American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks diagnoses reasons for unhappiness, provides solutions| Mar 27, 2018
“People ask what the arts and behavioral social sciences have in common,” said Arthur Brooks at a lecture on the “The Art of Happiness.” According to Brooks, the answer is everything.
Brooks holds a doctorate in public policy from the Frederick S. Pardee RAND Graduate School and is the president of the American Enterprise Institute. He is also the author of 11 books, two of which are on The New York Times best-seller list. His most recent work is "The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America. "
During the talk, Brooks outlined three major reasons for decreased happiness in the general population, as well as four principles to live by to increase your personal level of happiness.
The first factor he outlined was age. Brooks displayed a chart illustrating how happiness steadily declines from childhood until the mid-fifties, after which the level of happiness can go up or down depending on one’s decisions.
The next factor Brooks outlined was expectations.
“You always think you’re going to be happier than you turn out to be,” Brooks said. These expectations turn into a “self-fulfilling prophecy,” he explained, where you’re not as happy as you could be with your current situation because you’re always looking ahead for more happiness.
The final factor he talked about was family complications, such as the stress of raising children.
Brooks’s first piece of advice was to take more risks. He illustrated this point with composer Hector Berlioz, best known for the classical orchestral piece "Symphonie fantastique." Berlioz was initially enrolled in medical school because of pressure from his family to become a doctor, but walked away and decided to join a conservatory instead.
“His music would not have happened if he had not decided to take that big personal risk,” Brooks said.
His second piece of advice was to be unafraid of change. Here Brooks talked about his own experience as a classical musician.
“I wanted to be the greatest French horn player in the world,” he said. “I got better and better and then worse at 22.” When he was 24, he fell off of the stage and into the audience during a performance at Carnegie Hall.
“Think of that as a metaphor for my musical career,” he joked.
He pushed on for seven more years before finally walking away from a career in music at 31.
“I was raging against the dying of the light,” he said, referring to the poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas.
“To rage against change delays progress to new phases in life,” he said.
His next point centered on neophilia, or the strong affinity for new and novel things.
“The love of new things improves health, friendships, emotional stability, and well-being,” Brooks said. “Stay open to new ideas and experiences to unlock more happiness.”
Brooks’s last point was to “master yourself.”
“Happiness and health are improved by living within moral boundaries,” Brooks said. “Give your work purpose. People never ask you why you do what you do, but what you do. You should have an answer to the ‘what’ question.”
He quoted a response that J.S. Bach once gave about why one does what they do: “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”
“I left music because I wanted to ask this question,” Brooks said. Now, settled in a career where his work is about “lifting up people” and “the limitlessness of human potential,” Brooks said he helps answer this question daily.
The lecture took place in Robertson Bowl 016 at 4:30. The talk was part of The G. S. Beckwith Gilbert ’63 Lectures series.