Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Arthur C. Brooks (@arthurbrooks), 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.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With many episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
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Tim Ferriss: Arthur, so nice to have you here. Thanks for joining.
Arthur Brooks: Thank you, Tim. It’s great to be with you. I’ve been looking forward to this.
Tim Ferriss: Me too.
Arthur Brooks: I feel like we’ve been looking forward to meeting and we’ve been warming up for this for a long time.
Tim Ferriss: We have.
Arthur Brooks: We have so many friends in common.
Tim Ferriss: We have a lot of friends in common. I have read your prior work, From Strength to Strength, excellent book recommended to me by Peter Attia. People may know him as Dr. Peter Attia, good friend, proud Texan also now.
Arthur Brooks: Where all the cool kids live, we’re all of Texas.
Tim Ferriss: Where all the cool kids are. And I have more questions than we will have time, but I’m hoping to really explore broadly, and I wanted to start with something that I thought would pique the interest of many people listening, and that is the reverse bucket list. Is this something you still do and what does it entail?
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, the reverse bucket list is something I do. Oh, boy, do I ever do it and it took me too long to figure this one out. When I was 50, I’m 59 years old. When I was 50, I found my bucket list from when I was 40. It was a classic thing, and on my birthday, I would make a list of my desires and my ambitions, and I would imagine myself, visualize myself consuming or experiencing these things and it would fire me up and make me well feel like a loser, quite frankly, because it was lowering my sense of satisfaction I subsequently found out. I looked at that list from when I was 40, and I checked everything off that list and I was less happy —
Tim Ferriss: Oh, no.
Arthur Brooks: — at 50 than I was at 40. And so I thought, I’m a social scientist so I thought to myself, obviously I’m doing something wrong. What am I doing wrong? And basically this is the problem. This is a neurophysiological problem and a psychological problem all rolled into one handy package. I was making the mistake of thinking that my satisfaction would come by having more. And the truth of the matter is that lasting and stable satisfaction, which doesn’t wear off in a minute, comes when you understand that your satisfaction is your haves divided by your wants. Haves divided by wants. That’s the model. So it’s like I’ll slow down because I know people watching are like, “I’m going to write that down.” Haves divided by wants. You can increase your satisfaction temporarily and inefficiently by having more, or permanently and securely by wanting less.
I thought to myself, so what does that mean? And the answer to that, what does that mean? Is I need a reverse bucket list. Not that I’m not going to get nice things in my life, but I’m going to be consciously detached from them by going through the exercise of writing them down and crossing them out. So on my birthday now, and my 59th birthday a couple of months ago, I wrote down all my ridiculous ambitions and desires of money or whatever, power, ambition, admiration, all these things that I want from other people that we all want because we’re human and Mother Nature wires us to accumulate the rewards that’ll help us survive and pass our genes, I got it.
I know how evolutionary psychology works, and I know that these things are going to occur to me as natural goals, but I do not want to be owned by them. I want to manage them. I don’t want them to be like phantasms in my limbic system managing me. I want to move the experience of these ambitions to my prefrontal cortex, which is my executive manager, the bumper of tissue right behind my forehead. And the way that you do that is by looking at each one of these ambitions and saying, “Maybe I get it and maybe I don’t, but I’m going to cross it out as an attachment.” And I’m telling you, Tim, I’m free.
Tim Ferriss: And so you find that to work.
Arthur Brooks: Oh, it works. It does, not because you don’t care about it, but because you’re not attached to it in the same way. You’ve made the decision to have it not be a rootless desire, a ghost in your head. You’ve made it into something that you will consciously manage by literally experiencing that ambition in a different part of your brain.
Tim Ferriss: So you go through this exercise, so you write down whatever it is, receive such and such an honor, sell so many copies of book X, whatever these are.
Arthur Brooks: All the stuff that guys like you and me do.
Tim Ferriss: And then you have 37-inch arms in your case possibly. You’re incredibly fit. I’m not hitting on you, I’m just saying I aspire to —
Arthur Brooks: You’re a beautiful man too.
Tim Ferriss: Well, we go to the same stylist for our haircuts, but I would say we will maybe get to self-care and physical practice later. You go through this exercise, you write those things down, you cross them out in an idol worship, sleight-of-hand move.
Arthur Brooks: Right.
Tim Ferriss: And then following that, I’m curious when is if there is the spark of this desire, whatever it might be, do you have self-talk or something that acts as an interrupt?
Arthur Brooks: I keep the list.
Tim Ferriss: You keep the list.
Arthur Brooks: I keep the list and I go back and I look at the list just like I would look at my bucket list later every six months or every year, every 10 years, whatever it happened to be. I go back and look at my reverse bucket list and say, “Am I living up to this? Am I truly conscious?”
Tim Ferriss: “Am I living up to not being attached?”
Arthur Brooks: “Am I practicing the detachment that I committed myself to?” And the truth is usually, yeah, kind of. I mean, the phantasm will be back. It will be flying around in your head again, but you brought it to your prefrontal cortex for a reason and your prefrontal cortex is an adult and will govern the children. But sometimes you have to remind yourself, “Remember, look, I mean you’re an adult here,” and you look back on it and you say, and it’s funny. Actually, it’s pretty amusing when you look at it and you say, “Oh, I can’t believe that thing is bugging me again.” But you’re not governed by it in the same way. You know what I actually put on my list? I was reading.
Tim Ferriss: Just for clarity, so it’s okay to have the goal and to have it as a target and plan for it. Let’s say selling X number of copies, but not to have that hungry ghost attachment to it.
Arthur Brooks: It’s nothing more than an intention. Intention is fine, but attachment is bad. And this is what the Dalai Lama talks about too. He talks about intention without attachment. There’s a word in sailing, the rhumb line. In Spanish, rumbo, which is a lot more common in normal everyday speech. And what it means is it’s the intention of your voyage. You have to have that even though you’re not going to be true to it, because if you don’t know you’re just going to be going in circles, you’ll just be, “I don’t know, I’ve been out to sea for a long time. Who knows where I am?” It’ll be like one of your vacations. It’s like, “I don’t know where I am, I’m just doing nothing, man,” which is, it can be therapeutically important, but it’s actually not the way that you get from Europe to the Americas.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Arthur Brooks: You need a rhumb line.
Tim Ferriss: You need a location and your end point on the GPS.
Arthur Brooks: But if you’re super attached to it, then you’re going to freak out when something throws you off. And furthermore, you’re not going to recognize the fact that 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. So it’s intention without attachment.
Now there’s another thing that I was thinking about this year because Thích Nhất Hạnh died, you know —
Tim Ferriss: I do.
Arthur Brooks: The great Vietnamese Buddhist monk, and I wrote his obituary in The Washington Post actually.
Tim Ferriss: Wow.
Arthur Brooks: It was a really interesting experience. I talked about all what he’s taught all of us. And Thích Nhất Hạnh said, and I almost had an impact on my, but I reflected on it upon his death that one of the greatest attachments that people have in modern life is to their views and opinions. That’s a real attachment. It can be as dangerous as your attachment to money or power. Why? Because people treat their opinions as if they were gold, they’re jewels. “Get between me and my political opinions, man, I’ll cancel you. I’ll get you fired. I’ll denounce you on social media. Who knows, maybe I’ll be violent.” I mean, life is crazy these days. And so I looked at it and I thought, am I weighed down by attachment to my views, to my political views? So I wrote down five of my strongest political views and I crossed them out.
Tim Ferriss: This was after writing the obituary?
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, it was on my reverse bucket list when I turned 59. And I said, “Look, it’s not that I don’t have these views, I just don’t have the attachment to these views. Look, man, I need more friends, and strong political opinions is not going to get me there. It’s not going to get me there. Love is going to get me there, tolerance is going to get me there. A sense of curiosity about other people is going to get me there, and strong political opinions is going to put me in the wrong direction.” So, man, dead. The attachment, dead.
Tim Ferriss: So maybe this is a little too granular, but I’m curious. Thích Nhất Hạnh, this is a legendary figure. I would be very intimidated by the task of writing an obituary for such a person. I’ve read numbers of his books, been very influenced by his thinking. How do you go about deciding what goes into an obituary for someone like that, or for anyone for that matter, but in this particular case?
Arthur Brooks: The Germans talk about doing something called a festschrift. It’s a word that means this encomium, a celebration of the work of somebody, and which I always start when you do one of these things, it’s a typical European intellectual deal is you look at the things that they said and did that had the most impact and it was most meaningful to them in the same way. Now, I didn’t know Thích Nhất Hạnh. I’ve worked very closely with the Dalai Lama in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, but the Theravada Buddhist tradition I’ve never penetrated personally and so I didn’t know Thích Nhất Hạnh. But I do know the things that he said and taught that really changed the way that Westerners think. And so that’s what I wanted to talk about, not what did he do that changed Theravada Buddhism. I’m not a Theravada Buddhist. I’m not equipped to write that, but I can talk about the way he changed me as a Catholic.
I can talk about how he changed me as a public policy person because I was reading Thích Nhất Hạnh when I was running a think tank in Washington, DC. How he influenced me as a happiness professor at Harvard, that’s the stuff that I really wanted to focus on. And that was the idea of attachment and detachment. That was the idea of the illusion of individuality. I mean, these are concepts that people didn’t think about. He also was really behind the whole mindfulness revolution in the West. I mean, he starts off The Miracle of Mindfulness, that famous book, big bestseller with this simple description of washing the dishes. And he says, “When you’re washing the dishes, you should be thinking about washing the dishes, because if you don’t think about washing the dishes, you’re not really there washing the dishes, are you?” And he persuades you with this hypnotic prose to remember that if you don’t think about washing the dishes, but you’re thinking about doing something at work tomorrow or you’re thinking about something that happened yesterday, that you’re living in the future of the past and you’ve missed your life.
Tim Ferriss: Or if you’re thinking about eating the juicy peach, which is a story — may not have been in that book — that I remember him telling, but it was paired with the washing of the dishes.
Arthur Brooks: Right.
Tim Ferriss: He said, “If you’re thinking about the peach while you’re washing the dishes, when you’re eating the peach, you’ll probably be thinking of something else as well.”
Arthur Brooks: Exactly right. And then what you’re doing is while you’re doing this, you’re planning for a future existence that’s better than now. And when you reach it, it will be a phantasm as well. It will be nothing more than a mythical past while you’re thinking about a new future that doesn’t quite exist and you’ve missed your whole life.
Tim Ferriss: How did he change you or influence you as a Catholic?
Arthur Brooks: It’s an interesting, and the Dalai Lama too, by the way, I mean a lot of Buddhist thinking has been incredibly helpful to me to understand exactly what I’m trying to do as a person when I’m centering myself in prayer. So for example, Catholics, traditional Catholics, they generally pray what’s called the rosary. And the rosary is a set of beads that you pray repetitive prayers. It’s about a thousand-year-old Catholic meditation. I do it every day. And I noticed that I was having a hard time focusing. I was having a hard time understanding what I was trying to do for myself, for this offering. I didn’t know how to make it fruitful in its way. I didn’t know exactly know what the point was.
And studying the work of Thích Nhất Hạnh and also studying at the Dalai Lama’s monastery in Dharamshala, India, sitting in meditation and studying meditation techniques with the Tibetan Buddhist monks, I actually learned what I was supposed to be doing as a Catholic praying my rosary, how I actually could center my prayer and make it deeply worshipful in a meaningful way, and perhaps God wanted me to learn that from my Buddhist sisters and brothers.
Tim Ferriss: This is going to be adjacent to this conversation, this topic, but I’m curious, do you believe that, and we can always cut this, but I’m very curious, do you believe that direct transmission in some of these lines, which is very important, certain schools of, we could call it mindfulness, but that is a real phenomenon, or at least I suppose it’s undeniably important in the tradition, but the idea that sitting with someone in meditation with them, that there are teachings that are directly transmitted. What is your thought on that if you have?
Arthur Brooks: I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that you can deeply be in communion with somebody really intimately. And my wife, Ester and I, we actually, we teach young couples that are engaged about, she teaches the theological part. I teach the social science because I’m a total wonk. And what we do tell them is that according to the best science and our experience and common sense that one of the most intimate things that you can do with your partner or spouse is pray together.
It’s super intimate. I know couples that have been married for 25 years that will have sex together but won’t pray together because it’s too embarrassing to pray together because praying together is just too intimate. They don’t know how to do it, it’s embarrassing to them. Imagine you’ll get naked in front of somebody else, but you won’t pray in front of them? And that’s because it’s such a deeply intimate thing. So when you cross the boundary of the greatest intimacy with another person, there’s going to be some transmission. There’s going to be something, and it’s going to — the idea of direct transmission rings true to me because of the nature and intensity of the intimacy that comes from that experience.
Tim Ferriss: So we’re going to take a hard left for a second and we’re going to come back to a throughline which I am tracking, because it’s just what is top of mind for me. And then we’re going to come back to possible mystical/semi-mystical experiences in Mexico. So I’m giving an idea of —
Arthur Brooks: All right, I can’t wait.
Tim Ferriss: Where in my head.
Arthur Brooks: I get to go to Mexico and have mystical experience.
Tim Ferriss: The invitation is now formal. But first, because for those who are not watching this video, I mean you are incredibly physically fit and I know that you have some very deliberate consistent practices including weight training and so on. Blood occlusion training, are you still using cuffs?
Arthur Brooks: I do, yeah. And I recommend it for anybody over 40.
Tim Ferriss: Could you explain what this is and why you recommend it?
Arthur Brooks: So occlusion training, what it effectively does is it’s not a tourniquet, but what it is, it’s a band around your arms and/or legs so that when you’re lifting, you actually will get a much greater, as in the vernacular, the burn, from resistance training with lower weight. Now, the reason I recommend this very strongly is because the research suggests that it’s very good for both strength and hypertrophy at lower weight levels so it saves your joints but gives you results. And that’s what you need to do when you’re over 40, save the joints.
Tim Ferriss: And I really strongly encourage people to check this out. I’ve done some of it, and to say that it increases the burn or the pump is certainly true.
Arthur Brooks: You’ve got a lot of pain.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, exactly.
