In my ongoing passion for personal growth and increased happiness and inner peace, I am always looking for more insights to better understand myself and the human condition. By being widely read and well informed, I seek to integrate various perspectives into a cohesive and comprehensive approach to inner peace. I was recently introduced to Arthur Brooks’ work after listening to his interview with Sam Harris in the Waking Up app. I was immediately impressed with his insights into happiness and creating a better life.
I also learned a lot about Arthur Brooks from his interview with Tom Bilyeu. You can check that interview out here:
In this article, I will discuss the key question – Why are so many people lost and unhappy and what can they do about it? Then, I will discuss how I am integrating these insights from Arthur Brooks into my own life and model of inner peace.
Why are so many people lost and unhappy and what can they do about it?
Problem One – Humans aren’t really designed for inner peace and happiness.
Yes, part of it is just being human. We have this large prefrontal cortex so we can on the one hand understand our predicament, but cannot fundamentally change it. For example, we know we are going to die and we must deal with that existential crisis without being able to actually change it. Another part of the equation is our evolutionary programming that seems to force us to chase money, pleasure, admiration – all the things that help us pass our genes on to the next generation. However, this chasing and dissatisfaction is really preprogrammed misery in many ways. So, there is this fundamental conflict between genetic programming and being happy.
Problem Two – We chase idols that promise happiness, but can’t deliver.
Thomas Aquinas wrote in the 13th century about the 4 idols: money, power, pleasure and fame. As we get closer and closer to achieving our idol, its emptiness becomes more and more clear that it can’t deliver on its promise. I think social comparison is like a cousin of the idol of fame. We want to be adored, respected and compared favorably to others . And even if we don’t particularly want fame, social comparison is one of the tools we use to judge our worth and even derive our sense of happiness and meaning. Of course, it doesn’t take too much thought to see that this is a dead end. If we compare ourselves favorably to others, we are attaching meaning and happiness to a circumstance that can and will change over time. It is not a bedrock to build happiness and inner peace upon. On the flip side, if we compare ourselves unfavorably with others, this leads to low self-esteem and even shame and misery.
Interesting note – happiness and unhappiness are not opposites. They are processed in different parts of the brain. Money can’t buy happiness, but it can decrease unhappiness some.
Next, the societal model of reality tells us work hard, be successful, be famous, be envied even, and die happy. But its not actually true. And there are of course many examples of rich and famous people to make this point quite clearly. We are genetically wired to create, to make progress. Its not enough to have done something great a long time ago or to amass wealth. That happiness can’t and won’t last. This bears out in the data that shows that the people who were most successful early in their lives are least likely to be satisfied late in life. Again, this is because we are wired to make progress.
Insight One – Understand the way intelligence works to design a better life
Arthur Brooks notes that there are two types of intelligence. First, fluid intelligence is raw intelligence – innovative, creative, calculating. This drives you to be the best you can be in your field, to solve problems better than others. The problem is that it peaks and starts declining in your late 30’s or early 40’s. So, if you keep trying to ride the wave of fluid intelligence as you age, you will get increasingly frustrated and miserable. But the good news is that as the fluid intelligence decreases, the second type of intelligence, crystalized intelligence starts to increase. This is the kind of intelligence that brings about wisdom and integration of different types of information and life experiences. You now have so much information and life experience and you know how to integrate it. So, a key part of happiness as you age is to embrace this change, not fight it.
It is highly likely that as fluid intelligence decreases, there will be a period of transition in your life. In these in-between stages of your life – when you feel like you are losing everything – it is so important to try new things. Come to a place of acceptance and be fully alive. Don’t try to do the same things you used to, rather, wake up fully alive and willing to create something new. The data confirms that these transitions can be fertile times for growth – even though they will not likely be easy or fun.
I have noticed this dynamic with intelligence in my own career as I have aged. When I was 30, I taught myself how to write code and was a developer for 21 years. I started in the prime of my fluid intelligence curve. But, as my career progressed, I had a more challenging time learning new technologies. But, that was balanced with better social skills and the ability to interact positively with clients and coworkers. I also gained more wisdom on how to do things more efficiently.
Now, in this new stage of life as a writer, teacher and coach, I realize that I am more skilled at bringing together information from so many different sources and integrating them together as wisdom.
Insight Two – Living a life of integrity increases happiness
“You have to figure out what you think your model of the world actually is – what you think truth is. And then living in accordance with your own values, with your own integrity is really critically important. Because when people live outside that groove, they’re never in equilibrium…They’re not comfortable in their own skin.” – Arthur C. Brooks
Part of living in your integrity is to honor how you are wired. For example, creatives are never more alive than when they are creating.
Clearly, living in your authentic truth with integrity and avoiding “idols” increases happiness.
Insight Three – Love is the answer.
Of course, it has been said many times that love is the answer. But that doesn’t make it any less true. Love and fear are opposites. Its not love vs. hate. Hate is a product of fear. So, if you have too much fear in your life, surround it with love. If you are not experiencing enough love in your life, look at what you are afraid of. “Happiness is love, full stop.” – Arthur C. Brooks
Interesting enough, if you happen to listen to near death experiencers tell their story, it is a common refrain that it is all about love and overcoming fear.
Insight Four – Humility helps bring about inner peace and happiness.
Humility is also one of the great secrets of happiness. You can just relax. You don’t have to pretend or protect your ego. “Relax into the reality of your fallibility.” – Arthur Brooks This makes so much sense to me. When you are humble enough to accept who you are, it makes everything better. As I have grown in humility, I notice that my ability to accept others as they are has increased as well. This has greatly improved communication and relationships.
Integrating these Insights for more inner peace and happiness.
What I really love about Arthur Brooks’ approach to happiness is that it combines practical insights with transcendent spiritual principles. This really resonates with me and is how I also approach it. It is great to know everything that we can about how to improve the circumstances and experience of our life by pursuing things that are life giving and avoiding idols, etc. At the same time, we need the spiritual side – growth in love, humility, gratitude, etc. There will come a time when life goes sideways and doesn’t work for us at all – in terms of outside circumstances. It is then that spiritual maturity allows us to find the transcendent inner peace that is beyond circumstances. This is why I spend a lot of time discussing the spiritual aspects of inner peace in my other writings.
Integration One – Love IS the answer
Arthur Brooks’ discussion of love as the answer and the idea of love and fear being opposites was a great reminder for me. One of my core principles for inner peace is self-love. But more than that, its the idea of a continuum of love. When I am able to truly love and appreciate myself for who I am in this moment, that automatically flows out into the world as love and acceptance for others as they are. This brings so much peace.
Integration Two – Be who you are, not who you were
Arthur Brooks insight into fluid and crystallized intelligence is a good reminder to play to our current abilities and strengths. I find this very helpful as I change careers in my 50’s. There is no need for me to compare myself to my 30 year old self who could easily learn to code, compute complex math in my head quickly, etc. While those things don’t come so easily to me anymore, I am also a much wiser, happier, loving and thoughtful person, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
More wisdom and habits for inner peace
I recently wrote a brief article on accessing your innate power to find more inner peace and a more detailed article about habits and mindsets I developed in my own life that added to my inner peace. And finally, if I were to recommend one book on finding your inner peace, it would be The Untethered Soul, by Michael Singer. Check them out and please comment below with your thoughts!: