Arthur C. Brooks — How to Be Happy, Reverse Bucket Lists, The Four False Idols, Muscular Philosophies, Practical Inoculation Against the Darkness, and More (#692)

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“Intention is fine, but attachment is bad.”

— Arthur C. Brooks

Arthur C. Brooks (@arthurbrooks) is the Parker Gilbert Montgomery Professor of the Practice of Public and Nonprofit Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and Professor of Management Practice at the Harvard Business School, where he teaches courses on leadership and happiness. He is also a columnist at The Atlantic, where he writes the popular “How to Build a Life” column. Brooks is the author of 13 books, including the 2022 #1 New York Times bestseller From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life and his newest Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier with co-author Oprah Winfrey. He speaks to audiences all around the world about human happiness and works to raise well-being within private companies, universities, public agencies, and community organizations.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple PodcastsSpotifyOvercastPodcast AddictPocket CastsCastboxGoogle PodcastsAmazon Musicor on your favorite podcast platform. Watch the interview on YouTube here.

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The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#692: Arthur C. Brooks — How to Be Happy, Reverse Bucket Lists, The Four False Idols, Muscular Philosophies, Practical Inoculation Against the Darkness, and More

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Want to hear another episode with someone who leads the world toward greater kindness by example? Have a listen to my most recent conversation with Jack Kornfield in which we discussed the point of consciousness, yogic swoons and anesthetic autopiloting, how the Buddha might deal with anxiety, the dimensions of meditation, reliably eliciting the non-self, cultivating a more joyful mind, and much more.

#684: Jack Kornfield — How to Reduce Anxiety and Polish the Lens of Consciousness

What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.



  • Connect with Arthur C. Brooks:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | TikTok


  • [07:10] The reverse bucket list.
  • [13:00] Intention without attachment.
  • [14:49] Writing Thích Nhất Hạnh’s obituary.
  • [17:30] Buddhist views through a Catholic lens.
  • [20:43] Blood occlusion training and physical fitness over 40.
  • [24:22] Arthur’s semi-mystical teenage experiences in Mexico.
  • [30:30] Arthur’s academic dad on complex vs. complicated.
  • [33:35] Happiness hygiene for genetically baseline gloominess.
  • [36:19] Happiness and unhappiness: hand in hand.
  • [39:31] Being effective with one’s affects.
  • [42:53] The three macronutrients of happiness.
  • [51:21] Identifying (and learning to live with) our idols.
  • [1:03:48] Secularly securing transcendent perspective.
  • [1:10:32] Money doesn’t buy happiness — it lowers unhappiness.
  • [1:15:17] Tithing and adoption.
  • [1:18:43] How Arthur and his wife met, and how their values aligned over time.
  • [1:25:58] Advice for seeking love in the modern world.
  • [1:33:06] Death meditation.
  • [1:42:54] Finding personal purpose and meaning.
  • [1:56:50] Four fundamental micronutrients of happiness.
  • [1:59:53] Translating a need for change into action.
  • [2:07:13] Aristotle’s secrets to happiness.
  • [2:11:57] Real friends help us put the kibosh on self-deception.
  • [2:19:13] Reflecting on the repercussions of living for the mirror’s approval.
  • [2:22:46] Collaborating with Oprah on Build the Life You Want.
  • [2:28:14] The point Arthur hopes people don’t miss in Build the Life You Want.
  • [2:31:54] Reading recommendation: The Noonday Demon.
  • [2:33:32] Exposure therapy: making pain part of one’s medicine.
  • [2:38:15] A practical way to be grateful for life’s bad things.
  • [2:41:12] Parting thoughts.


“Happiness is not the goal and unhappiness is not the enemy. Getting happier is the goal.”

— Arthur C. Brooks

“Physical fitness, for me, is a way to manage my negative affect. It’s actually a happiness technique for me. It doesn’t make me happier. It makes me less unhappy. That’s what physical fitness will do — it’ll buy you less unhappiness.”

— Arthur C. Brooks

“The best marriages are completely honest, but the honesty is a gift and never a weapon.”

— Arthur C. Brooks

“Most learning doesn’t happen when the professor talks about something. If you understand everything the professor says, it’s not a hard enough class, and you don’t have a very good professor. He has to blow your mind with something, and you’ve got to go away and think about it. And then you learn it through your own thinking. That’s analytical meditation, or mental prayer.”

— Arthur C. Brooks

“The number one thing that Oprah and I will be very disappointed about is that people don’t actually become more fully alive through the transcendent passage of both happierness and the unhappiness that is a part of what it means to be a real person.”

— Arthur C. Brooks

“My goal is training [people] to be happiness teachers. … Understand, change your habits, share with others.”

— Arthur C. Brooks

“Intention is fine, but attachment is bad.”

