Happiness and Life

In his book, The Vanishing American Adult, Ben Sasse provides this insight about our need for living a fullfilled life.  Senator Sasse writes:

Arthur  Brooks,  the  president  of  the  American  Enterprise  Institute,  is an odd bird:  He started career as a French horn player, later became probably the first professional wind musician to become a renowed economist, and is now making a third career as an expert in the science of happiness. Over the past decade Brooks culled thousands of studies on what makes for a happy life, distilling the findings into few basic precepts that can help us explain to our kids why consumptiom isn’t a road to happiness.

Everyone should read Brooks directly, but here’s the CliffsNotes version:  It turns out that nearly half of our happiness is genetic, and another significant portion comes from having good fortune to be born away from a definable universe of horrific events – war, famine, and epidemic.  Much is thus predetermined, but of the portion of happiness somewhat in our control, there are four key drives of what Brooks calls our “happiness portfolio.”  Somewhat surprising, none of the four are related to material abundance.  These are the central variables that emerge from Brook’s research:

  • Faith:Do  you  have  a  framework  to  make  sense  of death  and suffering?
  • Family:Do  you  have  a  home  life  with  mutual  affection,  where the good         of others  is  as  important  to  you  as  your  own  happiness?
  • Community:Do  you  have  at  least  two  real  friends  who  feel pain when you suffer and share joy when you thrive?
  • Work:Perhaps  most  fundamentally,  when  you  leave  home  on Monday morning, do you  believe  that  there  are  other  people genuinely benefit from the work you do?  Is your calling meningful?  Not:  “Is it fun or well-compensated?” –but rather, “Does it matter”

The political scientist Charles Murry has studied “the kinds of accomplishments that … lead people to reach old age satisfied with who they have been and what they have done.”  Murray writes, you will find “that accomplishments you have in mind have three things in common.  First, the source of satisfaction involves something important…   Second, the source of satisfaction has involved effort, probably over an extended period of time.”  You need to have invested your energy, worry, and time in it.  “Third, some level of personal responsibility for the outcome is essential.”

The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse (2017) (pp. 152-153)