The Secret to Happiness, as Told by a French Hornist

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I heard Arthur C. Brooks speak today. He’s the smartest French horn player I’ve ever met. I didn’t expect him to know so much about happiness, but it turns out that Arthur knows a lot about a lot of stuff.

Arthur is a best-selling author who has published over 100 articles and 10 books, including Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America—and How We Can Get More of It. He describes himself as a scholar in the areas of free enterprise and human flourishing. In other words, he’s devoted his life to studying money and happiness.

Arthur is also the president of the American Enterprise Institute, an independent, non-profit, Washington DC-based think tank that employs 185 intellectuals who work to preserve the cause of freedom. In other words, it’s Arthur’s job to be smart. This might be the real-world alternative to being a superhero.

At 19, Arthur dropped out of college to tour professionally as a classical musician. He spent several years as the associate principal French horn with the City Orchestra of Barcelona. In his late twenties, after getting a close-up look at the unhappy lives of many of his fellow career musicians, he knew that he didn’t want to end up like them— playing the same music over and over, maybe drinking a little too much, and with a marriage that didn’t work.

So he decided to return to college to study economics, mathematics and languages, and eventually earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics and a PhD in public policy. He reached a point in his career where he decided to apply his skills as a researcher and an analyst to the subject of happiness.

Although Arthur shared many insights, one that resonated with me was his caution against looking too much to the attainment of goals— acquisition or accomplishment— as a source of enduring happiness.

He says, “I’m not saying don’t pay attention to your goals. I’m saying, don’t act as if they are the be-all, end-all to your happiness. Number one, they’re not going to have the effect you think [of making you happy], and number two, they don’t last.” In other words, after we achieve one goal, we’re going to find another one we want to achieve. And then another…

As humans, it seems, we are hardwired to always view the grass as being greener on the other side of the fence. Once we get that— once we truly understand that there’s no “there” that’s preferable to “here”— we can go to work learning how to simply be. And that’s where some of our life’s hardest— and most important— work begins.

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4 thoughts on “The Secret to Happiness, as Told by a French Hornist

  1. Jami says:

    Bryan~
    I am really enjoying your blog. After reading this post 2 books came to mind that I thought you might like, you may have even already read them. “The Power of Now” by Echart Tolle, I have re-read this book several times and for me it has been helpful and a God send (sort speak) 🙂 the other is “Failing Forward” by John C. Maxwell. Let me know your thoughts and thank you for sharing yourself.

    • Thanks Jami! I have read The Power of Now- and I thought it was a great book. I have not read Failing Forward, but I will definitely check it out.

      I’m glad that you’re enjoying my blog. I’m overwhelmed by the positive response it is getting, but I’m grateful to know that there are people who are interested in what I have to say, and that my thoughts and words are sometimes of value to others.

      I really appreciate you reading, and I hope you are well.

  2. Jami says:

    I am doing great thanks. I am a grandma now and life is grand! Well I am NOT surprised by the interest and the positive feed back you are getting. You have always had a way with words and a way to make people feel comfortable around you and a way to make people think out side of the box- in a good way. It’s about time you started sharing these gifts. Keep it going! 😀

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