Arthur Brooks: Got a lot of pain.
Tim Ferriss: I would say start conservative because you might feel weak dialing back the weights, but just wait. It hurts, just give it a bit.
Arthur Brooks: It really does [inaudible] you then, but then you learn to love the pain.
Tim Ferriss: And you can travel with, there are cuffs you can travel with.
Arthur Brooks: I have them. I carry them with me all the time. I’m on the road 48 weeks a year.
Tim Ferriss: Is there a particular type that you use?
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, I don’t actually remember the brand, but they’re actually, they use velcro and they’re about two inches thick. So two thick, and I actually can get the kind of occlusion that I really want. So experiment with what works with the size and shape of your biceps and triceps and then learn how to use them and then make them tighter and then get in touch with the pain.
Tim Ferriss: And they’re easy to travel with. Do your homework and start conservative. Kelly Starrett, a very famous performance coach and PT, is a friend, has been on the show many times, introduced me to that.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, it’s amazing, isn’t it?
Tim Ferriss: And he had a very similar argument, which is effectively, he doesn’t say this, but I would say you are as old as your joints and connective tissue feel. I mean, there’s certainly a cognitive component. And this is a really elegant way to preserve or build muscle mass without risking integrity.
Arthur Brooks: I learned this from my friend Sal Di Stefano, who started Mind Pump with his partners.
Tim Ferriss: Mind Pump, what is it?
Arthur Brooks: Mind Pump, it’s a fitness and culture podcast and I’ve listened to it for years and years and he taught me how to do it. He actually is, gives me training tips and good ideas and now it’s great. It’s been very helpful. And by the way, when I was a younger man, when I was in my thirties, I figured, what’s my goal with fitness? And the answer is to still be lifting when I’m 80. To still be able to, why? Because we know of all the health benefits from it. But the truth is that 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. And so I managed my negative affect that way.
And I know when I’m 80, I’m going to need to manage my negative affect so I don’t want to hurt myself. So I would go to the gym when I was 35 or 40 years old and I would go to these iron gyms wherever I was traveling, and I would find the oldest dude, the old guy who’s still lifting heavy things. And I would go up to him, them, I say, “Can I ask your advice?” And they always want to give you advice. The 76-year-old guy, he’s like, “Don’t bench press. It restricts your range of movement and that’s going to hurt. You’re going to get impingement injuries along the way.” So that’s why as you get older, you should actually press with dumbbells and then do higher rep to get volume, do higher reps with lower weight, et cetera, and just sensible stuff. But it’s actually been incredibly helpful for me to not get hurt and stay in the gym.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, a hundred percent. All right, so naturally.
Arthur Brooks: From the sublime to the ridiculous.
Tim Ferriss: Well, maybe ridiculous, maybe not.
Arthur Brooks: Not for me, it’s not. That’s for sure, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Could you please describe your experience — I think it was as a teenager. Was it as a teenager, in Mexico?
Arthur Brooks: Oh, yeah, the Mexican. It was not out in the woods with a shaman on ayahuasca. When I was 15, I was on a band trip. I used to be a musician and I started as a kid. I was a real serious musician, and I wound up being a professional musician from when I was 19 until I was 31.
Tim Ferriss: French horn?
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, I was a French horn player, classical French horn player all the way through my twenties. I didn’t go to college until I was 30, but it was my gap decade. And when I was —
Tim Ferriss: I need one of those, never too late.
Arthur Brooks: And when I was 15 years old, I was on this trip with a group with, not a professional, it was an amateur concert band, but doing a tour through Mexico and we were doing a lot of tourism. And one of the tourist activities was to go to the Shrine of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Now, this is a famous place for Catholics because it’s one of the great pilgrimage sites of the world. In Catholic teaching, this is where when the Spanish explorers came to Mexico and having a horrible time because their marketing was all goofed up for the Catholic Church. I mean, “Convert or die” is not a very compelling fit, it turns out, and racist and everything that you possibly could want. What happens then is this weirdly miraculous thing for Catholics and fellow travelers. I mean, it was a mystical experience. So there was a peasant man by the name of Juan Diego who’s on a hill outside of Mexico City and sees an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. So he on his poncho has imprinted the Blessed Virgin Mary’s image on his tilma, he takes it back.
Tim Ferriss: Tilma is a textile?
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, it’s a poncho.
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Arthur Brooks: The tilma is what they would wear. And it was based on a fabric made out of cactus actually. And it’s beautiful imprint, in color. We’ve all seen the picture of, almost everybody’s seen the blessed Virgin Mary of Guadalupe on this. And if you google it, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and you see it say, “Oh, I’ve seen that a million times,” because it’s in every Latino church. And for the Catholic Church, she’s the patroness of all the Americas, including the United States. I mean, this is a big deal for the Church. So the bishop sees it, they take the tilma, they display the tilma in public, and for the first time they start getting converts. In the next nine years, seven million people convert to the Catholic Church. Now why?
There’s worldly explanation, there’s divine explanations for it. Here’s a worldly explanation that’s pretty compelling. Our Lady of Guadalupe is not white. She’s not Spanish, she’s a mestiza. She’s a woman of mixed race. Now, we don’t realize today how incredibly subversive that is. How unbelievably culturally transgressive that would’ve been. “The Blessed Virgin Mary is not white? What are you talking about?” “No, no, no. She’s us.” “She’s us?” “She’s every person in the world. She loves you, she loves me, and she’s one of us because she’s in all of us,” and that was this weird message that nobody really would’ve thought of at the time, or so lore goes. And that’s why people started saying, “Ah, oh, this actually is for me because she actually looks like me.” Crazy.
So anyway, so I’m in this church in Mexico City, this Shrine of Guadalupe, and I’m looking at the tilma. Just sitting up there and I’m thinking, “This is boring.” But then I noticed, she was looking at me. She was looking at me. Now to be sure, I didn’t realize that you can look at Elvis on velvet and the eyes will follow you, right? Okay, fair is fair. But I couldn’t get it out of my head. I couldn’t get it out of my head. So worldly or divine or mystical or not, reasonable people can disagree, but I couldn’t get the image out of my head, I couldn’t. And I realized I needed more in my life. I needed a deeper sense of the metaphysical in my life. I needed the transcendent in my life. And every time I thought of it, I thought of that image. And so I became a Catholic at 16 years old, and I’ve been a Catholic man ever since.
Tim Ferriss: And did you have a family history of Catholicism?
Arthur Brooks: Zero.
Tim Ferriss: Zero.
Arthur Brooks: Zero. No, I grew up in a Christian family, so I had a little bit of wiring, but I literally knew no Catholics. It’s just this thing. And my parents are like, “Ah, adolescent rebellion. I guess it’s better than drugs.”
Tim Ferriss: It is better than heroin.
Arthur Brooks: And the point is, a lot of people watching us, some are traditionally religious and some are spiritual and some are not. But the whole point is we have a sense that there’s something else. We have a sense that there’s something deeper. Let something in your life take you to the deeper place. Something needs to take you by the hand to the deeper place. There’s a lot of research that suggests this is the case. Don’t try to go to the deeper place to find it randomly on your own, let someone take you. Now that insight, it’s ambiguous. But once people start to say, “I’m ready to be taken to a deeper place, a more transcendent state,” that person, that entity will appear.
Tim Ferriss: We may come back to that, thank you. And I do think that many different paths touch corners of the same thing is my impression, which we may not have time for in this conversation, but to be continued. And the reason I’m asking about this experience, for those people who are wondering how this ties into maybe the headline of the podcast is because I want to better understand the influences and experiences that have shaped you and your perceptual apparatus and your thinking. So another would be you’ve had multiple wake up calls in your life, and as you described, you didn’t exactly have the linear path to Harvard prof that people might’ve envisioned, right?
Arthur Brooks: I got rejected from Harvard.
Tim Ferriss: Exeter, Harvard, McKinsey.
Arthur Brooks: No.
Tim Ferriss: Different path.
Arthur Brooks: I’d actually applied to Harvard for graduate school. And they’re like, “No.” It took two weeks for them to reject. Part of it is at the time I was 31, I was a college dropout. I had a degree from a correspondent school. I was a French horn player. These are not the core demographics of your typical Harvard graduate student. And so yeah, I got rejected, which suggests, by the way, Tim, that our standards for faculty today are lower than for our students. But be that as it may.
Tim Ferriss: Maybe. Maybe, I’m skeptical in your case. I’d like to talk about your dad.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: So who was your father? What was he like and how did his life end?
Arthur Brooks: My dad was a mathematician, he had a PhD in biostatistics. He was a lifelong college professor, most of it at a small Christian college in Seattle called Seattle Pacific University. He was born to missionary parents, evangelical missionary parents. He was born in the Navajo Nation in New Mexico where my grandfather ran a mission school, actually. And then my grandfather went on to become the dean of a very famous college outside Chicago called Wheaton College where all of our family members had gone. My aunt went there in the ’40s and dated Billy Graham in college, as it turns out.
Tim Ferriss: Wow.
Arthur Brooks: And then my dad went on to another Christian college, to the college where he ultimately taught. And he was just absolutely in love with the beauty of mathematics. As kids, my mother was an artist. My mother was a painter, my dad was a mathematician. And around the dinner table, we would talk about art and we would talk about math. Those are the things and my father would pose math problems to us. He would say, “Okay. Okay, boys,” me and my brother, “Imagine all of the integers between one and 100, one, two, three, four. Okay, add them all together. What’s the result?” And we’d be like, “I don’t know. I need a piece of paper.” He’d say, “No, you don’t. Think it another way. Think of another way.” The solution by the way, is one plus a hundred equals 101 and two plus 99 equals 101 and three plus 98 equals 101. And there are 51 of those, which makes what? It makes 101 combinations. 51 combinations of 101.
Tim Ferriss: So that’s how you —
Arthur Brooks: 5,050. So that’s what we would do. That’s what my father would do.
Tim Ferriss: You’re like, “Dad, I’m just trying to eat my macaroni and cheese.”
Arthur Brooks: I know, I eat my macaroni and cheese, and they would say something like, “See, isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that evidence of God?”
Tim Ferriss: That’s what he or your mom would say? That’s what he would say.
Arthur Brooks: My dad would say.
Tim Ferriss: The elegance of that.
Arthur Brooks: My dad believed not that what we know is what we should pay attention to, but to marvel at what we can do and still not know anything. So my father would explain, it had a big impact on me, that there’s two kinds of problems in life. There’s complicated problems and there’s complex problems. It’s a mathematical difference, but the technique doesn’t matter. Complicated problems are all the things that you can solve with computational horsepower and tech. Complex problems are super easy to understand, but you can never solve them. Like who’s going to win between the Patriots and the Dolphins? I know what winning looks like, it’s more points on the scoreboard, but I have no idea and that’s why it’s beautiful to watch the game and you don’t want to simulate it on a computer because it’ll be inaccurate.
Love is complex. A jet engine is complicated. A cat is complex, a toaster is complicated. And he said two kinds of problems. And this he said as a basic math problem, the reason that we’re always unsatisfied in life is because we have complex problems. We want love, and all we have is complicated solutions that the world is offering us like computers and the internet and social media and blah, blah, blah, blah. And you’ll never be satisfied because the wrong kind of solution for the wrong kind of problem.
Tim Ferriss: So that seems like a tremendously valuable insight.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Would you describe your father as a happy man?
Arthur Brooks: No. My father was a gloomy man, and no doubt that it had a lot to do with genetics, because 50 percent of our emotional baseline is genetic. We know this from identical twin studies where twins are born and separated at birth into separate families. This is not an experiment that social scientists have done because that would be horribly unethical but —
Tim Ferriss: Three Identical Strangers show up, it turns out.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah. Well, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: It’s a brutal doc.
Arthur Brooks: Oh, yeah. That’s a great documentary.
Tim Ferriss: It is great.
Arthur Brooks: But 50 percent of your baseline mood, your tendency toward ebullience or gloominess, is sitting in your DNA, and the result of that is you need — this is the reason, Tim, that I came to the happiness field, because I saw my grandfather, who was a wonderful man and gloomy, and my father, who was brilliant and a lovely person and an excellent, ethical, kind man who was gloomy, and I said, “No more, man. No more. I’m going to live on the other 50 percent. I am not going to be governed by that 50 percent that made my father an unhappy man.” He died young, 66. He had cancer, and they gave him 10 or 15 years or more, and he died in two.
As a statistician, he explained it. He was a biostatistician by his graduate degree, and I said, “Dad, it’s terrible luck.” He said, “Look, there’s got to be people on that side of the curve, too.” He had a good sense of humor. But the whole point was, he wasn’t prepared to fight for life because he didn’t have the hygiene for his own happiness. That example set me on the path to learn about this and to share these ideas, and it has transformed my life. I’m grateful to my father, and I will be for the rest of my life, for the example that he gave me and the lesson he taught me, even through his unhappiness.
Tim Ferriss: What were some decisions you made, or things you began doing or stopped doing, after your father’s death?
Arthur Brooks: I started exercising. There is a little vanity to it, but not that much. The whole point of the matter is, this is one of the single best ways to manage your negative affect, is to be in the gym for an hour a day.
Tim Ferriss: It’s a bit dated probably, but there’s a book called Spark, which also goes into a lot of BDNF, and a lot of the circuitry and biochemical reasons for exercise for this explicit purpose.
Arthur Brooks: When I’m working with my students, I put them through a battery of tests to look at whether the bigger challenge in their life is happiness or unhappiness. The world is really scarce in the definitions that it gives us, and there’s a big mistake that almost everyone makes about happiness.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, there’s lots of —
Arthur Brooks: Which is, yeah, a lot of mistakes. Number one, that it’s the absence of unhappiness. Number two, that it’s a feeling. Both of those are wrong. Number three is that we can get it. We can approach happiness, but we can’t get there because we actually need unhappiness, and unhappiness and happiness are not opposites and can coexist. There’s a lot to unpack from that.
