John Lennon said: “When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” I find this sentiment to be so incredibly powerful and true.
Too many people measure how successful they are by how much money they make or the people that they associate with. In my opinion, true success should be measured by how happy you are.
You might find it odd to learn that some of the toughest times of my life correspond with moments where I have made a lot of money. I will never forget the sorrow I felt when we sold Virgin Records. I ran down Ladbroke Grove in London with tears streaming down my face. We had to sell – just as we’d signed Janet Jackson and the Rolling Stones – so that we could keep Virgin Atlantic afloat. In that moment, despite having a cheque for a billion dollars in my pocket, I felt like very sad. When you build something from scratch and have a wonderful time learning, growing and laughing with the people that have helped you turn that business into something extraordinary, no amount of money can make you feel happy about selling. However, this money can be used to fund exciting new projects, and grow your brand further – something I wrote about in the aftermath of Virgin America’s deal with Alaska Airlines.
It’s a common misconception that money is every entrepreneur’s metric for success. It’s not, and nor should it be. I’ve never gone into business to make money. Every Virgin product and service has been made into a reality to make a positive difference in people’s lives. And by focusing on the happiness of our customers, we have been able to build a successful group of companies. The simple fact is, if you do good and have fun, the money will come.
Likewise, I’ve never felt successful because of my encounters with famous faces and names. While I’m incredibly grateful that I get to meet fascinating people and change makers, there’s nowhere that I feel more content or special then when I’m with my family. My family are my greatest achievement. When they are happy, I am happy, and that make me feel so successful.
I know I’m fortunate to live an extraordinary life - I’ve been knighted, met the most extraordinary people, and attended the most amazing events – but there’s never been a point in my career in which I’ve felt I’ve “made it”. I’ve never thought as work as work and play as play – to me, it’s all living and learning. The way I see it, life is all about striving and growing. I never want to have made it, I want to continue making it!
One of the things that makes me most happy is being able to give back, which is why we started our not-for-profit foundation, Virgin Unite, to support the next generation of entrepreneurs and create real lasting change in the world. It’s also why my wife Joan and I joined Bill Gates and Warren Buffet’s Giving Pledge, to dedicate the majority of our wealth to good causes.
Happiness isn’t just how I measure my success; it’s also the key to it. Most people would assume my business success, and the wealth that comes with it, have brought me happiness. But I know I am successful, wealthy and connected because I am happy. I wholeheartedly believe that happiness should be everyone’s goal.
Life’s too short to waste your time doing things that don’t light your fire. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, or aren’t having a lot of fun – despite the fact that you’re making a lot of money or rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous – then it’s time to move on to the something that does make you happy.