Playing French horn is not an easy way to make a living, but for Arthur Brooks it was his passion. He dropped out of college and moved to Spain to pursue it. Well, more accurately he was pursuing a woman who became his wife, but the French horn, too. As he travelled the world, he had a major awakening and began to study political systems to determine which, if any, are best for individuals in a society.
After a dozen years abroad, Brooks returned to the US, went back to college, and earned a doctorate in public policy analysis. The musician had reinvented himself into a social scientist, a newspaper columnist, a best-selling author, a Harvard Business School professor, and head of a think tank in the nation’s capital, working to improve public policy for human welfare. The artist was now an intellectual, meeting with presidents, religious leaders, even the Dalai Lama.
He studied economics, poverty, even happiness, but of all the pressing topics of the day, the one he has spent the last decade drawn to is aging. He wondered, what can we do to be happy as we grow old? What he learned surprised him and became his most recent book, From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness & Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life. He believes we can all be happy if we begin investing in our own “Happiness 401k.” He believes our wellbeing is like a retirement account — the more and the sooner we invest, the greater our returns will be.
Brooks, 57, believes that with the right mindset our later years can be our best. “One reason people get depressed with age is they feel irrelevant,” he said. “So, it’s up to us to find ways to be useful and this is true whether you’re 17 or 70.”
Brooks says as we age so does our definition of success. “Success at 70 is enjoying your life more than you ever did by serving other people and having more love,” he explained. “We need to migrate our passions from money, power, pleasure, and fame, to faith, family, friendship, and serving others because this is where deep and enduring satisfaction comes from.”
Not only can individuals be happier as they age, but our country can also become stronger. “Every company in America needs more old people in positions of leadership, on marketing teams, on product teams,” Brooks said. “We have degrees from the school of hard knocks that can keep organizations from making dumb mistakes. Understand…I love the energy of young people, but only when it is mixed with the wisdom of the old.”
Brooks has seen his life evolve from playing the French horn to the study of human dignity. It is not a path he ever expected, nor could he have planned. “The most powerful way to find happiness later in life is through purpose, something that is truly meaningful, relevant, and beneficial. Follow your heart and it will lead you to a profound sense of happiness that will last for the rest of your life.”