To begin with, happiness and unhappiness, in terms of moods, are largely processed in different hemispheres of the brain. A lot of neuroscientists believe that unhappy cognitions and emotions are largely dominated by activity in the right side of the brain. The way that we know this, there’s a terrific neuroscientist at University of Wisconsin, Richard Davidson, and he’s done work that shows that the left side of the musculature on your face is more active when you’re unhappy, when you’re experiencing negative emotions, anger, fear, disgust, sadness, and it’s actually funny.
When my kids were little, I would notice that when they fall down, you get a moment where you don’t know what’s going to happen next. Are they going to laugh and keep playing, or you’re going to get the waterworks, right? The way to tell on that, because it’s usually five or six seconds, because the wiring in their brain is actually not complete.
Tim Ferriss: It’s a work in progress.
Arthur Brooks: One of the tests that I administer to my students, and I put in my new book as a matter of fact, because it’s so important for me and for understanding ourselves — it’s called the Positive Affect Negative Affect Series, PANAS, P-A-N-A-S. It’s on my website, and it’s easy to find. I didn’t create it. It’s been psychometrically validated a bunch of times. It’s a great test. What it does is it helps you figure out if you’re high-positive, high-negative, or low-positive, low-negative, and there’s four combinations.
It’s a two-by-two matrix. You can be a high-positive-affect person and a high-negative-affect person. That’s a high-affect person who’s got a lot of strong moods about everything. That’s the mad scientist. That’s the mad scientist profile. That’s me. I’m at the 85th percentile in happiness, happy affect, and I’m at the 85th percentile in negative affect.
Tim Ferriss: The highs are high and the lows are low?
Arthur Brooks: Right, so I don’t have a happiness problem. I have an unhappiness problem, is what it comes down to. It’s not a problem, because unhappiness is really important. You won’t be happy if you get rid of your unhappiness, because you’ve got to be fully alive to get happier, but you do need to manage yourself.
Some people are really high-positive and really low-negative. Those are the cheerleaders. Those people can’t stay in the gym. Why? Because they don’t feel better when they go to the gym, because their negative affect is already in the cellar.
The third is high-negative and low-positive. That’s the poet, right? The poet. Nobody wants to be a poet, but the truth is that the part of the brain called of ventral lateral prefrontal cortex is highly active for people who are sad and people who are creative. That’s the reason when I say poet, you’re not thinking about somebody who’s skipping down the street, right? You think of a creative person.
Tim Ferriss: “Life is shit,” with a cigarette and a beret.
Arthur Brooks: Exactly right. You’re in a French cafe, thinking nihilistic thoughts and writing poetry. That’s the poetic disposition, and the last is low-low. You could be perfectly happy or unhappy, but you have low affect levels. That’s called the judge, the sober judge.
Tim Ferriss: I wish it were otherwise, but I put high confidence that I am right down the beret-wearing way. How would you advise someone — and I know this won’t apply to everybody listening, but just by way of a working example. What does someone do with — what are their options for how to act upon that?
Arthur Brooks: Okay. If you know that you’re a poet, this is a very good — this is an affect level. It doesn’t mean that you’re cosmically happy or unhappy. It just means that this is your natural disposition.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, right.
Arthur Brooks: So this is important, right? It also means that you need to manage two levers. You need to manage your happiness levels up, and you need to manage your unhappiness levels, not to zero. There’s nothing wrong with unhappiness, but you need to mute them. You don’t need to numb them. You need to manage them.
Tim Ferriss: I may have already missed the plot, but just define those two, because I think a lot of people, myself maybe included, would think, “If you remove unhappiness, by default, since it’s unhappiness — they seem to be antonyms. So you remove one, and you have more of the other.”
Arthur Brooks: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: So how should we think about these two?
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, yeah. That’s a very good question. By the way, the answer is not obvious. As a matter of fact, psychologists, until about 50 years ago, really believed that unhappiness was the absence of happiness. But it’s not true, because we actually find that the basic negative and positive emotions are coming from different parts of the limbic system and can coexist.
Tim Ferriss: I see. So if you’re thinking about it, you can think about it then sort of neuro-anatomically, as opposed to semantically with the words.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, yeah. And as a matter of fact —
Tim Ferriss: It’s kind of like, not to dumb it down too hard, but it’s like if your left hand performed X types of tasks and your right hand performed Y type of tasks, it’s like, okay, you can sort of decide what ratio you’re aiming for.
Arthur Brooks: Right. And your negative emotions are much more intense than your positive emotions. This has evolved to keep you alive. Positive emotions are kind of nice to have. Negative emotions are signals or alarms that something might kill you. A sweet smile from somebody across the room is very pleasant, but a frowning face might be somebody who wants to murder you. Therefore, we’ve evolved to pay attention. This is called the negativity bias that we have.
We also have mixed states that we go through all day long. If you ask people in surveys what they’re feeling at any given moment, so you’ll say in five-minute increments, “What are you feeling, positive or negative?” you’ll find that about 90 percent of the time people can tell you how they’re feeling. In 40 percent of the time for the average person, it’s really pure positive emotions at a low level. It’s your idle, is most of the time. It’s good. Life’s okay. It’s kind of sunny today, whatever, whatever. All good. About 16 percent of the time is pure negative emotion, and that usually means something’s happening that you don’t like.
Now, 33 percent of the time, you’ve got both. And usually, the way that this looks in people’s lives is that you’re in your positive idle, but something’s intruding. So there’s something bugging you that you don’t always remember. And we go through life, and on a certain day it’s like, yeah, it’s all good. Oh, yeah, that thing. And then you go back to kind of going back to your positive idle, and oh, yeah, that thing, that thing. So that’s the mixed state.
Tim Ferriss: Like Twitter.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, totally. And by the way, I mean, it’s an unhappiness machine. You mean X?
Tim Ferriss: Yes. Sorry. Exactly, X.
Arthur Brooks: A big black X. You mean it’s like X. It’s so appropriate. So this is important because we understand that these are separable phenomena. We need both. We need both these emotions, but we need to be able to manage our emotions like pros, and that’s a lot of what I do.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, so what are some options? So, I go through the PANAS, end up a “Poet.” There are these two levers. What might be the process of thinking through how to pull these levers in different ways?
Arthur Brooks: The happiness side is what I spend a lot more time on because it’s just so interesting on how we can pull the happiness lever. It starts by actually a good definition, which is not feelings. Feelings are evidence of happiness. And thank God happiness isn’t a feeling. Can you imagine going through life chasing a feeling? That’s awful. It’s like if it feels good, do it or some — or if it feels bad, make it stop. It’s a terrible life strategy.
Happiness and its feelings are associated with three tangible phenomena in our lives that we can actually understand and manage: enjoyment, satisfaction, and meaning. Those are the three things that we need in balance and abundance. Think of these as the macronutrients of happiness, the protein, carbohydrates, and fat of happiness. If you don’t have protein and carbohydrates and fat in balance and abundance, all kinds of weird things are going to happen to you. And you’re not going to be as healthy as you should be, and you won’t feel good.
The same thing is true. You need to enjoy your life. You need to get satisfaction from your accomplishments, and you need to have a deep sense of meaning. And each one of these is a big challenge. When I meet somebody, through a series of structured questions, I can figure out if there’s a problem along one of these macronutrient dimensions. And it turns out that there’s some very easy interventions that we can make across all three, and I’ll give you an example.
The first one is enjoyment. So I say, “Do you enjoy your life?” And they’ll think about their little pleasures. I say, “That’s not it.” Pleasure is not a secret to happiness. Pleasure is the fast road to obsessive-compulsive activity and addiction. Why? Because all pleasure is is a phenomenon from the limbic system of your brain saying, “Do more of that thing because you’re more likely to survive and pass on your genes if you get those calories, if you have that sex,” whatever it happens to be. The way that you can actually turn that into a source of happiness is by mixing in two ingredients with your pleasure: people and memory. Never do something that gives you pleasure alone. That’s the rule of thumb. If you’re doing it alone, it’s a problem. So Anheuser-Busch does a beer ad. They never have in the beer ad —
Tim Ferriss: A guy drinking in his closet —
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, a guy pounding a 12-pack in his apartment alone.
Tim Ferriss: — listening to Pink Floyd.
Arthur Brooks: Why? Because that’s pleasure, and that actually leads to addiction. It’s problematic. They always have an ad of a guy cracking a beer with his buddies, people, and doing something he’s going to remember. Memory. That’s the secret to it. So I’ll take a survey of people’s habits. Now, this is the reason that pornography is a big problem, right? You’re not consuming it in public with friends to make a memory, for God’s sake. That’s just sort of weird.
Tim Ferriss: Very rarely.
Arthur Brooks: That’s a pretty weird thing to do, right? And that’s one of the reasons. I mean, it hits the dopamine lever. I mean, they all are neurophysiologically similar phenomena. They hit dopamine, dopamine, dopamine, dopamine over and over and over again, and they ruin your life because they become addictive. They become monomaniacal, and they’re not the secret to happiness.
If you’re at 3:00 in the morning in Vegas pulling the lever on the slot machine by yourself, that’s not the secret of happiness to anybody I know. And I’ve never heard somebody say, “You know what gives my life happiness? Methamphetamine.” Never been said, right? And the reason for that is because these are drugs. People say drugs of abuse. No, no, no. These are drugs of pleasure. Let’s not lie about it. They give you pleasure. And pleasure alone, without memory, is a problem. This is a very practical example of how we can use the science and turn it into a set of guideposts for our life.
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm. So you have enjoyment, which you clarify.
Arthur Brooks: Satisfaction and meaning are next.
Tim Ferriss: Yes. How would you make satisfaction granular? Because I think about satisfaction, and I’m like, hmm, I might conflate being satisfied with doing, say, a large project with some form of meaning. I can see how I might get my wires crossed. So how should we think about these two in your framework?
Arthur Brooks: Satisfaction is achieving something with struggle. It really is that project that you’re talking about, which it will give you meaning as well. The project per se can actually cross the boundaries across the macronutrients, just like something that you eat has more than one macronutrient. But satisfaction per se is doing something that takes effort and expending the effort. So if my graduate students, they cheat to get an A on an exam in my class, they’ll get the grade, but they won’t get the satisfaction. The satisfaction really comes from the pain. This is one of the paradoxes of life. You’ve got to suffer to get the satisfaction. You’ve got to defer the gratification.
When somebody is on the pleasure mill, by the way, they also don’t get satisfaction from anything because they can’t defer their gratification anymore. These problems bleed into each other. So one of the things that you find is that people who are very accomplished, the people — you are good at satisfaction because you can defer your gratification and do long-term projects. You’re a satisfaction guy. The problem for you and me and a lot of people who are going to watch your show because they want to be better — I mean, nobody’s watching this show just for giggles. They’re watching this show because —
Tim Ferriss: We’re not funny enough.
Arthur Brooks: They’re watching your show because they want to be better in their lives, and so they’re going to be good at deferring their gratification and doing hard things.
Tim Ferriss: Or at least aspire to do that.
Arthur Brooks: Totally. I mean, I’ve read your books. It’s not anything — it’s interestingly deceptive. The 4-Hour Fill-in-the-Blank, the early books, it makes it sound like it’s a hack and it’s easy.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Arthur Brooks: No.
Tim Ferriss: No, it’s not.
Arthur Brooks: No, it’s not. The four hours is hard, is the point. Those four hours are going to hurt.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, and there’s a lot of front-loading, right? There’s also hard work without forethought and planning. So there is built into any of those books a strategic deferral.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, for sure. So that’s what brings satisfaction. Here’s the problem with satisfaction, and this goes back to where we started the conversation. Mick Jagger sang, “I can’t get no satisfaction.” That’s wrong. You can’t keep no satisfaction. That’s why you try and you try and you try, and there’s a reason for that. Neuroscientists talk about homeostasis, which is a phenomenon of always going back physically and emotionally to your baseline. And there’s a reason for that, because you need to go back to the baseline in your life so you can be ready to react to the next set of circumstances.
If emotionally you were going to be bummed out for the rest of your life, you’d become immobilized. And if you felt super happy when something good happened, you wouldn’t be in the hunt anymore. Mother Nature wants you to think that you’re going to feel this emotion for the rest of your life so that you will either avoid one thing or pursue something, but she wants to fool you and send you back again and again and again and have you never figure it out. Man, if I get that car, I’m going to love it. If I move to California, I’m going to enjoy the sunshine for the rest of my life. It turns out you get six months, by the way, of enjoying weather, but the taxes are forever.
And that experience of never learning is called the hedonic treadmill, and it’s unbelievably painful. The way to solve that problem is haves divided by wants. The way to get real satisfaction is not having more but wanting less. And that’s the reverse bucket list, et cetera. That’s the set of habits that helps you dominate that particular science and short circuit the loop that you’re on because of Mother Nature’s plans for you, which are not really in your happiness interests. She doesn’t care if you’re happy, by the way.
Tim Ferriss: No.
Arthur Brooks: No.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, producing progeny is not dependent on big smiles.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, it’s like DNA, man. It’s all survival to pass on your genes, and that’s great for the propagation of the species. It’s not good for, I don’t know, for pursuing the divine path.
Tim Ferriss: We are going to come back to meaning. I want to just take a sidebar on reducing wants for a second —
Arthur Brooks: Sure.
Tim Ferriss: — and talk about exercises that you’ve had your students do in your classes. And I’m pulling this from memory, so I may not get the wording spot on, but identifying their idols. Am I getting this right?
Arthur Brooks: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: So if you could expand on what that looks like.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah. We have a game. I have a game show in my class at Harvard. It’s called What’s My Idol? Now, you can tell how old I am. When I was a really little kid, there was a game show on TV called What’s My Line? Your viewers can Google it. I’m sure there’s some black-and-white grainy footage of it or something from when I was in the ’70s or back. What’s My Idol is actually based on the insight of a medieval philosopher, St. Thomas Aquinas, a theologian, but really a philosopher in the Neoplatonic tradition.
Aquinas is responsible for introducing Aristotle to the modern world. Up until that point, nobody read Aristotle. It was all Plato, Aristotle’s teacher. St. Thomas Aquinas, he said, “No, no, no, no, no. Guys, read this one. This is the one.” Right? And he interpreted Aristotle for the modern world. It was the same thing more or less that Averroes was doing for the Muslim world and that Maimonides was doing for the Jewish world, because they were coexisting in southern Spain in this intellectual soup. That’s hard for us to understand today, it was so deep, what was going on. St. Thomas Aquinas was an unbelievably adroit social scientist. He was also, by the way —
Tim Ferriss: A phenomenally impressive figure. I mean, for people who aren’t familiar, just go read the Wikipedia entry and a few other things.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, Right.
Tim Ferriss: It will blow your mind.
Arthur Brooks: And his magisterial work was the Summa Theologiae, which is just — and the way that he does it, by the way, it’s a master class in the way that we should be thinking about big topics today, which is by starting the topic with the best objection. “Here’s the question. Here’s the supposition. What’s the best objection? Here’s how I meet that objection. What’s the second-best objection? Here’s how I meet the objection.” The whole book is written this way. It’s unbelievable.
And in the section on human happiness, which he pulls from Aristotle, who claims without any need for proof — this is what we all want, whether we act that way or not. That there’s four things that we do that distract us from happiness. Now, his definition of happiness is seeking the divine. This is what we all want. What do you want? The divine. Do you know that? Not necessarily. Is it hard? Yeah, and that’s the reason we don’t actually act like we’re pursuing the divine, because pursuing God or the divine or the metaphysical singularity or exterior consciousness or what your thing is has a lot of one-sided conversations and a lot of inconvenient morality attached to it.
So we take these divinity substitutes. These are the idols. Biblically and in mythology, what idols all have in common is that they’re God-like, but they’re not God. They’re convenient substitutes for God. That’s all an idol is. And St. Thomas Aquinas says, “There’s four substitutes for God,” which we can think of as the four substitutes for the real secrets to happiness. They are money, power, pleasure, and fame.
Tim Ferriss: How little things change!
Arthur Brooks: Ah. And when he said fame, he actually didn’t say fame. He said honor, but that has a different connotation in English. I have a son who’s a Special Forces in the military, and he serves with honor. That’s not what they mean. Honor means to be honored. It’s fame. It’s reputation. It’s the admiration of other people. Maybe it’s Instagram followers or something ridiculous, but it is something that we want in the opinion of other people, and we thirst after it. And he says, “Everybody is motivated by one thing.” And he’ll even throw away comments, like, “Communities, they coalesce around an idol.” It’s so true. We’re recording this podcast in New York. It’s money, baby! You go to a party in New York, and everybody’s like, “How’s your fund this year? How are you doing this year? And how much does this apartment cost?” It’s all about money. You go to L.A. What’s the idol?
Tim Ferriss: Well, I’m not going to even call it honor. Fame.
Arthur Brooks: Fame, fame. Okay, okay, let’s keep with the quiz. DC, what’s the idol?
Tim Ferriss: Power.
Arthur Brooks: Power, man! It’s how close are you to the President? What senator do you know? Vegas?
Tim Ferriss: Pleasure. Yeah.
Arthur Brooks: Right? I mean communities will coalesce around this, but each one of us has our idol too. So here’s the game. You want to play?
Tim Ferriss: Sure, let’s play the game.
Arthur Brooks: Okay. So the truth is, none of us has all four. None of us is so vice-ridden. We don’t have the energy or time to be serving all four of these idols. I mean, come on, life is short.
Tim Ferriss: You underestimate me, sir.
Arthur Brooks: But we all have one or two that really animate us, and we don’t always know it because we’re not paying attention to it. Now, Aquinas’s point, and modern psychology bears all this out, that as a normal adult with a complicated life, if you know your idol, you’ll recognize the thing that always leads you astray and leads you to do the things that you later regret because you were following that idol. So it’s very important to figure out which idol that is so that you can manage it. Not that you’ll make it go away, because you’re human, but you can manage your idol. Okay, so I start by saying, “What’s not your idol?” Because of the four, there’s something that you could ditch.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Power is not — yeah, power immediately. I’ll name one to start with. So that’s —
Arthur Brooks: That’s why you’re not a CEO. I mean, you’ve got a company, but you’re not trying to run a corporation.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. There’s a lot of things that are — and I know a lot of people who are power focused in a sense, in one form or another. It just doesn’t —
Arthur Brooks: Do you dislike it? Do you actively dislike power? Like, people having power over you and you having power over others?
Tim Ferriss: I don’t dislike it necessarily. I mean, I think that it’s an inherent dynamic in particularly chimpanzee politics, but just in nature in general.
Arthur Brooks: Speaking of which, let me — react to this phrase: Tim Feriss for Congress.
Tim Ferriss: No.
Arthur Brooks: There you go.
Tim Ferriss: Absolutely not.
Arthur Brooks: Your answer is correct. You are not motivated by power. It’s the first one to get rid of. Okay, you’ve got three left: money, pleasure, fame. You’ve got to kick one out. You’ve got to get rid of one. What’s the next one to go?
Tim Ferriss: I can get rid of fame easily. I think that there was a point in my life where I sought a lot of social validation, but having seen the flip side and the shadow elements of that, it holds no —
Arthur Brooks: Well, you got pretty famous young, and so you saw the dark side of that, which is what social scientists and even neuroscientists will tell you with their research is that fame is really the only of the idols that you can ever be happy in spite of. When Lady Gaga tweeted, “Fame is prison,” and everybody derided that, I’m thinking, “That’s deeply adept. That is a deeply clarifying comment.” And by the way, I mean, John Milton wrote that in the 17th century, that it is the idol that we thirst after and sacrifice the happiness of our days for that. And you learn that by experience, not because of disposition, because you did hunger after it and then experienced it, and you realize that it’s a very, very, very bitter fruit.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. There are a lot of footnotes and a lot of fine print in that Faustian bargain.
Arthur Brooks: Okay. For 46-year-old Tim Feriss, that’s number two. That goes out the door.
Tim Ferriss: Don’t care. In fact, if I could put the toothpaste back in the toothpaste tube, in numerous ways, I would do that.
Arthur Brooks: Right. Okay. You’ve got two left, and it’s getting hot in here, right? Money and pleasure, wealth and pleasure. Which one do you get rid of?
Tim Ferriss: I would say money, in the hierarchy, I can get rid of. The marginal utility of each additional dollar just makes no difference in the things that I care about.
Arthur Brooks: And a middle-class life wouldn’t freak you out?
Tim Ferriss: No. At this point, I —
Arthur Brooks: I mean, I’m not talking about poverty. I’m not talking about not getting three squares. I’m talking about not having the money for the nice stuff that people think is really wonderful to have: the houses, the boats, the cars.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I don’t really buy that stuff.
Arthur Brooks: You don’t care?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I don’t really care. And I care less and less, because also the more financial success you have, the more time you spend with people who have even greater financial success. And I’ve seen no indication, in fact, it might even be a contraindication, that wealth produces the things I’m after. And I think there are significant adverse side effects.
Arthur Brooks: Well, there’s a lot of research that shows that there is a way to buy happiness, but it’s not by buying stuff. It’s by buying experiences. It’s by buying time, or by giving it away. And you already figured that one out.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, quick example of that. For me, in the last handful of years, I owe Tim Urban a huge thank you for his article “The Tail End.” I ended up booking most years, depending on my family’s health and so on, a family trip once a year that we can look forward to for six months and have group chats about and so on. And then even today, I was discussing a boys’ trip with some of my closest friends, probably like six months from now.
Arthur Brooks: Great.
Tim Ferriss: And the ROI on those is huge. But I would say money, I can get rid of money.
Arthur Brooks: So we found your idol.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, pleasure.
Arthur Brooks: Tim Ferriss likes to feel good.
Tim Ferriss: I do. Yeah.
Arthur Brooks: Yep. And again, there’s nothing wrong with feeling good. But for you, we need to watch to make sure that you’re getting enjoyment and not pleasure.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Arthur Brooks: And we need to be very disciplined about enjoyment and not pleasure.
Tim Ferriss: And I would also add to this that I do think I’m a pleasure junkie for certain things, the sensual, the sexual being very high on the list. There’s also, I think, a wrinkle to this. The sort of Mara sitting on my shoulder, if anybody gets the reference, would be given a history of depression, I fear its opposite. So I chase pleasure as hopefully some inoculation against darkness. So there are many things contributing to that.
Arthur Brooks: Well, pleasure tends to be numbing. It does tend to be numbing of negative emotion, so people will pursue pleasure because they’re actually trying to — it’s fentanyl. There’s a reason that fentanyl — there’s nobody who enjoys fentanyl, because it’s not something you — like, “I’m going to go hang out with my buddies and take fentanyl and make a memory.” On the contrary, you’re trying to eviscerate memory. You’re trying to get rid of memory with these types of things. So numbing things tend to work that way, and I understand. I mean, you have a history of mood disorders in your life, and you don’t want them. You don’t want them back. You don’t want to invite them back, and so you do something that feels like an inoculation from those depths. The key thing is that the real insurance policy is enjoyment, satisfaction, and purpose. That’s the real insurance policy.
Tim Ferriss: Okay.
Arthur Brooks: And again, because it doesn’t eradicate the unhappiness, the darkness. But it puts it into context such that it’s part of the bigger — the quilt of your life. So it’s just one square in the quilt of your life and not the whole blanket.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I want to expand on this because this is a thread selfishly that I’d like to pull on.
Arthur Brooks: No, you’ve got it.
Tim Ferriss: And I will add maybe just one thought, which is much of the pleasure that I pursue is not numbing. It’s actually a — it’s a volume competition in the sense that if I start to feel like there are whispers of the potential of an onset of a depressive episode, or maybe it’s the ruminative thoughts and anxiety that comes with that — but let’s just say those are at a two out of 10 volume. There’s fear because I worry that that is going to spiral, and so I seek out something on the positive side of the ledger, or let me just say the pleasure side of the ledger, that is higher volume.
Arthur Brooks: You’re trying to knock yourself out of a groove is what it comes down to, right?
Tim Ferriss: It’s like overcoming a dread of deadness with greater aliveness.
Arthur Brooks: Right. Now, what’s one possible strategy that could be a substitute strategy for that?
Tim Ferriss: Well, that’s why I’m here, Doctor.
Arthur Brooks: And there are, right? There are. Meditation and prayer, seeking for the divine, a serious spiritual practice, these are the things that will actually do much the same things, but without the numbing and without the danger, without the — because it’s tricky, right? I mean, hitting the dopamine lever has consequences. Hitting it hard and often has desperate consequences for it, and none of us needs problems in our lives. We have plenty of those already.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, totally. So yes, and let’s just say spare, meditation — prayer. Spare! Spare prayer, the name of my forthcoming book.
Arthur Brooks: I like it.
Tim Ferriss: So prayer and —
Arthur Brooks: I like the sound of it.
Tim Ferriss: — and meditation. With meditation, I can see the difference. It’s easy for, say, a secular listener to consider.
Arthur Brooks: Right.
Tim Ferriss: What would you say to people who are perhaps secular, not necessarily militant atheists, who I think recognize, as I do — in some ways, I am deeply, just to layer on my sins here, envious of people who have strong religious conviction. I recognize the value. And from at least in the sort of monotheistic Judeo-Christian traditions, I don’t think I’m likely to join one of the bands.
Arthur Brooks: I’ll work on you.
Tim Ferriss: So I recognize we can go do some blood occlusion training and you can just —
Arthur Brooks: And then we’ll say a rosary together.
Tim Ferriss: In between reps, lay the prayer on thick. So what would you suggest to me or someone who recognize the value? I do not have a counterargument, but I’m not sure how to embrace that.
Arthur Brooks: There are alternatives. I can tell you, as a Catholic, that that’s my thing. But I can tell you as a social scientist that it’s not the only thing that will actually bring the same neurophysiological and psychological benefits. What we need is a sense of the transcendent that makes us small. That’s what we need. Why? Because we need perspective and peace. I mean, Tim, you’re going to go through all day; it’s like my podcast and it’s my commute and —
Tim Ferriss: Me, me, my, my, I, I.
Arthur Brooks: — my lunch, my money, and my friends, and my mom, and my me, me. Man, it’s just so — it’s like watching the same episode every single night of Better Call Saul for the rest of your life.
Tim Ferriss: It’s like having the seagulls from Finding Nemo in your head. Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine.
Arthur Brooks: Me, me, mine, mine, mine. I mean, it’s the worst, and so you have to find a way to get peace. But what we really need is to put ourselves in perspective. Now, most people are afraid to be little, are really afraid to be insignificant.
Perspective requires that we see reality, and we get smaller, and we stand in awe of the universe and what it can bring. There’s lots of ways to do that. Meditation practices are very good for that. Prayer is very good for that. Religion, under most traditional circumstances, is very good for that. But walking in nature without devices before dawn for an hour is incredibly good for that, for all sorts of reasons. And this is extremely well-validated in the social science literature.
Tim Ferriss: How important is the timing on that?
Arthur Brooks: Well, it’s good because you start the day that way, and it’s the programming of it. And by the way, the experience of seeing the sunrise is incredibly awe-inspiring. Plus, it’s quiet and cool.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, all pleasant.
Arthur Brooks: Quiet and cool, for sure. And therefore, you get just a bigger bolus of the benefits that you actually get from being in contact with the Earth and being in contact with nature, et cetera. Another way to do this is to stand in awe of human genius. That’s way outside the realm of your experience. So learn about the fugues of Johann Sebastian Bach. Read about his life.
Tim Ferriss: Your favorite.
Arthur Brooks: Oh, yeah. And listen to a hundred of his cantatas and learn how to analyze them. I mean, your life will never be the same. Or your neighbor and our mutual friend, Ryan Holiday, read the Stoics. Read the Stoics. I mean, it’s a quasi-religious experience. You will feel a deep satisfaction at your littleness probably for the first time in years, as a matter of fact. There are many ways to get this, but you need to get small in front of Bach, in front of Epictetus, in front of God. You need to get small, is the whole point.
Tim Ferriss: I love that. It’s easy to remember, right? Get small. And just to underscore that for myself, I mean, a few things that have been helpful. Nature, yes.
Arthur Brooks: Yes, for sure.
Tim Ferriss: Studying or it could take the form of listening to, say, Hardcore History and listening to “Kings of Kings,” the Assyrians, and really widening the aperture of your historic lens, just to put the problems of this week in perspective. And also the impermanence of empires may be relevant these days.
Arthur Brooks: This is a moment in time and — yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. So going back and realizing some of the most powerful figures in the history of humankind you will not recognize, which also, I think for me, has been very relieving and also has taken a lot of the earlier fixation on money away because I realize it’s just ashes to ashes, dust to dust, right?
Arthur Brooks: To quote the Ecclesiastes.
Tim Ferriss: That’s right. Give me the full name of Alexander the Great. Most people can’t. So rather than get fixed on some vague notion of legacy, let’s actually focus on other things. The getting small: looking at the stars, honestly. I did so much as a kid, and I lost it and have sort of reclaimed as this thing that can be used as such a tool for zooming out. And I have two friends. Ed Cook is one notable example, who when he thinks of his problems, and I’m going to paraphrase this, but he will look at the stars and sort of zoom out from his neighborhood, himself, to the planet, to the solar system. And when he then returns back to laying on the ground, looking at the stars, the problems that were plaguing you just do not seem —
Arthur Brooks: That’s the point.
Tim Ferriss: — so significant.
Arthur Brooks: That’s really the point. It’s not just a question of minimizing your problems. It’s also minimizing the scale of your hopes and dreams and opportunities and recognizing that what really matters, you’re in that, to be sure, but you’re one part of that. It’s okay. It’s all okay. The great is just okay, and the bad is okay too. And that’s so deeply comforting, and it leads to so many improvements in mental health. I just don’t know how you can put one foot in front of the other without doing something like this every day. Now, people often ask, “Okay, how do I get started? How do I get started?” Read 15 minutes a day. Pick up The Brothers K.
Tim Ferriss: The Brothers Karamazov?
Arthur Brooks: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Am I saying that — probably not.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, you are. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. If you like fiction, stop wasting your time on trivialities. Go get The Brothers K. Why? Because it’s a deeply awe-inspiring experience about the human condition and the absurdity of it. It’s beautiful. Get the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, who, by the way, a world historical figure because he was a Roman emperor. Nobody remembers practically a single thing that happened as Roman Emperor. We remember what was written in his private diary.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it’s wild.
Arthur Brooks: It’s craziness.
Tim Ferriss: Last of the great emperors.
Arthur Brooks: It’s mostly because he was dumb enough to leave his son in charge.
Tim Ferriss: Oops.
Arthur Brooks: His wastrel.
Tim Ferriss: That’s like the story of humankind also.
Arthur Brooks: Speaking of which, I think I want to leave my business to my kids. What do you think, Tim?
Tim Ferriss: There’s a long conversation, knowing how kids are —
Arthur Brooks: My kids are awesome. I wonder if I can get them into the happiness business.
Tim Ferriss: “Dad, I know you’re always beating us over the head on this happiness business. It’s not my path. It’s your path.”
Arthur Brooks: Eye roll.
Tim Ferriss: So I am curious for you personally, having thought about this deeply, having tracked a lot of things also, what are some of the best uses of money that you have found personally? What types of things? Are there any concrete examples that you can give?
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, so we rolled through that fast just a second ago, but it turns out there’s a ton of research on this. My colleagues, Mike Norton and Ashley Whillans at the Harvard Business School, they’ve done this exhaustive research on how to buy happiness, how to buy happiness, right, okay? And Mother Nature says, “Get more stuff.” “Why?” “Because satisfaction comes from having more.” “What’s the strategy for life?” “More.” Mother Nature tells you that. She lies, she lies. Lies and lies and laughs at you. That’s not the strategy. You need to buy enough, but no possession will do anything beyond bring you out of misery. That’s the reason that the famous Kahneman and Deaton study from Princeton shows that happiness flattens out after $75,000 a year. And Matt Killingsworth at Penn actually reran the data and finds that it’s higher, but it still flattens out.
Tim Ferriss: Inflation-adjusted, but still.
Arthur Brooks: Inflation adjusted or your results may vary or whatever it is, but the whole point is you just don’t get happier and happier and happier is millions. The reason, by the way that we think that is an illusion that comes from our experience, most people have less than they perceive that they need when they’re young. And the result of it is that a lot of people and a lot of people listening to us, they suffer a lack of meeting some basic needs. When I was 19 to 25, I was too poor for six years to go to the dentist, for six years. Now, of course, I don’t think I ever went a day without cigarettes, so I guess it was priorities. But the point is that when I was —
Tim Ferriss: Breakfast of champions.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, beer, cigarettes, pizza. I was living in Washington Heights in those days. And when I was 25, I took a job in the Barcelona Orchestra and I moved to Barcelona, had benefits. I had bennies, man, and I went to the dentist and he filled 10 cavities, and I felt a lot better. And I thought, money does buy happiness. No, no, no, money lowers unhappiness when you move out of deprivation. That’s it.
And so what happens is I made the mental link between getting money and feeling better. And people do that, and they chase that feeling for the rest of their life. Because you’re doing sums in your head of well-being is happiness and unhappiness and all that. You can’t tell the difference when you’re just rolling through your life and early on you felt a lot better. That’s all you know when you had more money. And so you want that feeling and you chase the feeling. You chase the high, you chase the early hits. It’s like drugs, like any other drugs in this way.
So that doesn’t work. There are three ways you can buy happiness according to Whillans and Norton, my colleagues at HBS, you can buy experiences. This is critically important because what do experiences that where you buy happiness really have in common? You add money, which is sort of like pleasure. But the really important parts are the people in the memory. People in memory, people in memory are always part of experiences.
Okay, now, sometimes you want to do things alone, but generally speaking, the greatest happiness comes because it enhances love in your life. The best way to improve love in your life if you want your love life with your partner to get better, go away together. Go away together. That’s always the best way to do it. Or stay home together, but turn off the phone. In other words, get an experience with the person that you love. That’s a great way to spend money because it will reliably, unless you waste it, do something stupid. Like I’m going to have a bender in Vegas and then get blackout drunk and sit in front of the slot machine. That’s not the secret. But being prudent, you can actually buy happiness through experiences. That’s number one. Number two —
Tim Ferriss: I’m going to ask you for personal examples, but yes.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: I’m serious.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, for sure. Buy time. Buy time. But use the time correctly. If you have the money and you’re cutting your lawn and you don’t like cutting your lawn, improve GDP, hire a guy. Now, a lot of Americans don’t like to do that because they have this kind of this weird reverse-classist sense. Well, let me tell you, there’s a lot of people who are making more money than you cutting lawns and running a gardening service. Spread the love, give somebody a job, and then use the time correctly. Don’t fritter away your time scrolling social media in the house, in the air conditioning. No, no, no, use the time specifically for something, ideally with somebody doing something that you enjoy and that will truly buy happiness.
And last but not least, give your money away to somebody who needs it, who deserves it, and a cause that truly inspires you, something you really believe in. I’ve studied philanthropy long before I studied happiness. I was an academic beavering away in obscurity, writing books on charity and philanthropy and nonprofit organizations. And the reason I initially got into happiness in the first place, besides wanting to be happy, was that I found that the more people gave, the happier they got.
Tim Ferriss: So we don’t have to tread into these waters, but I think it would be very helpful for people, and I’m very curious, I’m happy to reciprocate also, where have you landed for where to give your own money?
Arthur Brooks: I give money to things that I really care about that I think have an impact on people’s lives in a big way. And a lot of what I do is I give to education, to people who are at the margins of society. So I give a lot to primary and secondary education, specifically to Catholic primary and secondary education because I think it’s really well done, and it’s an option that a lot of people don’t have access to because it costs money. So a lot of what I do, probably 75 percent of what I give away, and I give away 10 percent of my income so —
Tim Ferriss: Good for you.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, because it’s not that hard to do. You just have to pay attention to it. And then there’s structures. So you get a charitable giving account.
Tim Ferriss: Do you think of that as a tithe or —
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, I do think of it as a tithe, but I really think of it as a privilege. I think of it a lot less as a duty and a lot more as a privilege. My wife and I, we just look forward to it. And then we have a process in our family of should we give money to this? Should we give money to that? Usually we give something kind of a big bolus one year, and then smaller gifts to things that are ongoing sources of support that we really believe in.
Tim Ferriss: How do you decide what to give to?
Arthur Brooks: Well, we know the people and we do the work, right? So it’s not just anybody, we get a letter in the mail and we respond with a big check. It’s like, huh, that seems worthy. No, we actually do the work. And part of it’s, one of the classes I teach at Harvard is on nonprofit management. And so I have kind of a strong background and whether it’s a reputable cause and what to look for into measuring the effectiveness of an organization. So I do the work, I do the background work. I see what kind of overhead rates that they’re using, how they’re using their money. A lot has to do with, if I like the mission. Sometimes if it’s going to be a substantial amount of money, I get to know the people and the organization. And it has to be something that I think is going to change people’s lives for the better.
Now, I’ve actually changed my view on this a little bit because early on we’d write a lot of little checks, lots and lots and lots of little checks to great organizations. And then I found that you can have a lot more effect on your own well-being. And again, this is kind of selfish, but in your own well-being, by concentrating on turning the whole dial in one person’s life that you can really — so really. And there’s an old Talmudic phrase from the book of Sanhedrin that says, “In every man is the whole world,” right?
In other words, turn the dial for one person, you’ve turned the dial for all of humanity because it’s really had an impact. I remember telling my wife about that. It’s, “Yeah, I’ve got these data that when you really help one person instead of a little bit for a lot really anonymously, you can get all these benefits.” This is years ago. This is maybe 20 years ago now. And she’s, “Why don’t we adopt a baby?” And I’m, “It’s only a book, man.” But we did. We actually did. It was totally life-changing. Totally life-changing.
Tim Ferriss: So I think I missed a hop.
Arthur Brooks: So that’s how you give. You’ve got to do the work and think about it and put your heart into it. And philosophical —
Tim Ferriss: Could you say more about that, how did she come to the adoption?
Arthur Brooks: My wife?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, how did she —
Arthur Brooks: She came to it because I was saying, you get a lot more benefits when you turn the whole dial on one person’s life as opposed to just [inaudible] helicopter —
Tim Ferriss: So she was, Spinal Tap, “Let’s turn this to 11.”
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, she’s basically, “Okay, buddy, you really, really — this was, I know you’ve got this interesting research, fancy social scientist guy, let’s see. Should we put our money where her mouth is?” And by the way, she had also been having dreams about a little girl who was abandoned. Dreams and dreams and dreams at night.
Tim Ferriss: Can you tell me more about your wife and how you guys met? Because I know a little bit of the background, but how did that happen? Since I’m back on the playing field.
Arthur Brooks: Back on the playing field time.
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm —
Arthur 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. Now —
Tim Ferriss: And that takes the form of —
Arthur Brooks: Risk, man.
Tim Ferriss: Loving someone wholeheartedly.
Arthur Brooks: Giving your heart away.
Tim Ferriss: Okay.
Arthur Brooks: Giving your heart away. And the reason I believe this is because I’ve always had this sense that part of the journey of life is just getting in it, getting in it. And entrepreneurs talk a lot about putting capital at risk and talking about money, how boring. The real capital of the enterprise, the startup of Tim Ferriss’s life because this is the ultimate enterprise — the enterprise is not the podcast and the books and the company, and that’s not it. Those were manifestations of Tim Ferriss Inc., of you. The enterprise is you, and the currency of you is not money, it’s love and happiness. That’s your currency.
So how are you going to put that at risk for explosive, tectonic, inflecting returns? What are you going to do to put it at risk? That’s the question. And the answers are really tricky, but the one answer that’s not right is don’t put it at risk. Don’t put it at risk.
Tim Ferriss: Right, so I’m with you. Now, there are myriad ways that if you were to sort of take off your flak jacket and just walk into oncoming traffic with emotional oncoming traffic with someone who you’ve been on a dating app who you meet within five minutes and they’re cuckoo bananas, that could turn out poorly.
Arthur Brooks: Of course, that’s just Vegas. That’s not entrepreneurship, that’s just gambling.
Tim Ferriss: Right. Well, first I want to hear your story.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, so this gets back to thees issue at hand. And the reason I did that little prelude is because I don’t want anybody to think that my screws are too loose, right?
Tim Ferriss: That’s not my goal. And finally —
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, it’s insanity. So okay.
Tim Ferriss: I rest my case, insane man on the podcast.
Arthur Brooks: Deeply unbalanced guest joins Tim Ferriss. When I was 24 years old, I was on a concert tour and I was making my living as a classical French horn player. I was on a concert tour in the Burgundy region of France, ended up going from town to town, playing concerts. And I was staying at this school. I don’t know, it’s just where we were housed during this. We were going out from there. And at the same time, there was a music festival going on, and there were musicians from all over Europe that were studying at this music festival. And I was at this concert playing at this very school and playing my horn, looking out in the audience.
And there was this girl smiling at me in the front row, beautiful girl smiling at me, just gorgeous. And I’m a red-blooded 24-year-old dude, and obviously, I’m going to make a mental note to go talk to her. So I go to talk to her later, and I find out two things, two things. Number one, she’s not French, even though I was in France. And number two, that she doesn’t speak a single word of English. And it was hard because I was trying to talk to her in monosyllabic grunts and the fruitless search for cognates. And I said, “Are you single?” This is like this basic, “Are you single?” And she says, “Yes, I’m divorced.” I’m not down with that.
But what she meant was “I just broke up with my boyfriend,” but she couldn’t come up with any Latin-based words besides divorce, which actually comes from Latin to try to get me to understand this point. Anyway, so it was a comedy of errors. And we went out to dinner and we went on some dates, and I left after a week, and I went home and I called my dad in Seattle. I grew up in Seattle, and I was living in New York at the time. I said, “Dad, I think I met the girl I’m going to marry.”
Tim Ferriss: And where was she from?
Arthur Brooks: Barcelona. Barcelona. And he said, “Great, let’s meet her.” And I said, “I’ve got problems. Problem number one is that she doesn’t live in the United States. Problem number two is she doesn’t speak a word of English. Problem number three is that she made me aware that she doesn’t believe in marriage because she thinks it’s an anachronistic institution and she’s never going to get married.”
Tim Ferriss: It’s a hell of a —
Arthur Brooks: Yeah —
Tim Ferriss: It’s a concept to communicate in Tarzanese.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, no, for sure. We were together for a week and we —
Tim Ferriss: You got there.
Arthur Brooks: We got there. And I couldn’t get out of my head. It was like our Lady of Guadalupe kind of. I thought about it. I thought about it. And we exchanged letters and weirdly somehow talked on the phone. She started taking English classes, I started studying Spanish. Who knows when I’ll see her? I traveled to Barcelona, saw her, she came to New York and visited me, just a little bit here and there. And what I didn’t tell her is that I had quit my job in New York and I’d won an audition to be a member of the symphony in Barcelona, because I wanted to go see if I could close that deal. If I could change her philosophy of marriage. It took me two years, but I closed the deal. And 32 years later, we have three adult kids and one grandson, and I’m still in love.
Tim Ferriss: So how did you end up debate teaming that? I’m just curious. How did —
Arthur Brooks: I just wore her down?
Tim Ferriss: You just wore her down.
Arthur Brooks: I just wore her down. So living in Barcelona, she was in love with me. And so she’s not like, “Get out,” it’s not like I was some weird stalker. She really was in love with me and she wanted to be with me, but nobody in her family was married. This is not what you do in Barcelona.
Tim Ferriss: I didn’t realize that.
Arthur Brooks: Because it sounds like a big Catholic country. It’s a post-Christian country. Three percent of the population of Barcelona ever goes to Mass. Three percent.
Tim Ferriss: I never would’ve guessed that.
Arthur Brooks: It’s Denmark in the Mediterranean.
Tim Ferriss: That’s incredible. I had no idea.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, nobody does for sure. But it has a long tradition. And she comes from a hard, red, communist atheist family. So suffice it to say that our backgrounds are a little bit different. Again, she was beautiful and smart, funny, and I was in love. And just love will out, love will out. And finally, at the end of two years, finally I said — I got down on one knee and I said, “Are you ready to change your mind?” She said, “Yes.”
Tim Ferriss: All right, so once again, envy has showed its ugly head. And I have to admit my French horn game, very weak. Very weak.
Arthur Brooks: Turns out the French horn is the least of it.
Tim Ferriss: Tight pants, big guns.
Arthur Brooks: In those days, 6’2 and 142 pounds. My wife said that it was like hugging a tight sack of rocks. Now she says it’s like a loose leather bag of ropes. So I’ve made some progress.
Tim Ferriss: Hey, yeah.
Arthur Brooks: Is that progress?
Tim Ferriss: It sounds like progress, I don’t know.
Arthur Brooks: Leather bag of ropes.
Tim Ferriss: Maybe that should be on my dating profile. If you hug me, I feel like — maybe not. That’s a little too Silence of the Lambs.
Arthur Brooks: Babies fighting under a blanket. I don’t know.
Tim Ferriss: And maybe you’re so far removed that this doesn’t make sense to ask, but what advice — also, you’re coming from a different orientation with the Catholicism, and I assume maybe wrongly, but I imagine your wife —
Arthur Brooks: It was mine but not hers.
Tim Ferriss: Right, now, is she fully aboard the Catholic train?
Arthur Brooks: Fully aboard. But that took a long time.
Tim Ferriss: Wore her down.
Arthur Brooks: A lot of prayer. As they say, this is one of those problems that requires prayer and fasting.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. So you prayed and she fasted, and you’re like, no food. “It will put the rosaries on its wrist.” All right. Thoughts on how to find a partner?
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, no, I think about this an awful lot because this is the number one topic in my Science of Happiness class at HBS that they want to know about.
Tim Ferriss: It’s got to be.
Arthur Brooks: Oh, for sure. Absolutely. Because not only is this something that we all want, that everybody wants, it’s something that’s getting harder.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, all the traditional scaffolding is gone unless perhaps you’re part of, say, a Jewish community where that type of Yenta-like matchmaking is sort of a very esteemed role.
Arthur Brooks: But even then, the modern world is encroaching on that. And if you look at the comparison between in the ’80s when I was in my twenties or the ’90s when you were in your twenties — sorry, I didn’t mean to shock you with that.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, that’s okay.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, I know. It’s much harder.
Tim Ferriss: I have the ring of Frodo, so I’m not planning on aging anymore from this point forward. Side note, you should look at photos of him now and 20 years ago, they’re the same, the actor, anyway.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah. Not me, though.
Tim Ferriss: For those conspiracy theorists out there.
Arthur Brooks: Back when I was in the Barcelona Symphony, I had this hair. It was like a great civilization.
Tim Ferriss: It’s like the locks of Samson.
Arthur Brooks: That was unbelievable. And then I started going bald. I’m getting more and more bald. And my brother, my older brother, he is very judgmental about me, he’s funny, he loves me, but he says, “You deserve it because of the life you’ve led.”
Tim Ferriss: “Et tu, Brute.”
Arthur Brooks: It’s just a lot of DHT, man. Anyway, so what are the guardrails? What are the mistakes that we make? What’s actually making it harder? And there’s a lot of things that go into it. The fact that we’re using tech where we would’ve used humans is deeply problematic. The fact that we have so much deal flow is making it harder. The paradox of choice is a real thing. Better, better, better, better. There’s a ton of research on this, by the way, Tim. You’ve seen some of this research, for example, on car purchases where you give two groups. There’s the treatment and control social science experiments, two groups, different car buying experiences.
For the first, buys their car and there’s no refund and there’s no returns. And the other side can return it for any reason in the next six months. And the first group is much happier with their car because they’re not thinking about it again and again and again. There’s no more swiping on their car purchase. And so the same thing is when it’s very easy to have a lot of selection, it gets much harder to attain satisfaction.
Tim Ferriss: You’re also exhausted more easily because of the decision fatigue.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah. I’ll have to take your word for it, but that’s certainly true. That’s in the data.
Tim Ferriss: Well, I’m saying not outside of dating, just in general.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Arthur Brooks: But the bigger problem actually comes because we’re looking for the wrong thing in a partner. The data suggests that what everybody wants in a partner that they can curate carefully because of the online presence, because of the platforms, is they want compatibility and they look for compatibility with sameness to them. So, “I like this kind of food. You do too? Great. I vote like this. You do too? Great. I’m this religion, or I’m no religion. I grew up here. I went to college. Where did you go to college?” Et cetera.
Tim Ferriss: They’re not looking for someone who doesn’t speak their language, who is —
Arthur Brooks: They’re looking for a sibling. And as my adult kids would say, “That’s not hot.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Arthur Brooks: The truth is we’re way too compatible and we’re sorting on compatibility with these technological means. And the biggest problem with dating today is we’re less and less attracted to people. We’re less and less attracted because they’re too much like us. We need more complementarity and less compatibility. Back in the old days, you used to say opposites attract, not true, but you need a baseline of compatibility. But on top of that, you need difference. Difference is hot. Difference is fun. Difference is an adventure, and you’re just not going to find it because nobody’s going to swipe on you, quite frankly, if you’re the other party.
And a lot of people curate on language and culture and race, it’s insanity. That’s the reason that good old-fashioned human people who say they could fall in love, when you talk about people who fix you up on a blind date or the old-fashioned matchmakers, they’re always looking about complementarity. This introvert and this extrovert can fill in the gaps in each other in a kind of divine and cosmic way. And that’s kind of how I always felt. That’s how I always kind of felt.
I felt like my wife was — I don’t believe in magical thinking on this. Magical thinking is a big problem because soulmates don’t exist and there’s no such thing as love at first sight. But I always do feel like my wife, Ester, she was picked for me. She was really picked for me and because of the difference as much as anything else, She completes me. She makes me a better man. She knows when I’m going after the idol, she can see it going after the lore. She can see it. She’s like, “Mmm, right.”
And that’s 32 years of experience together. But it’s also the deep complementarity that came through because I was born at a particular time and I accidentally had this kind of experience, and that’s what we need. That’s number one. This is clear. The second thing is goals. Goals. And I ask people, “You’re going to meet the person of your dreams, or the good-enough person, or whatever; what do you want to have after five years?”
Tim Ferriss: The good-enough person. Tim Ferriss’s Guide —
Arthur Brooks: The good-enough wife.
Tim Ferriss: — to Passable Relationships.
Arthur Brooks: Wife me up with someone good enough, man. Anyway, so yeah, I know. Because by the way —
Tim Ferriss: Step one, their criminal record. Just kidding.
Arthur Brooks: I don’t know, man, complementarity.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, maybe.
Arthur Brooks: It’s like, “You’ve been in prison, I haven’t. We complete each other.”
Tim Ferriss: Clearly whatever I’ve been trying isn’t working. Maybe I’ll skip Barcelona and do the prison circuit. All right.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah. But when you ask people “What do you want your relationship to look like in five years?” They have this magical notion of an ongoing passion. And that’s the wrong goal. The right goal is what is called companionate love. You want to be best friends in five years. Five years to best friends, that’s the goal.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I like that.
Arthur Brooks: And if you write it out and if you actually make it the goal and then you have interim steps, then a strategic plan, you might just get there. But if you’re like, yeah, no, it’s like if the magic feels like the magic’s gone, obviously there’s something wrong with our love. No, best friends who are married, they’re going to have plenty of passion, but you can’t live like that. Look, the neurophysiological cascade of the experience of falling in love is unbelievably intense. It’s 4th of July in your head.
The bolus of testosterone and estrogen at the very beginning of the relationship, that massive increases in norepinephrine and dopamine that give you euphoria and concentration and focus on the other person, the deep dip in serotonin, your serotonin dips. Why? Because you want to ruminate on that person using the good old ventral lateral prefrontal cortex. That’s the reason that falling in love is an awful lot like being clinically depressed.
So you’re both addicted to meth and depressed at the same time. That’s what falling in love is like. And then you’re going to get that big, big, big dose of oxytocin, which is the neuropeptide that links you to the other person in this almost magical, confusing way. Man, that’s just too much. You don’t want that for the rest of your life.
Tim Ferriss: Sounds like a lot.
Arthur Brooks: Well, you’ll be institutionalized.
Tim Ferriss: All right, so let’s pause there for a second.
Arthur Brooks: That was a lot.
Tim Ferriss: It was a lot.
Arthur Brooks: Are you overstimulated?
Tim Ferriss: I want to go from falling in love as meth and depression to the lightness of death.
Arthur Brooks: And we haven’t even talked about meaning yet, man.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, we’re going to get there.
Arthur Brooks: We’ll get there by the ninth hour.
Tim Ferriss: I’m keeping track.
Arthur Brooks: Hour nine.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I’m keeping track. Hour nine, I have a bookmarked. Also, I have a promise I made to listeners that I have not fulfilled, which is your personal examples for using money for experiences, time, whatever comes to mind. So we’ll get to that. But before that, death meditation. Could you please describe your death meditation and why you have a death meditation?
Arthur Brooks: Most people watching us are not afraid of death, not pathologically afraid of death. Only about 20 percent of the population is pathologically afraid of death. And I bet you that it’s less than one percent of Tim Ferriss’s followers because people watching this are in control of their lives and they understand the contours of their lives and they’re looking at the truth of their lives, but they have a death fear.
The death fear isn’t physical death, and this is a problem. For some people, it’s irrelevance. For some people, it’s being forgotten. For a lot of your listeners, it’s failure, just straight on failure because they’re strivers, they’re achievers. Everybody has a death fear. And what is it? It’s an ego threat. It’s a threat to who you see as yourself. If Tim Ferriss’s Tim Ferrissness is threatened, that will provoke a panic in you because that’s the ultimate death of who you see yourself.
The way to get over that — and by the way, you have to get over that, we all have to get over that, or we won’t be fully alive until we actually face the death that really matters to us. This is an insight that actually comes from the Theravada Buddhist across the southern tier of Asia, from Thailand and Myanmar to Vietnam and parts of Malaysia and the Sri Lanka in particular. So the Theravada Buddhist monasteries, often you’ll go in and you’ll see photos of cadavers in different states of decomposition, super macabre. You’re like, what are these dudes all about here?
And what they do is that usually there will be nine states of decomposition; photos, bodies decomposing, falling apart, bones, bloated corpses, and they stand in front of each one and they say, that is me. And then they move to the next one after contemplating and saying, and that is me. And what are they doing? They’re familiarizing themselves with the truth of their future such that they can be liberated from any fear of physical death. Only then can they be fully alive. That’s an important insight from Theravada Buddhism. That’s a meditation called Maranasati.
Tim Ferriss: Maranasati.
Arthur Brooks: The Maranasati death meditation. Now, when I read that, I thought it was interesting, but I thought it’s a good thing to do because I shouldn’t be making all of these decisions about when I’m old and when I’m retired and when I die and what’s going to happen and call the lawyer and all that. I want to be free from all that stuff by understanding that life and death are in a very real way an illusion, particularly because I believe in eternal life, but I have a death fear.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, yeah.
Arthur Brooks: You know what I’m afraid of? You know my death fear?
Tim Ferriss: Who’s going to take care of your cats? No, I don’t know.
Arthur Brooks: That’s good, man. Who’s going to take care of my dog, [Chu-cho]. Yeah. It’s losing my mind.
Tim Ferriss: On the way there.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah. Because you know what Arthur Brooks is? Gray matter. Look, I’m not the smartest guy in the world, I’m not the cleverest guy in the world, but I make my living and I support my family, and I understand me in terms of my ideas. Literally, my company is called ACB Ideas, right? It was very revealing to me when I contemplated the fact that I —
Tim Ferriss: Did you say ACB?
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, it’s Arthur Charles Brooks.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, okay, it took me a second.
Arthur Brooks: I just can’t remember the alphabet. Little dyslexic. It’s like X, Z, Y. Anyway.
Tim Ferriss: I’m from Long Island. Sorry, guys.
