America is suffering from a happiness crisis. But we can turn things around.
According to Arthur C. Brooks, a Harvard social scientist and author of the bestselling book From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life, “Happiness is a core part of the American dream.” And he thinks it can be studied — and mastered — just like any other skill.
Instead of chasing money, power, pleasure and fame, Brooks, 58, says happiness starts with what he calls the four pillars: faith, family, friends and work. He says that if you go back to the beginning of our national decline in happiness, in the late 1980s, you’ll see that these pillars have generally become less prominent in most people’s lives — and that that’s why so many are unhappy. (A recent University of Chicago survey going back to 1972 marked the first time more respondents reported being “not too happy” rather than “very happy.”)
Brooks, who began an Atlantic column on life and happiness in 2020 after 10 years as president of the American Enterprise Institute, describes faith, family, friends and work as “outward-facing expressions of love and solidarity with others.”
Here’s more on the pillars:
Happy people have a philosophical practice — and it doesn’t have to be religious — that removes them from the purely material. Whether it’s a church service, a transcendental walk, a meditation ritual or contemplative books, Brooks says you need something that will transport you out of your day-to-day experience. “Faith is what gives us a purpose in life,” he says. A Catholic, Brooks attends daily Mass whenever he can. When he can’t, he makes a practice of praying for at least 30 minutes.
Happy people have deep connections with family members, and they don’t allow anything to get in the way of that, Brooks says. If you’ve had differences, he says, put aside your pride or you may forgo emotionally meaningful relationships that go beyond the convenience of casual interactions.
Happy people have someone they can call at 2 a.m. for help. Brooks says the number of friends is much less important than the intensity of friendships.
Happy people believe that their hard work is being rewarded and that it is truly helping others, Brooks says.