Does Arthur Brooks Have the Secrets to Happiness?

Ester says the desire to work continuously is something Brooks has always had to suppress. “He doesn’t really like going on vacation, because there’s nothing to do on vacation,” she said. She recalled the camping trip they went on in the Pyrenees in the 80s, shortly after they started dating. Brooks carries his French horn so he can practice every day. Ester decided to leave his trumpet behind. “Ordinary people, like me, I can stop thinking about work or ideas and just stay on the beach and look out at the beach,” she says. “But for him, it was hard.”

At the American Enterprise Institute, Brooks worked 85 hours a week. Now, he’s still 75 or 80 years old, spending five days a week on the road. When I asked him what he did for fun, he said his version of fun was exactly this – more work. “It was like, ‘My name is Arthur and I’m a successful addict,’” he told me. “Everyone has their own specific problems. I do not smoke. I do not drink alcohol. I don’t gamble. I don’t run after my wife. I didn’t do anything — but here’s what I got. “

This, Brooks says, is the problem most conventionally successful, ambitious people struggle with. They can never be satisfied. And you can’t find people who are truly “ordinary” successful, he says. “You wouldn’t write an article about me like that, Brooks is the most normal guy I’ve ever met. You have to do the job. “

But it takes a lot of workI say.

“Yes,” he said, “I work hard because I am miserable by nature.”

It seems that the conditions that make you want to strive for happiness are the conditions that make you unhappy.

“It’s a paradox,” he said. “It’s the puzzle.”

And this, of course, is one of the things that frustrates you about happiness. Like chasing the horizon.

“The danger is to believe that the illusion is actually an oasis,” says Brooks. “When your pursuit of happiness precedes a destination of happiness, which is a fake palm tree and a fake puddle, and you are in a desert. You won’t find it. “

As we continue to fly south, I think this may be where most of the speeches about happiness get shortened. Maybe it’s the pursuit part that’s all wrong. Like chasing a butterfly, if you run after happiness, it will hide from you. But never mind, move on with your life, and you may look down and see that happiness has gone off and landed on you, even if only for a moment.

In this sense, I find Brooks’ advice convincing, if somewhat idealistic. Personally, it’s true that I’m happier when I can control my emotions, or at least prevent myself from eating all the cans of Pringles. I don’t pray, but I have been meditating regularly for seven years, and have found nothing else to effectively reduce my anxiety and improve my health. I have been helped in my mental health struggles by loved ones, and by having a job that means a lot to me. Beliefs, family, friends, work — all are effective ways to cultivate moments of happiness. But they’re really only for people with perks like health, financial security, and highly autonomous work. Much of the unhappiness of our society can be attributed to systemic and institutional disadvantages. And even for those with advantage, happiness remains elusive in the modern world. I recall a sentence from the naturalist writer Barry Lopez: “There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live with them, making your life a worthy manifestation to recede into the light. “

For his part, Brooks turns to the light by bringing happiness to others, and hopes that he can see some boomerang return to himself. “I study happiness because that’s what I want,” he says. “I can help others, in more ways, than I can help myself.”

About an hour after takeoff, we landed in Los Angeles. As we were about to get off the plane, Brooks noticed some brown prayer beads on the pilot’s wrist. “Are you a Buddhist?” he asks.

Sort of, Scott said, explaining that he did a series of meditation retreats at Spirit Rock, an hour’s drive north of San Francisco. “That’s good,” he said of the retreat, before reconsidering whether it really was the right way to explain it. “It’s work.”

“Certainly,” Brooks replied. “It’s not entertainment,” he added as he happily stepped off the plane, returning to his never-ending work of making the world a happier place. Does Arthur Brooks Have the Secrets to Happiness?

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