they make as teens. By the time they are teens, they have already learned the values they need to succeed no matter what choice they make.
There is also a price to be paid for some choices which they are well aware of before they are given the freedom to choose. Very few make mistakes which cause them to leave their families and friends. The majority enjoy their time of freedom before choosing to become truly Amish. With the Amish becoming part of the religion by every member is made as a young adult. By that time they are able to make an informed decision, and to understand the costs if they decide not to become a member of the religion.
How Does This Example Pertain to Business?
Happiness comes into play by our choices. It is possible to be in business and still have time for the things which make us happy. A business choice based on a passion in our lives increases our chances of happiness.
The ability to truly succeed is often helped by the community we create through our associations. Each day in business gives us new choices which can either enhance our business or hurt it. Customer service goes further to cut the cost of running a business than about anything else we can do.
Ninety-five percent of Amish businesses remain open longer than five years. This is unheard of elsewhere almost worldwide. It is my belief the way they are raised has a large bearing on this. Because of their upbringing they learn to be creative, never give up, and treat others with respect.
The Amish community is centered in Lancaster, PA
© 2011 Dennis Thorgesen
Dennis Thorgesen (author) from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S. on April 21, 2012:
One of the attributes the Amish have is patience. The rest of the worlds lack of it is one of the reasons so many businesses fail. If you enter business be prepared to either learn patience or fail.
onlineglobalbiz on April 21, 2012:
Very nice and awesome post.. i am motivated to pursue and build my own business.
Dennis Thorgesen (author) from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S. on April 25, 2011:
I lived in Amish country for over three years and dealt with many of them on a personal level for much of it. I learned a lot from them. They really are a happy people and many of them had life better than I did while I was there. There are many things I miss about living in Pennsylvania with the Amish people being at the top of the list. The reason there is no people picture is it's against their beliefs to have their picture taken.
maggs224 from Sunny Spain on April 25, 2011:
I enjoyed reading this hub very interesting and a good example to choose to illustrate your point :)
Dennis Thorgesen (author) from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S. on April 09, 2011:
It's all in what you are taught, standing behind a plow from dawn till dusk some days is part of most of the man's life also. These people sit in hard back chairs for three hours of church every other Sunday, they learn discipline young. It actually starts before they can walk. They are people who really will turn the other cheek, I don't know many other people with that kind of discipline.
danmit on April 09, 2011:
Cool hub. I admire the Amish because they do things which I can't without things that I take for granted.