Everyone knows that January sucks . No amount of slow eating raisins will change that fact but at least we have people on hand to share their accumulated wisdom on how to make things better. Take billionaire and human doings, Richard Branson for example. Whilst Mr Branson recognises that mental health problems can alter ones outlook on life he believes that happiness is for the many and not the few and so struck was he by this notion that he decided to republish the following letter for Mind’s book: ‘Dear Stranger, Letters on the subject of happiness’. He apparently re-read it recently , believed that the sentiment still rung true so republished it ” in the hope that my words can help others find the true happiness they deserve in 2018 “.
The letter is reproduced below in bold type and I thought I’d share my responses as they happened whilst reading it. Some of the original language has been changed to protect readers sensitivities.
You don’t know me but I hear you are going through a tough time, and I would like to help you. I want to be open and honest with you, and let you know that happiness isn’t something just afforded to a special few. It can be yours, if you take the time to let it grow.
You don’t know me at all but how uncanny that you knew I was going through a tough time. Do you know who else is going through a tough time? Freaking everybody. It would seem that tough times are not just afforded to a special few.
So you don’t know me. At all. But I do know you a little bit because you are an excellent self-promoter . Who hasn’t tried and failed to erase the image of you in a wedding dress and a full face of make up to promote Virgin Brides or laughed gleefully at the sight of you ricocheting off the walls of a Las Vegas Casino (ouch and ouch) . Would it also be impolite of me to mention the two failed attempts to circle the globe in a hot air balloon. There was that time in 1995 and again in 1998. So yes, I know the cut of your jib.
More recently your forays into healthcare have drawn my attention and I recently heard that the NHS settled a legal dispute with you after you lost out on a contract to provide children’s services across Surrey for an undisclosed amount. One CCG inadvertently revealed that the settlement had left them with financial liabilities running to hundreds of thousands of pounds. In the spirit of openness and honesty can I just say, what a spectacularly shitty thing to do.
It’s OK to be stressed, scared and sad, I certainly have been throughout my 66 years. I’ve confronted my biggest fears time and time again. I’ve cheated death on many adventures, seen loved ones pass away, failed in business, minced my words in front of tough audiences, and had my heart broken.
Of course it’s OK to be stressed and scared. We’d be mad not to . Life is stressful and scary in ways that I’m not really sure you can imagine although your imagination does take you down some strange little byways like dressing as a Zulu and Elvis Presley . For the future , not everything you imagine needs to be realised and not every outfit you don confers status. Just because you dressed up in an astronauts suit to announce the launch of the Virgin Galatic space program doesn’t mean that you have actually been in space.
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.
So many people get caught up in doing what they think will make them happy but, in my opinion, this is where they fail. Happiness is not about doing, it’s about being. In order to be happy, you need to think consciously about it. Don’t forget the to-do list, but remember to write a to-be list too.
I’ve got to challenge you again here. I think you’ll find that it’s a little bit of both and a huge dollop of luck besides.
Kids are often asked: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ The world expects grandiose aspirations: ‘I want to be a writer, a doctor, the prime minister.’ They’re told: go to school, go to college, get a job, get married, and then you’ll be happy. But that’s all about doing, not being – and while doing will bring you moments of joy, it won’t necessarily reward you with lasting happiness. Stop and breathe. Be healthy. Be around your friends and family. Be there for someone, and let someone be there for you. Be bold. Just be for a minute.
If you allow yourself to be in the moment, and appreciate the moment, happiness will follow. I speak from experience. We’ve built a business empire, joined conversations about the future of our planet, attended many memorable parties and met many unforgettable people. And while these things have brought me great joy, it’s the moments that I stopped just to be, rather than do, that have given me true happiness. Why? Because allowing yourself just to be, puts things into perspective. Try it. Be still. Be present.
Of course there is enormous value in stopping and taking time to appreciate the natural world and all its beauty and to be grateful for life’s small pleasures whilst accepting that pain. loss and suffering are universal. How much easier though to appreciate these things when your basic human needs are met and you have choices and a sense of self efficacy. If the Obama’s (especially Michelle) asked to share a vacation with me or even a coffee I would be ridiculously happy but they didn’t because wealth and connections. I have neither . You are totally living in la- la land if you believe that your ability to experience so much happiness has had nothing to do at all with being a white, rich, male and everything to do with you being stationary.
For me, it’s watching the flamingos fly across Necker Island at dusk. It’s holding my new grandchild’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 snow fall of winter, and the last storm of summer. It’s sunrise and sunset.
I’m afraid I couldn’t get past that first sentence without wretching.
There’s a reason we’re called human beings and not human doings. As human beings we have the ability to think, move and communicate in a heightened way. We can cooperate, understand, reconcile and love, that’s what sets us apart from most other species.
Don’t waste your human talents by stressing about nominal things, or that which you cannot change. If you take the time simply to be and appreciate the fruits of life, your stresses will begin to dissolve, and you will be happier. But don’t just seek happiness when you’re down. Happiness shouldn’t be a goal, it should be a habit. Take the focus off doing, and start being every day. Be loving, be grateful, be helpful, and be a spectator to your own thoughts. Allow yourself to be in the moment, and appreciate the moment. Take the focus off everything you think you need to do, and start being – I promise you, happiness will follow.
You do realise that somebody else has already written the ‘Ladybird Book of Mindfullness’ don’t you and it is way, way funnier than this although I have to say ‘ human doings’ had me yelping in delight. Please don’t pollute the happiness discourse any further with your trite, lubricious musings because someone has to clear it up afterwards and we all have better things to do in 2018.