For many, happiness-in the traditional sense of the term-is equated with rigid social constructs and conventional interpretations of joy, euphoria, or other ephemeral perceptions of what it means to be truly happy. Or at least, so said President of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and formerly renowned classical musician Arthur Brooks, who spoke to a crowded Devlin 008 on Tuesday at 8 p.m.
“When you ask most people what they want in life, they give you one answer, and that answer is ‘I want to be happy,'” Brooks said. “What I’m going to do in the next half hour is I’m going to give you a happiness lesson, and I want to tell you to do four things … and starting tonight, you’re actually going to improve the happiness in your life.”
The event, titled “The Secret to Happiness” and hosted by the Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC), focused on human understanding of happiness, including figures on its hereditary influence and its impact on the daily lives of individuals across a broad range of factors, namely gender and age.
A current social scientist and former tenured professor of economics at Syracuse University, Brooks-whose research specialized in behavioral economics-spent several years compiling economic data in an effort to quantify and analyze what makes people happy.
“The first thing I found is the most frustrating thing of all, which is that a bunch of your happiness is genetic,” Brooks said. “Why is that a terrible thing to find? … One thing that all of you have in common is that you want to own your future. You want to be rewarded for what you do, as opposed to having circumstances and fate decide what’s going on in your life.”
According to Brooks, research conducted within the field showed that 48 percent of happiness is attributed to genetics, 40 percent is attributed to life circumstances, and the remaining approximate 12 percent is the result of individual decisions, which he said more accurately reflects a person’s values.
Studies over the last four decades have found that approximately one-third of the U.S. population considers itself happy, one-half considers itself somewhat happy, and the remaining portion of the population reported being unhappy.
Brooks also proposed a four-branch system of happiness that he said, when consciously and actively reflected on, will improve one’s level of happiness and long-term success within the 12 percent margin that’s left within one’s control. The four aspects of sustainable happiness Brooks’ research revealed were faith, family, community, and work, all of which he noted should be fulfilled to their fullest extent.
Brooks concluded the discussion by emphasizing the fact that, based on empirical analysis, money does not buy happiness.
“Money for poor people makes them happier, that’s true … but once you get above that basic level of subsistence, money doesn’t buy you any happiness at all,” Brooks said. “It’s not about the money-it’s about something else.”
Brooks used the notion of “earned success”-the product of one’s efforts within the four-branch system of happiness-that equated with authentic happiness.
“Earned success is not about money,” he said. “It’s about believing that you’re creating value with your life and creating value in the lives of other people. Earned success happens when you can create something that is of your own making and you can say ‘I built that, and it’s valuable for me and valuable for other people.'”