August 25, 2015
Success isn’t what makes him happy, explains Virgin founder Richard Branson in his contribution to Dear Stranger: Letters on the Subject of Happiness (July 2015). To clarify, that means that having a billion dollars, a private island, and your very own Wikipedia page aren’t the keys to happiness.
Yet many of us implicitly believe this. We peek past the curtain into first class and think it must be heaven. Tropical villas and infinity pools and top-floor restaurants seem like the stuff of joy and contentment.
And to get there, we have to do lots of stuff: check off to-do’s, work hard, earn more money and power, achieve.
But according to 65-year-old Branson, the building blocks of bliss are more simple: love, gratitude, mindfulness, kindness. We don’t have to do anything at all; we just have to be – and find happiness in each moment.
“For me, it’s watching the flamingos fly across Necker Island at dusk. It’s holding my new grandchildren’s tiny hands. It’s looking up at the stars and dreaming of seeing them up close one day. It’s listening to my family’s dinner-time debates. It’s the smile on a stranger’s face, the smell of rain, the ripple of a wave, the wind across the sand. It’s the first snowfall of winter, and the last storm of summer.”
If this anecdote of one (famous) person doesn’t convince you, the science actually bears him out. Love, gratitude, mindfulness, and kindness are textbook keys to happiness in positive holhology; earning more money (above about $70,000 per year) is not.
Science also bears out the next assertion Branson makes: happiness is not a result of success, but a cause. “I know I’m fortunate to live an extraordinary life, and that most people would assume my business success, and the wealth that comes with it, have brought me happiness. But they haven’t; in fact, it’s the reverse. I am successful, wealthy, and connected because I am happy,” he writes.
As psychologist Shawn Achor explains in his fantastic TED talk, happiness can boost our intelligence, creativity, and energy. Happiness increases job security, job retention, resilience, productivity, and sales skills. And happiness reduces rates of burnout and turnover.
Branson encourages us not to go chasing after happiness as a far-off goal, but to make it a habit. Read his full letter here.
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