Every year, it is estimated that one in four people struggle with a mental health problem. In fact, according to Psychology Today, an estimated 15 million Americans a year struggle with depression.

One of my own family members has grappled with depression for decades, so I understand it firsthand. That's why dealing with a particular condition has to start with having the right information. 

Enter Mind, a UK website dedicated to empowering and supporting millions of people with mental health problems by providing critical resources that can change their lives.

So important is their cause, Penguin Random House UK, one of the largest book publishers on the planet, decided to publish a book on Mind's behalf, entitled "Dear Stranger."

The premise? Famous authors came together to offer a collection of heartfelt letters to an "imagined stranger" -- perhaps someone you know afflicted by a mental health issue -- on the subject of happiness. 

One of those authors sharing his innermost thoughts is the billionaire founder of Virgin Group, Richard Branson.

His letter is compelling and profoundly appropriate for the New Year's theme of achieving more happiness. While I'm highlighting three of Branson's main points below, it would do him and the team at Mind justice if you read the whole letter or, better yet, bought the book!

A 2018 Plan for More Happiness

Branson starts his letter to a stranger like this:

Dear Stranger,

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.

It's OK to be stressed, scared and sad, I certainly have been throughout my life. 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.

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.

After setting the stage for happiness being a state-of-mind exercised through powerful choices we each have to make daily, he helps us see happiness in a new context.

1. Forget the "to do" list. Write a "to be" list instead.

Getting caught up in doing what you think will make you happy is the sure path to failure, says Branson, because happiness is not about doing, it's about being. While the world over will kick off 2018 with a to-do list to meet their illusive New Year's resolutions, Branson advises people to write a "to-be list" instead. Branson writes:

The world expects grandiose aspirations: 'I want to be a writer, a doctor, the prime minister.' 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.

2. Enjoy being in the moment.

If you follow Branson, you know he's a fearless risk-taker who almost lost his life in 1987, when he attempted becoming the first person to complete a transatlantic journey in a hot air balloon. The older, wiser, Branson knows life is short and precious and he revels in it. He writes: 

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. 

3. Make happiness a habit, not a goal.

As humans, we often stress about things we cannot change or control, even the unimportant stuff that adds unnecessary stress and anxiety to our lives. Branson gives us an elevated picture of life with this quick lesson: "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.

Published on: Jan 2, 2018
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