The Art of Happiness – a Presentation by Arthur Brooks
April 8, 2018
“Look at all these people here,” the accented Indian man beside me remarked. “Everyone wants to be happy!”
Indeed, so many visited Robertson Hall Bowl 16 at Princeton University on the evening of March 27th, in search of happiness, that most in attendance with me were consigned to seats on the floor and stairs. The star of the evening: Arthur C. Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute, delivering a scintillating address on “The Art of Happiness.”
To someone with only a caricatural understanding of the American conservative, the fact of such an event was probably bewildering. Why would conservatives like Arthur Brooks – always busy fleecing their economic inferiors and scorning new social trends – have any care about such a humane topic as “happiness?” Brooks, however, masterfully answered such attitudes with his hour-long distillation of the most underlying conservative conviction: that a life in pursuit of virtue – specifically through the cultivation of faith, friendships, family, and purposeful work – is a life whose end is eudaimonia, the integral and whole human fulfillment that Aristotle, a patron-philosopher of thoughtful conservatism, first described.
Brooks persuaded us of the value of these values, along with two more, grounded in recent happiness-statistics: welcoming uncomfortable change and taking risks in life. His demonstration was not dry, academic rhetoric, mind you. What made Brooks’s talk so remarkable was that he illustrated the art of the happy life through an evaluation of the art works of Thomas Cole, the poetry of the drunkard Dylan Thomas, the music of Bach, and Brooks’s own son’s juvenile vlog-type youtube video, which Brooks used to prove to his audience that parents in mid-life face the most daunting anxiety of all: raising teenagers.
Throughout the presentation, those of us captivated by the author of “The Conservative Heart” were confronted with ominous data: the depressions in graphs of human happiness across the average lifespan, the underwhelming number of people reporting satisfaction with life, and the fact that all of us must make good decisions in order to enjoy happy results. Equipped with Brooks’s masterfully crafted advice, however, each of us in the audience left with a greater appreciation for and most likely, a stronger intention to exercise, the virtues of interest in the divine, sociability, intellectual curiosity, and dedication to purposeful, common-good enhancing work, buttressed by an attitude for adventure when we wake up each morning.
Special thanks to Robert P. George and the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University for hosting the transformative lecture, and to Arthur C. Brooks, for a life dedicated to enhancing American prosperity and an evening spent instructing in the art of happiness.
For more information on James Madison Program lectures, visit jmp.princeton.edu.