Many Americans say they are unhappier now than they were a decade ago, before the explosion of social media, the physical and social isolation brought about by COVID, and the political polarization that’s bled into our personal lives and relationships.
Actually, says Arthur C. Brooks, a Harvard professor who studies happiness, all of those issues aren’t what’s really preventing people from being happy. The problem is how we think about happiness — what it is and how to achieve it.
Brooks was joined by TV star and media executive Oprah Winfrey to discuss their new book, “Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier,” with Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, where Brooks is a contributing writer. Harvard President Claudine Gay was on hand to offer a brief introduction.
“Happiness is not a destination; it is a direction” to follow in your daily life, said Brooks, the Parker Gilbert Montgomery Professor of the Practice of Public and Nonprofit Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School and professor of management practice at Harvard Business School.
Too often, people think they’ll be happier once they overcome some obstacle or accumulate a certain amount of money or fame or career accomplishments or accolades.
“The biggest mistake that a lot of people make who are very successful and very hard working, is [they think] if they get these worldly goals then they’ll get the happiness. That’s exactly wrong. Get the happiness, and you get success; you get enough success,” said Brooks, who teaches an HBS course for MBAs on leadership and happiness.