Social scientist discusses happiness

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Photo by Ken Yanagisawa.

The secret to happiness may lie in four things — faith, family, community and work — according to Arthur Brooks, social scientist and president of the American Enterprise Institute.

At a lecture hosted by the William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale and the American Enterprise Institute On Campus and attended by roughly 50 members of the Yale community, Brooks offered his own insights regarding the true secrets to happiness. Speaking from research done by his think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, as well as research from other social studies, Brooks gave a specific breakdown of what leads Americans to reach a certain level of happiness and what they can do to raise the bar.

“Genetics accounts for 48 percent of how happy you are,” Brooks said, citing voting patterns and religious ideologies as examples of actions that stem from parental influence. “Another 40 percent comes from life events. The remaining 12 percent comes from life decisions and is under your control.”

When it comes to genetics, Brooks said, a person’s DNA is largely responsible for the way he or she acts. More noticeable, he said, is the extent to which a child’s overall happiness is reflected in that of his or her parents. At the same time, however, Brooks asserted that major life events — both positive and negative — can have the same amount of influence. Bringing up the case of a friend who was given 15 years to live in his early 30s, Brooks explained how people are capable of making the best of life regardless of the circumstances.

Throughout the lecture, Brooks relied heavily on statistics to make points about when and why people are likely to be the most happy. Women are generally happier than men, he said, and men are likely to be the least happy around age 45. Brooks added that 89 percent of Americans report that they like or love their jobs, regardless of average income.

Brooks also used examples from his own life to illustrate a larger narrative about forging the right path in life. As a former professional French hornist and economics professor, Brooks said he made sure that whatever he was doing in the moment was fulfilling to him.

Towards the end of the lecture, Brooks stressed the importance of a person’s life decisions on their overall happiness, claiming that a focus on the key values of family, faith, community and work — “the four” — will lead to the greatest possible joy.

“Earned success brings happiness and the opposite brings misery,” Brooks said, referring to the significance of having a fulfilling career. “The job itself is a source of enduring happiness. Find a balance between the four and remember the four.”

Rich Lizardo ’15, president of the William F. Buckley Jr. Program, said he thinks the talk was presented in a bipartisan manner that challenged the way people at Yale think.

“It gave me perspective not just about what I’m doing with my academics and during my four years at Yale,” Lizardo said.

Another member of the program, Zach Young ’17, said he was surprised by some of the facts Brooks presented — specifically those regarding the differences in happiness for females and males. Young added that Brooks delved into some of the large issues that people face in today’s world, which was particularly thought provoking.

The American Enterprise Institute On Campus, a student group that promotes free enterprise and liberty and is an offshoot of the larger AEI, was founded at Yale last semester.

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