The three components of lasting happiness, according to Harvard expert

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Arthur Brooks spent 12 years as a classical musician in the U.S. and Spain. He co-authored his recent book with Oprah Winfrey. (aei.org)

The Hinckley Center’s assembly hall was packed with people on March 28 who gathered to hear Arthur Brooks, a Harvard professor and acclaimed columnist and author, speak on how to find lasting happiness.

Most people may find happiness a weird thing to “elevate to a science,” but according to Arthur Brooks, it’s one of the most crucial things to understand in order to better enjoy our lives.

The three ingredients for a life of long-term happiness are enjoyment, satisfaction and meaning, Brooks said.

“Feelings are evidence of happiness,” Brooks said. “And you should be very grateful for that. If your happiness was a question of feelings, you’d be chasing feelings for the rest of your life.”

Teagan Carlson, a BYU senior studying public health, said she was glad to know she can take control of her own happiness.

“It’s not just something that happens to me, but I can work on it and improve it myself. It was really important and very empowering to know that I can do that myself,” Carlson said. 

According to Brooks, the first component — enjoyment — comes when we combine pleasure, people and memory together.

“All things in your life that bring pleasure and that could lead to addiction will hurt you if you do them alone. That’s kind of the rule of thumb,” Brooks said.

He described how satisfaction, the second piece in the happiness puzzle, is a product of suffering and managing what we want. When we work hard for something, we enjoy it more when we get it.

Removing our attachment to being right or getting certain things makes us happier because we are not controlled by our wants.

There is a two question quiz that we use to assess how much meaning we have in our lives and the only way you can get the questions wrong is if you don’t have an answer, according to Brooks.

The questions are “Why are you alive?” and “For what would you give up your life on this day?”

These questions, no matter what we give as an answer, are an important step to finding out what we value, Brooks said. 

Brooks spoke at the Hinckley center. Free copies of his most recent book “Build the Life You Want” were given to attendees. (Eleanor Lambert)

George Ernest, a BYU student from Monument, Colorado, said he was going to work on changing his habits.

“(Brooks) said the last 25% of happiness was habits. If you want to change your happiness, change your habits. That is a very concrete way that you can affect that. That’s obviously something I’ve heard a lot, but not something I really have applied in my life, so that’s what I’m going to work on,” Ernest said.

Brooks concluded with a simple way to improve our lives.

“Happiness is love. If you can’t remember what to do, just love more,” he said.

Brooks was named a University of Utah impact scholar in 2023. He is the Parker Gilbert Montgomery professor of the practice of public and nonprofit leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and a professor of management practice at the Harvard Business College.

He is also a columnist at the Atlantic, and the author of 13 books, including the number one New York Times bestseller “From Strength to Strength” and “How to Build a Life.” His most recent book, “Build the Life You Want,” which he co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was given to attendees of the Hinckley lecture.

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