Arthur Brooks: Yes. And my mother was showing signs of dementia in her early fifties, and she was quite demented by the time she was my age. And it runs in families.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Arthur Brooks: It’s genetic. It doesn’t mean I’m going to get the bullet. I’m not being morbid about it, I’m not being fatalistic about it. Probably the odds are in my favor, but I’m just terrified of that. And when I recognized that, I realized I need a Maranasati meditation on that. And that’s what I contemplate. I’ll take two minutes and I’ll think my memory’s failing and I don’t know why. And then I imagine going to the neurologist, the neurologist saying, well, I think you need to come into my office. And then I imagine myself telling my kids, the future’s going to be rough. And then I imagine my work slipping away, my inability to have this kind of conversation, to write a book, to share an idea, to help somebody with these ideas. And then I imagine myself not remembering what I don’t remember. And then I imagine being a beloved son of God with no memory at all. Now it’s heavy, right?
Tim Ferriss: It seems like that ending point is important.
Arthur Brooks: It’s the most important because you end on the truth.
Tim Ferriss: So if you’re not religious, you just end up to use the parlance of the kids these days, just depressed AF. Are you just —
Arthur Brooks: No.
Tim Ferriss: Shit out of luck?
Arthur Brooks: No.
Tim Ferriss: Okay.
Arthur Brooks: Because in the end of the day, in the Maranasati meditation, you recognize the illusion of the tragedy that was your death in the first place. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. New life will emerge. Will it be you? Will it be somebody else? Do you care? See, when you look into the abyss, you can cope with it. You’re stronger than that. My students, by the way, at Harvard, graduate students, Harvard Business School, best in the world, so we like to think, they’re afraid of failure because they’ve never failed. They’ve never failed.
You and I have struggled and we’re older and I’ve failed a lot, but my students are deeply afraid of failure. I basically got kicked out of college when I was 19. It turns out you’re not supposed to drop all your required classes and take nothing but Indonesian dance and North Indian classical drumming. Turns out that’s not the secret to academic success. Kids, make a note of it. So I failed, right, but a lot of my students haven’t.
And so I asked them to do the Maranasati meditation on their own academic and professional failure. Number one, two minutes. “I think I’m falling behind academically, and the people around me are getting better grades.” Two, “I just got put on academic probation. This was my dream to come into this school and I’m not succeeding.” Three, “The job mark is looking bad compared to other people, I can’t believe it.” Four, “I think I need to move home for a while.” Five, “My parents feel sorry for me.” That’s when they cry, right? Because all you want is for Mom to be proud of you. That’s all you want when you’re a success addict, that’s all you want. And imagine that. Look into that. Stare into it. Stare into it. And they do. And they get over it and they can master it. That’s the Maranasati death meditation on the self-objectification of the success addict.
Tim Ferriss: See, what do you see in those students? Because they come from all different backgrounds and different orientations, religious or not, or somewhere in between.
Arthur Brooks: Some are, some aren’t. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. What types of effects and how frequently do you personally do this type of death meditation?
Arthur Brooks: A lot. Because I have my own death meditation. I contemplate failure sometimes because I’m afraid of it, but I’m not deathly afraid of it. The truth of the matter is the great thing about being 46 as opposed to 26 for you, the great thing about being 59 instead 29 for me is that bad stuff is going to happen and it’s going to be okay. Bad stuff’s just going to happen, right? The truth is that we realize, you and I both realize that the worst thing that’s ever happened in life probably hasn’t happened yet.
And okay, that’s heavy, but it’s not that heavy. We’re going to survive. You’ve survived a lot and it’s actually going to be okay. I don’t want to fail. We have a book coming out. I have a big book coming out a few weeks from when we’re taping this episode, and I deeply wanted to be successful, but I can’t control that. And so I don’t have to do much more than a couple of Maranasati meditations on the market failure of a book. But I have to do it about losing my mind because that feels deeply existential to me. I have to do it a lot. I do it at least once a week actually, because I want to remember. I need to remember.
And if I don’t, I’m going to be walking kind of on eggshells and just sort of wondering and having that kind of minor sense of dread. I don’t want to live that way. I don’t need to live that way. It’s not important for me to live that way. On the contrary, it’s important for me not to live that way because I won’t be fully alive now. I’ll be living prospectively in a future, and that future is dominated by fear. And then I’m really not washing the dishes. I’m really not enjoying that juicy peach. On the contrary, I’m breaking my teeth on the pit, and it’s not even a real pit. That’s crazy.
Tim Ferriss: So —
Arthur Brooks: Not yet, really yet.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. This I think is a good tie-in to meaning, and I’m going to get there with a self-indulgent reference back to Marcus Aurelius. For people who have not read Meditations. Read Meditations. It was never intended for publication. These are effectively the pocket musings of someone deeply conflicted, but also incredibly impressive during war campaigns and otherwise. But lots of thoughts on death. And also for those interested, there’s considered Stoic practice that exists in a lot of different varieties, but memento mori, there are these meditations, premeditatio malorum.
Arthur Brooks: It’s the Greek Maranasati, for all intents and purposes, or Roman.
Tim Ferriss: Exactly. He also thought very deeply on meaning. Let’s come to meaning. So we identified two, I guess, of the legs on the —
Arthur Brooks: Stool, right.
Tim Ferriss: Meaning. How should we think about meaning?
Arthur Brooks: Meaning’s the hard one. Meaning’s the hard one. Look, enjoyment’s no joke and satisfaction takes work, but meaning eludes some people their entire lives because they don’t know what they’re looking for. They’re fumbling around for something. They don’t know exactly what it is. And a lot of people, they deeply suspect that it doesn’t exist, that it doesn’t actually exist.
You look at a lot of 20th century and 19th century philosophers and they say it doesn’t exist. I mean, there’s three schools of thought about meaning. There’s the ancient Greeks and Romans and the Christians and the Jews and the Muslims, and it’s all kind of based on meaning in the following way. Essence precedes existence. Meaning, you have meaning in life that precedes your actual life, and your job is to find it and live up to it. But it’s already out there, you just need to go looking for it.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, that was relaxed with two major schools of philosophical thought, Nihilism and Existentialism. Existentialism, Sartre, and even to a certain extent, Kierkegaard, would say that essence precedes, no, that existence precedes essence. In other words, you’re born and there is no meaning until you create it.
Tim Ferriss: Tabula rasa. Good luck, kid.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, good luck. Go make it. If it’s no good, it’s on you, man. By the way, Sartre, he has a very empowering, a very muscular philosophy, because he says, “You have to live up to the responsibility of creating your essence and living according to it.” It’s sort of Freudian in its way. And then, of course, there’s Nietzsche, our old pal Friedrich.
A lot of young men love Nietzsche, because by the way, it’s unbelievably beautiful prose, a gorgeous writer, including in English. You don’t have to go learn German to read it, but The Gay Science, which is one of his most famous texts where he said, “God is dead and we killed him.” It’s just, it lands, right? But his whole point is, existence is real, but essence is a figment of your imagination. So don’t even try to find it. That’s Nihilism, right?
We’re struggling with these schools of thought and we all suspect it doesn’t matter how religious you are, it doesn’t matter what your wiring actually happens to be. You kind of wonder if maybe Nietzche and Sartre were right. So you go in search of it and it turns out “I want to go find the meaning of life” is too big a question. You’ll never find it by sitting at the mouth of the guru’s cave or with the ayahuasca shaman saying, “I just want to find meaning in life.”
You need to boil it down to really sub-questions, which are all about coherence. “Why do things happen the way they do? I need to believe something about why things happen the way they do.” It doesn’t mean religious. It can be completely secular. It might even be nihilistic. You need to purpose, you need to answer a purpose question, which is, “What’s the purpose of my life and what direction am I going? What’s the goal of my life? What’s the end point of my life?” And the last is significance, which is why does it matter that I’m alive? Now I have a test to see if somebody has a meaning crisis in their life. That’s really just two questions. And to pass the test, you need incredibly true, honest, and compelling answers. There’s no right answers. There’s only wrong answers or no answers. So you want to take the test?
Tim Ferriss: Sure, why not?
Arthur Brooks: It’s go time. Question number one. This is, and again —
Tim Ferriss: This is to punish me for all the ayahuasca I’ve done. Go for it.
Arthur Brooks: I didn’t say this just so you’re wrong with it. I just think, what do we say? It’s necessary but not sufficient.
Tim Ferriss: Where’s my cat o’ nine tails. I can opus Dei myself. I left it back at the hotel.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Damn. All right.
Arthur Brooks: Why are you alive? Do you have an answer to the question of why you’re alive?
Tim Ferriss: I mean, I have a very clinical answer for it.
Arthur Brooks: Tell me. Well, I mean, there’s the physical answer, but metaphysically, why are you alive? Which can be one of two things. Either who created you or what you’re put on Earth to do. You can answer that in one of two ways. Do you have a strong belief in why you’re alive?
Tim Ferriss: I have a strong driver for taking advantage of the fact that I am alive, but I don’t have a story of a creator or something along those lines. I don’t.
Arthur Brooks: Or a strong purpose because it can be a creator or a purpose.
Tim Ferriss: I do feel like I have a strong purpose, but it doesn’t relate to my birth.
Arthur Brooks: That’s okay. The why of your life. Our mutual friend Simon Sinek talks about this, start with why. And the why of your life can be because of a creation, or it can be because “I exist to lift other people up and bring them together in bonds of happiness and love,” which by the way is the why of my life. So that’s number one. And if it’s not, if it’s there, but it’s inchoate, it’s not quite clear enough, find out the answer to that and write it down and then perfect it over a six-month period. Does that make sense.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I would say that for me, I mean it’s looking at and experiencing things in unorthodox ways so that I can teach. Yes.
Arthur Brooks: And why do you want to teach?
Tim Ferriss: Mostly to alleviate suffering, I would say.
Arthur Brooks: In other words, you want to lighten the load for other people.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Arthur Brooks: And so in other words, you want to serve your sisters and brothers. Is that fair?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, sure.
Arthur Brooks: Okay. That’s a great why. That’s a great why. That’s a great answer to the first question: “Why are you alive?”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I don’t feel conflicted about that.
Arthur Brooks: Okay, so the second one’s harder. For what would you be willing to die today?
Tim Ferriss: I don’t have a ready answer.
Arthur Brooks: It’s a hard one. It’s a hard one. A lot of people don’t.
Tim Ferriss: What’s your answer?
Arthur Brooks: For my faith, for my family, for my country, and for you. I am willing to die for others. That’s the answer. I mean, I probably won’t be called to it, but I’m willing to do it. I’m willing to do it. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m actually willing to do it. And here’s how I learned this from my son. I learned this actually from my son. I mean, I have theoretical answers that are politically correct in the Catholic sphere. I would die for the Catholic Church. I would die for my faith. These things are true, by the way. I really would. But it’s too pat.
Here’s how I learned this from my son. My son was, I have three kids, 25, 23, and 20. And my middle son is named Carlos and Carlos is, he’s a kinetic boy. He’s a fan of yours. He’s probably watching us right now going, “Oh. My. Oh, Dad’s going to talk about me right now.” Sorry.
Tim Ferriss: Hey, Carlos.
Arthur Brooks: Sorry, Carlos. And Carlos was having a good old time in high school, and we had substantial grade problems and academic issues. And my wife’s like, “At least we know he’s not cheating.” But the problem was he wasn’t really having fun, and I think it was a meaning problem. And in search of the answers to the questions after high school, he really became an entrepreneur with his life. And I asked my kids to do a business plan when they’re in high school because they’re entrepreneurs and I’m VC. I’m an investor. I deserve a business plan.
And when they weren’t original, I’d send them back for revisions.
Tim Ferriss: Bank of Dad?
Arthur Brooks: And it’s really fun to be my son. You can imagine. So Carlos’s business plan for his life was by the time it went through several rounds of revisions, was appropriately unorthodox. He was going to go work on a farm by himself and find the answers to the questions, work hard. And so he actually got a job on a wheat farm in Idaho, a real job, not some sort of hobby farm. No, no, no, no. It was an 8,000-acre working wheat farm. He lived in the farmer’s basement for the first year. He picked rocks out of the soil. He started in the bottom, made minimum wage, fixed fences, cut down dead trees, ran a combine by himself 16 hours a day.
Tim Ferriss: Why did he choose this? How would he explain that?
Arthur Brooks: Because he needed to see what he could do. He needed to find out what it meant to be Carlos Brooks, away from his family, away from everybody. Why? Because he was looking for the answers to the questions. They were in choate. They were like, ” [inaudible] apply my life. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll find it in the cab of a combine. Maybe I’ll find it when I dig rocks out of the soil. Maybe I’ll find it by doing something hard with my hands.”
Then he joined the military. He was 19 years old. He joined the Marine Corps and bootcamp is no walk in the park for the US Marine Corps as we’ve all heard. But then it got harder from there. He did Infantry Training Battalion, and then the End Dock for the Scout Sniper Platoon, which is a branch of the Special Forces and the Marines. Today, he’s Corporal Carlos Brooks, Marines Three-Five Scout Sniper Platoon. And he’s got answers. Now that’s a scary job for me and his mom. He goes on field trips, right?
Tim Ferriss: Field trips.
Arthur Brooks: And thank God nothing’s happened to him. He’s getting out of the military in December of this year, but he’s got answers.
Tim Ferriss: What types of answers? I mean, I don’t want you to —
Arthur Brooks: Here’s his answers.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Arthur Brooks: I’ll tell you his answers. “Carlos, why are you alive?” “Because God made me.” “For what are you willing to die?” “For my faith and for my family and for my friends, and for the United States of America.” Boom. These are not the answers that a lot of people watching us would give, but these are super solid answers. I’m super proud of my son because he earned the answers to his meaning questions that everybody watching us has got to earn it. Everybody’s watching us, everybody who’s watching us has got to go on a quest, a vision quest for the answers to the meaning questions. There’s no other way to do it.
Your dad can’t tell you. Your priest can’t tell you. The holy books can give you inklings. They can give you shadows on the cave wall, to get back to the old Platonic metaphor. You need to live and to try things and to go through a process of discernment. And the way to do that is to do hard things, is to challenge yourself and to say to yourself, I will not stop until I have answers to these questions, to my own satisfaction.
