The art and science of happiness



Human beings are on an extraordinary journey and if we optimize our own lives, we can be happiness propagators, says behavioral social scientist and bestselling author Prof. Arthur C. Brooks.



Key takeaway 1

Dedicate yourself to the primary enterprise of the start-up of me by viewing your life as an adventure and not a chore. Optimize your life, explore opportunities to be generative, create goodness in your life and the lives of others.

I believe that the idea big ideas of social science and neuroscience could be dedicated to optimizing our lives. Having taught and written books on entrepreneurship, I view great entrepreneurs as those who see an opportunity in a situation or setting to create goodness, to be generative, and move from one set of circumstances to another, where other people see tragedy, challenge, sacrifice, and pain. We need to apply the same concept to our own lives when we see a problem that is in fact an opportunity.

Think about the extraordinary value that we can create with goodness in our own lives and goodness in the lives of others around us. Hence, the primary enterprise that I'm dedicated to is the startup of me because it is important to view life as an adventure rather than a chore. It has led me to a vision of empowering people, and to deputize them to become a teacher of teachers.

Key takeaway 2

As human beings we must think what we can do to get us to where we are trying to go in the journey of life. We should learn, teach, and help others define happiness as well as go about discovering it along the way as a teacher of teachers.

We want positive vibes and good things for ourselves and others. Given that humanity has been around for thousands of years – we should think hard about how best to live, navigate our lives, and help ourselves and others find fulfilment. However, there seems to be an ongoing disconnect.

Our technologies have evolved by leaps and bounds over the last few decades, but it seems like that progress has not been measured in terms of the fulfillment that people feel. Of course, the world is getting better on almost every metric thanks to technological advancements.

We have we have eradicated 80% of the world's worst poverty in my adult lifetime alone which is an amazing miracle. But what is holding us back from exploiting the science of happiness in the way we have exploited say quantum physics? It isn’t about asking why we wouldn’t eradicate unhappiness. Part of the answer is that unhappiness is very important, and happiness is what keeps us alert. We must find a balance of the latter.

As a human race, we must think what we can do to get us to where we are trying to go, learn, teach, and help others define happiness as well as go about discovering it along the way.

Key takeaway 3

Happiness is fundamentally made up of three macronutrients that you need to balance – enjoyment, satisfaction, and purpose. If you don't have one of these, you're not going to know quite what's wrong but you're not going to find fulfilment.

Diving deeper into the three macronutrients, enjoyment sounds like we know what it is, but we don't. Enjoyment is not just pleasure; it is pleasure plus elevation. It is something that you bring with your human effort and requires that you be involved. The second macro nutrient – satisfaction – is the joy that you feel because of a reward for something that you wanted.

For instance, a job well done or the innate satisfaction that you get from finishing something that always you wanted to do. Of course, you can’t keep satisfaction because your mind won't allow you to stay satisfied as you're evolved to keep running for the next thing.

Finally, the purpose and meaning aspect of happiness is the most paradoxical of the three macronutrients. It the biggest problem and mistake that we make because we spend a lot of our energy trying to avoid pain, suffering and unhappiness. Pain and suffering trauma are part of life, and if you don't get them, you won't find your life's meaning. Happiness requires meaning; meaning requires suffering; and suffering brings unhappiness. In chasing these three micronutrients of happiness, we commit common mistakes.

The first mistake is chasing pleasure instead of enjoyment. The second mistake is contemplating that if you get a particular thing, you will be permanently satisfied. Mistake number three is attempting the impossible act of permanently ridding yourself of unhappiness. Our overall level of happiness revolves around our ability to derive the maximum, balanced return from the portfolio of life.

Key takeaway 4

In finding happiness, you must be adept at managing the portfolio of life. It should comprise of faith (in a sense of the transcendent and not necessarily devout religion per se), family, friendships and meaningful work in that order. A crucial caveat is that this portfolio needs to be balanced and not over indexed on any one constituent.

Around 50% of your baseline happiness levels are inherited. Some people are gloomier than others, while some aren’t. You must manage your main negative effect so that it doesn't make you miserable, but you must also use it to manage your happiness profile by remembering that the other 50% is made up of two things – your circumstances and habits.

People who are really happy do four things every day without skipping these or over indexing on one at the expense of the other. They are faith (in a sense of the transcendent and not necessarily devout religion per se), family, friendship and meaningful work in that order. Take these four key constituents in your portfolio of life and think about how you can operationalize your life around them.

Key takeaway 5

A lot of people say they wish they were happier, but simply wishing and not working for it will make you unhappier because you're ruminating on your unhappiness. Instead, start cultivating parts of your happiness portfolio that you believe are wanting. You’ll need a strategic plan that requires investment, learning, practice, discipline, and above all love.

It is easier said than done, and an overt focus one aspect of the four is an easy mistake to make. For instance, a lot of us love our work but some people say my work is my life. That's a problem because it could easily turn into workaholism. The nastiest type of addiction is a success addiction, which hits people who have a lot of worldly success. Any success from meaningful work needs to be channelized into other parts of your life portfolio – earn your success and serve other people.

Additionally, ask yourself why you are feeling a little empty? Could the reason be that your faith bucket is empty or is your family bucket is empty, or perhaps not where it should be? Ask whether you have the right kind of friends. Friendship that lasts is one that is mutually dependent where the two people love each other. Maybe you've got all deal friends and not so many real friends.

These are the things that you need to think about. Start cultivating parts of your happiness portfolio that you believe are wanting. Have a strategic plan for greater happiness that requires investment, learning, practice and discipline. Think actions not words, quality and not quantity of engagement, and above all love. Happiness is love full stop. Love yourself, love others and love abundantly.