Bestselling author and celebrated social scientist Dr. Arthur C. Brooks had just begun to detail how students, staff, faculty, parents, alumni, and entrepreneurs of all kinds at Babson College can remain happy throughout their lives when he began speaking of turkey—both literally and turkey also in a figurative sense.
“In the next few minutes I will introduce you to the incredible world of neuroscience, social science and human happiness. And when I do my job, you’ll have a 401(k) plan for your happiness. Just as I have one for myself,” Brooks said during a nearly hour-long discussion on campus Tuesday night.
The free presentation, which packed the Knight Auditorium, was hosted by the Butler Institute for Free Enterprise Through Entrepreneurship.
Brooks, who writes a regular column for The Atlantic about happiness and loneliness during the pandemic, compared happiness to a balanced Thanksgiving meal of pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes and, of course, turkey.
“Well, why am I mentioning this? Because that’s a good metaphor for happiness. All food is made up of three micronutrients – fat, carbohydrate and protein,” he said. “Happiness requires three macronutrients in abundance and balance. They are joy, contentment and purpose.”
The vivid Thanksgiving images captured the imagination of Amanda Blein, a prospective Babson student from Haiti, who attended the event with her mother and sister.
“I never really thought about it like that, but when he said it, it made sense,” said Blein, who stayed on after the event to have a free copy of Brooks’ latest book autographed. “We really need that balance of everything to have it together.”
The importance of entrepreneurship
Brooks’ bestseller—From strength to strength: finding success, happiness and deep purpose in the second half of life– examines what makes most people happy and what they need to do to become happy as they age. A large part of his answer relates to innovation and entrepreneurial skills.
“During my career as an academic, I studied entrepreneurship. It’s something that’s vital to me because it’s important to all of us. For those of you who are Americans like me, it’s central to the DNA of this country,” Brooks said. “The notion of possibility and limitless adventure is central to entrepreneurship. And I think one of the most important traits, the most important ingredient of entrepreneurship is happiness.”
“The notion of possibility and limitless adventure is central to entrepreneurship. And I think one of the most important traits, the most important ingredient of entrepreneurship is happiness.”
Arthur C. Brooks, bestselling author and celebrated social scientist
Brooks spent much of his presentation breaking down these three key ingredients to happiness. Pleasure, he said, is more than mere pleasure, it is a well-deserved pleasurable experience shared with those closest to you. While success, he said, is actually about wanting less. Otherwise, instead of embracing the things you do, you will constantly focus on things you don’t have.
“It’s not going to happen on its own,” Brooks said. He tries every year to cross things off what he calls his bucket list, not by doing them, but by letting them go. “I’m making a strategic plan to get rid of these attachments, and if you do it, it will change your life.”
Find meaning in business
This wasn’t the first time Brooks’ work had been discussed on Babson’s campus. Butler Institute Faculty Director Andrew Corbett, who introduced Brooks Tuesday night, held a screening and student discussion of Brooks’ documentary, Trackingat the Sorenson Center for the Arts in 2020. The film describes the positive role of free enterprise and capitalism in the fight against poverty.
Brooks’ beliefs, also detailed last night and throughout his 11 books, align with those of the Butler Institute, established in 2020 thanks to the family of John Butler ’52, P’84. The Butler Institute at Babson College examines the role of business in public policy and provides a space for businesses to work with government and society to find new ways to solve global problems.
And this is where the final ingredient of happiness — purpose — gets a boost. Work can only make sense, Brooks said, if it makes sense. This means that achievement and hard work are rewarded, and in some ways the job makes life better for others.
“That’s why I’m such an enthusiast for entrepreneurship and an enthusiast about the American free enterprise system, not because it’s perfect, but because it creates deserved success,” Brooks said. “Nothing is better suited to draw happiness from work than entrepreneurship and free enterprise.”
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