— Arthur C. Brooks

“It is the voyage itself that is the adventure of life, not actually reaching the particular destination — whether it’s the original one or one that turns out to be better or worse or wherever you wind up. And that’s the way you’ve got to live your life.”

— Arthur C. Brooks

“One of the things that I teach my students at HBS is that I would never invest in the firm of an entrepreneur who’s unwilling to give her or his heart away. Because it’s the single most risky entrepreneurial thing that you can do, putting every bit of capital at risk. If you’re not willing to give your heart away, I’m not going to put my money in your fund.”

— Arthur C. Brooks


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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11 Replies to “Arthur C. Brooks — How to Be Happy, Reverse Bucket Lists, The Four False Idols, Muscular Philosophies, Practical Inoculation Against the Darkness, and More (#692)”

  1. The teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh are centered primarily in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition (Pure Land Zen), and not the Theravada tradition as stated multiple times by Arthur Brooks. As with any an ancient spiritual / philosophical system, the Buddhist tradition has many streams and offshoots which can be confusing to grasp, and easy to confuse or oversimplify. I myself am definitely not an expert, but had a life changing experience at the Plum Village Monastery in France in 2000, and know at least this much about the lineage. ✨ 🙏✨

  2. I think this is one of the best episodes I have listened to! (and I’m here for a long time) Tim, thank you, sir, for what you are doing!

  3. Rich and thought-provoking conversation. Can anyone really know what/who/idea/belief they would die for? No one is asking you to sacrifice your life right now, you’re simply talking about this in casual conversation. I don’t really think any of us can know for sure what/who/idea/belief we would die for when all is currently well in your life. Interesting to contemplate but it just doesn’t seem possible to know until you’re in a situation that demands this sacrifice.

  4. Long time listener, first time caller. I absolutely loved this conversation. Perfect blend of the practical, hard-core science with just the right amount of space for the spiritual and the unknown. I especially enjoyed Arthur’s line of inquiry he kept walking Tim through to refine his belief system, which was very applicable and easy to translate into practice and communicate to others. You were good compliments to each other. Definitely a top episode.

    Tim – very interested in the side chat about transmission teachers. Would love to see you go more in that direction on the pod. I could intro you to a Zen & American teacher who teach in this style if that was of interest.

    Thank you for all the love and care you put into these. It comes out in the finished product – like a pie baked with love <3

  5. You mentioned when talking about the cute dresses that you didn’t want anyone to mix up your voices — I really WAS mixing up your voices for the entire podcast! I think I need to relisten in video format to benefit further from the teachings in this video! Great podcast episode, by the way!

  6. Hello Tim. I know you probably wont answer this comment or a insta dm from me but i just want to tell you that im currently reading your book and so far, i truly enjoy it. I am a music student and let me say that ive never read a finance literacy book before, and i discovered yours by just watching a youtuber recommend it, so yeah, your book is actually my first finance book so love it!😁

  7. I really enjoyed this podcast- Tim’s energy was incredible. While I cannot claim to have listened to all of his podcasts, this is the lightest I have ever heard him sound. The energy between Tim and Arthur was a joy to experience.

  8. Dear Tim,

    You made many statements during this podcast that made me think, “Tim
    and my friend Jaclyn should date, probably get married, and raise wonderfully inquisitive children.” You have mentioned the best way to get in touch with you is to comment on the blog, so here’s a shot in the dark for love!

    All the best,

  9. never lie? are you in the REAL WORLD guys – you have never hear about white lies? when the guy cheates on his wife and tells her and hurts her and finishes their wonderful relations becaus he wnated to be ‘honest’ – and there are many more examples when lieing is beneficial for both or all…

  10. This was a great episode. It definitely felt like an episode of Tim’s earlier work with the topics covered, and the sheer depth on inner wisdom’s discussed. Not to say that I don’t appreciate the more recent’s episodes, this one just spoke to me more directly.

    Aside from that just two quick notes. About halfway through the episode Arthur keeps referring to “The Brothers Karamazov” as the “The Brothers K”. While it’s a small mixup, I just want to point out that there is actually a book titled “The Brothers K” (a great epic novel by the way), written by one of my favorite authors David James Duncan. Definitely recommend reading and one which can serve a very similar purpose to distilling the human condition in a heartbreaking way. Ok off my soapbox…

    Last point and just a semantic note at that. At about 1:21:00 in the conversation Arthur pronounced the word “prelude” as “prel-lude”. While this really is a bit meaningless to point out, I just wanted to share that as I generally give the benefit of doubt to your guests, I actually had to stop listening and google the proper pronunciation as I was concerned that my entire speaking life had this particular mixup for myself. Needless to say my scare proved false and I can sleep tonight knowing I have one less hiccup in my vocabulary. 😂

    Thanks for the great episode!