hat ails America? Different experts might give you varying answers – the current political divide, our reliance on technologies that have taken over our lives, the growing gap between the rich and poor or any number of other problems.
But if you ask Arthur C. Brooks, social scientist and current professor of the practice of leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, none of those issues really clarify the root of the problem. Indeed, having studied everything from the current political climate to dating patterns of the young, Brooks makes a compelling case that America is currently suffering from a crisis of love and happiness.
And he’s been on a mission to change that in the last several years.
Love Your Enemies
In 2019, Brooks penned the bestselling book, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt, which received critical praise from both sides of the political spectrum. One of his main threads through that work is that moral courage is not standing up to people who disagree with you. Rather, it’s standing up to those with whom you agree, on behalf of those with whom you disagree.
Brooks says one big problem these days is our culture of fear – everything from the way we’ve raised our kids to the way we fear strangers, to a media/political/technology environment that thrives on alienating people from each other. To make his point, he cites data that suggests that romantic activity among young people has dropped 30 percent from previous decades – an indication that the youth of today exhibit less willingness to overcome their fear of rejection. Such trends, he says, are bad not only for the individuals themselves, but society as a whole, leading to greater isolation, loneliness and anxiety. “If you’re going to be happy, you have to take a risk,” he says.
Arthur Brooks on Happiness and Age
Brooks recently visited WSB and gave us a sneak peek at his latest work – research he has done examining the mindset of older Americans on the topic of happiness. In particular, the period of post-midlife (when happiness falls), increases shortly thereafter, and then splits in the mid-60s – an apparent divide between those who become happy thereafter and those who don’t.
The question Brooks explores is why the split happens – and understanding what drives a positive or negative happiness outcome in later life. One area that Brooks observes is that older people who are generally happier (and usually more successful) are better at balancing what he calls the “happiness portfolio” that can most affect their outlook – faith, family, friends, and work. For work, he says, the important thing that brings happiness is to feel that you’re earning your success and that you are serving or helping others. Though, he also cautions that too much emphasis on one area such as work can lead to becoming less happy. “The loneliest people in America,” he says, “are 60-year-old men.”
In that vein, one potential outlet he suggests is for older Americans is to start channeling their energies away from the kind of fluid intelligence they had when they’re younger (the kind that sparks creativity but falls off with age) into something known as crystallized intelligence (which is characterized by wisdom and teaching and continues to increase with age). Brooks also notes the added benefits of teaching, which not only provides knowledge to the receiver who learns, but also the giver, who feels happy about the opportunity to help someone else. “If you can go from being an innovator to an instructor, you win.” An apt quote that we might alter slightly when it comes to Brooks himself -- when he speaks, we all win.
Why Book Exclusive WSB Speaker Arthur C. Brooks for Your Event?
As a behavioral social scientist and an acute observer of America, Dr. Arthur C. Brooks delivers real-life strategies for ushering in a new era of American progress and improving happiness for all. With fascinating insights, a quick wit and a mesmerizing delivery, Brooks will be sure to captivate your audience – and help change their lives for the better.
This post was compiled by WSB's team of writers.