Tim Ferriss: So hearing you describe Carlos’s experience, hi Carlos, and congratulations on the trajectory.
Arthur Brooks: He’s fine. He’s like, “Yeah, my dad embarrassed me, but Tim Feriss just said hi to me on his podcast, so it’s all good.”
Tim Ferriss: It is not easy. I have some friends who are formerly Marine force recon. That is not —
Arthur Brooks: The recon guys are —
Tim Ferriss: That is not an easy path.
Arthur Brooks: No, it isn’t.
Tim Ferriss: None of that is easy. Yeah. I think I was over processing the for what would you be willing to die tomorrow? I think it was the tomorrow piece that I fixated on. So family, close friends.
Arthur Brooks: You would die for your family. You just would.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, family and close friends. I can give that answer. I was thinking of it more hypothetically as a for what happening in the world would you be willing to basically off yourself tomorrow.
Arthur Brooks: Is there an idea for which you’d be willing to die? Is there a truth? Because this is really where it gets super intense.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. That’s where it gets intense.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah. When Carlos says, “I am willing to die for my faith, I am willing to die for the United States of America,” which for him is an ideal of liberty. By the way, for those of you outside of the United States, he’s willing to die for our allies too. Dying for an idea, that’s super heavy. I mean, that’s like pure grade meaning, because people are going to say, “Are you kidding me? Are you nuts?” This is not, “I’m willing to kill for an idea.” That’s kindergarten stuff. That’s kindergarten stuff. No. “I’m willing to die for something. I’m willing to give my own life. I’m willing to take yours. You and every other half-baked, dark triad, malignant narcissist, cancel-culture trait psychopath.”
Tim Ferriss: I thought you were talking to me for a second. I was like, “How did we get here all of a sudden? Arthur Brooks got really abusive on my podcast.”
Arthur Brooks: No, no, no. No, no. Tim, I love you.
Tim Ferriss: Is this one of your high negative moments?
Arthur Brooks: You’re a beautiful man. But I mean, come on. I mean, everybody around the world is willing to kill for what they think or cancel or hurt people what they think. But the real question is, are you willing to sacrifice what you have for an idea? And that’s really hard.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I’m not sure. That’s a tough one for me to answer. I think also thinking about what you’re willing to die for. Let me personalize it. Thinking about what I’m willing to die for. I also want to be very aware if there are things I would be willing to die for that could be manipulated to make me do things that I might not currently be morally aligned with.
Arthur Brooks: Totally. Totally. For sure. I get it.
Tim Ferriss: I think the allegiance —
Arthur Brooks: I get it.
Tim Ferriss: — it needs to be very, or for me, I want to be aware if there are things. For instance, faith has been manipulated by politicians.
Arthur Brooks: So has patriotism.
Tim Ferriss: Of course.
Arthur Brooks: My goodness. I mean, a lot of people listening say, “You’d die for the United States of America. Are you crazy?”
Tim Ferriss: Which is not to say that it’s wrong, it’s just very context-dependent on it.
Arthur Brooks: Very context-dependent, and it requires a lot of updating and serious thought, and it’s not good enough to just be sort of rah, rah, rah and taking it at face value. It takes serious discernment.
Tim Ferriss: So we have the why were you born or for what —
Arthur Brooks: Why are you alive?
Tim Ferriss: — are you alive. What would you be willing to die for?
Arthur Brooks: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Got any more?
Arthur Brooks: Those are the ones. I mean, what those do is that they really kind of wrap up coherence, purpose, and significance into two kind of handy dandy questions. And the point is really this, I mean, it’s easy for me to frame that up is once you find those, you’re all good to go. All right. But the truth is, you’re going to go through the rest of your life contemplating these things, and these are the questions to ask on your birthday.
“Are these still the things that I believe? Have I updated my knowledge? Do I have a better sense of who I am? Have I gone backwards a little bit? Have I lost this sense of what I’m willing to die for? Do I need to go a little deeper at this point?” And touching up on those questions turns out to be a really good, it’s sort of the same thing when you go to the doctor and they do the same test again and again and again and again. I have a series of tests that I do or these questions that I ask myself like that about the reverse bucket list and the meaning questions. And am I pursuing my pleasures socially and making memory with my prefrontal cortex?
I also have, by the way, a spreadsheet of 19 micronutrients that feed into my macronutrients. And I grade myself on tenths of one percent on a one to 10 scale weighted with respect to what my best estimate of my well-being. And when I’m going backwards on those things, I set a strategic plan for my year. So I know I’m getting crazier by the minute, right?
Tim Ferriss: I’m into it. I encourage it. I want to pour gasoline on the fire.
Arthur Brooks: Let’s do it, man.
Tim Ferriss: So we already talked about death meditation. We talked about your experience in Mexico, and I think in Build the Life You Want, obviously we’re not going to go into all the micronutrients of each of the legs on the stool per se, but I’m curious whether it’s meaning or one of the others. Maybe meaning, but it doesn’t have to be. Could you give some examples of some of those, I don’t want to say antecedents, but micronutrients, the cast of characters and ingredients that are important for sort of healthy functioning?
Arthur Brooks: For sure. For sure. And you can break them up in as variegated a way as you want. You can make 20,000 of them, but really there’s four that we should be thinking about. So there’s four fundamental micronutrients, and I make it more varied than that. I’ve got 19 because they’re really about love and relationships. That’s really what it’s all about. And the big four are your search for the divine or your spiritual journey or your philosophical, your faith, whatever that happens to be. Religious or not. It’s your love for something bigger than you so you can stand in awe. It’s your family relationships. These are the most mystical kinds of love that we get because we didn’t choose the loves. They were chosen for us.
And sometimes we’re like, yeah, I wouldn’t have chosen that. Friendship, and friendship when I’m talking about that, I talk a lot about loneliness because especially strivers, hardworking people, a lot of people watching us, they have a lot of people around them, but what they have is deal friends, but not real friends. And your deal friends are super useful to you. Your real friends are useless, cosmically, beautifully useless. And so I go into a lot of detail with my students about how to build useless friendships, not worthless. That’s different. I’ve got those too.
And last but not least, it’s loving everybody’s expressed through your work, and that means serving others with your work. Your work should be a service profession no matter what you’re doing. And so faith, family, friends, and work. And then there’s, we branch out from there. And I’m talking about family. I’m talking about different branches of family that I’m trying to make sure I’m working on when I’m talking about. My marriage is critically important. It gets one of the absolute highest scores in importance. Not always in terms of quality because I’m not the best husband, but in terms of importance for sure. And that’s because that’s the apex of two of those columns, both family and friendship.
My best friend and also the adopted member of my family is my wife. And so therefore, my marriage is really at the top of those two pillars. And so I’m thinking about that a lot. So I break it up into subcategories, but they all go into those silos of faith, family, friends, and work. Work that serves, work that’s meaningful, earn my success. And then I say, “Okay, well, what does it mean to earn my success? What does it mean to serve others? How do I know?” Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And I start getting down to brass tacks. I start putting numbers on it. And if the numbers aren’t, if I’m going backwards in a particular year — I do it. My birthday and my off birthday, by the way.
Tim Ferriss: Your off birthday?
Arthur Brooks: Yeah. Yeah. My six-month birthday, November 21st.
Tim Ferriss: Got it.
Arthur Brooks: My birthday’s May 21st, so November 21st.
Tim Ferriss: That’s convenient that you got Thanksgiving week.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, I’ve got Thanksgiving week. And so it gives me a chance to actually think about these things in some detail to be sure. And then I’ve got the data going back to about the year 1999. I’ve got it going forward. And this system has gotten better along the way and changed.
Tim Ferriss: What are the most important changes you’ve made to the system, would you say?
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, the most important change, the single most important change I made to the system was the recognition that I knew a lot about happiness, but wasn’t happy because I was studying it, but I wasn’t doing it. The biggest change to the system was using my knowledge to change my habits. That was number one, far and away. It’s one thing I was giving people all this advice about friendships and about having a good marriage and all that. I was looking at my life and I wasn’t living these things. I was just like everybody else, waking up, going, sure hope I feel happy today. It was pathetic. It was pathetic. It was like a drug and alcohol counselor getting up and taking a bunch of bong hits and having a six-pack. That’s what it was. It was craziness. And by the way, it was my wife who finally clued me. She’s like, “You have a PhD, right? What are you using it for?” Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: And you’re like, “Your English has come a long way.”
Arthur Brooks: “You’re killing me, sweetheart. You’re killing me.” But I’m writing academic journal articles that 14 people read so I can get promotion and tenure. It was ridiculous.
Tim Ferriss: So how did you, I imagine even if you’re not necessarily walking the walk as much as you would you like, you believe in what you are sharing. So it wasn’t necessarily a conviction issue. So how do you then translate it to action? Are you just like, “You know what? If it’s not in the calendar, it’s not real. Let me commit to things that I block out so that they are unavoidable in a sense.” How did you convert it?
Arthur Brooks: Well, I started by doing habits and practices that were very, very specific. I mean extremely specific, as specific as the stuff in The 4-Hour Body specific. And I was writing stuff down. I held whole notebooks of protocols and things that I was trying. I was trying things on myself based on science. And when it worked, I would keep it and I would write it down. I would practice it.
Turns out that wasn’t good enough because it’s very easy to have, because that was too hacky. That wasn’t really habits. To ingrain a habit, you’ve got to do one more step, which is that you’ve got to teach it. The reason I’m a happiness professor is because I want to lash myself to the mast, and I want to be completely committed. Because look, I mean, if I’m doing something that’s clearly at odds with what I’m teaching, I’m going to hear about it.
I’m going to hear about it from my students. I’m going to hear about it from my family. I’m going to hear about it. Good lord, I’m going to hear about it on social media, not that I’m paying that much attention to that because I want to be happy and it’s really, really important. So basically, there’s a protocol in my life, which is number one, understand, number two, practice, number three, share. And that’s the protocol that works for everybody when it comes to happiness. You’ve got to take those three steps. You’ve got to do the work and understand. It’s funny because I’ve done all this work over the years with the Dalai Lama, and he always says the same thing. “If you want to be a spiritual adept, think more, feel less, think more, feel less.”
Tim Ferriss: I would not expect.
Arthur Brooks: No. Right?
Tim Ferriss: That to be the framing. Okay. What does he mean by that?
Arthur Brooks: Well, he first wakes up in the morning, in the first two hours of his meditation, he gets up at three or 3:30 in the morning. The first thing that he does after a little bit on his exercise bike and hanging out with his cat, the first thing that he does is two hours of analytical meditation, which Catholics call mental prayer. That means you take a couple of lines of sacred scripture and you analyze it and you think about it.
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.
Tim Ferriss: And is the Dalai Lama using scripture in this sense, or what?
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, Tibetan Buddhist scripture. So he’s contemplating something, words of the Buddha or Śāntideva or any of the ancients.
Tim Ferriss: Tactical questions. Is he choosing it or is it flip open the book, which would not denigrate it. I’m just wondering?
Arthur Brooks: Drop the needle.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I mean —
Arthur Brooks: No, it’s extraordinary. I mean, the holy scriptures for Tibetan Buddhists are vast. There’s a library in Dharamshala that’s just stack after stack, after stack after stack. It’s not a Bible. It’s not like a collection of books in a little library called the Bible. It’s enormous. And the monks are going through the scriptures again and again and again. So I’m sure he hasn’t explained it to me, but I’m sure that he has actually a regular rotation that he’s going through to do his. And that’s what we need to do.
Tim Ferriss: He’s got the equivalent of these 10 exercises when you go to the gym, skip the bench press, like he’s got his —
Arthur Brooks: Yeah. Kind of.
Tim Ferriss: — his greatest hits.
Arthur Brooks: No doubt. Yeah, no doubt. And that’s really important to do in the science of happiness, is to look at what the best protocols, what does it mean to stand up to your negativity bias by actually practicing gratitude when what you’re feeling is resentment. How do you do that? How do you actually achieve a state of metacognition awareness of your own feelings such that you can choose reactions in the face of emotions? How can you get into the state of the I self, which is the state in which you’re observing the world as opposed to observing yourself? Well, it starts with knowledge of what these concepts are, and then you put it into practices, real exercises. I have a column in The Atlantic that comes out every Thursday morning.
Tim Ferriss: That’s next on my list of questions.
Arthur Brooks: The third part of every column is do these three things, is taking the science and then applying to your life in these three ways. And so it’s application and change of habits and a commitment to that and the best way to cement in those ideas and by lashing yourself to the mast. And that’s by teaching these things to everybody else. And everybody, look, I have a lab at Harvard called the Leadership and Happiness Lab. The whole point of the lab is not bench science and pouring stuff into test tubes or doing new experiments. It’s learning how we can all be happiness teachers. How can Tim Feriss be a happiness teacher? You already are, by the way.
Tim Ferriss: Working on it. I’m working on it.
Arthur Brooks: Well, you’re working on it. And there’s no reason that you have to be happy to be a happiness teacher. It’s not like playing basketball.
Tim Ferriss: Thank God.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, totally. I mean, on the contrary, the people are struggling the best at it.
Tim Ferriss: I’m not as miserable as some.
Arthur Brooks: You’re fine.
Tim Ferriss: Pretending to be.
Arthur Brooks: I mean, the point is that you’re —
Tim Ferriss: But I do have struggles. I mean, I do have challenges otherwise.
Arthur Brooks: Course you do. So do I. You’re self-aware. You’re self-aware. And part of your commitment, because I know your work, part of your commitment to lifting other people up is sharing your journey. This is what it comes down to. So you joke about, ah, but the truth of the matter is we’re all ugh. We all are. And sharing that is actually part of the way that you’re practicing these protocols. You’re not hacking anything. You’re actually trying to build these habits. And then the teaching role, you’re a teacher, by the way, because this is a teaching podcast. We’re not shooting the breeze and saying, “What’d you see on TV? And I went to a new restaurant.” No, we’re talking about heavy stuff because we actually want to teach these ideas and lift other people up.
So that’s the secret, man. Learn more, think more. Don’t feel. Learn, think. Second, turn this into habits and practice this as habits. Third, share with others and commit to other people through your teaching. That’s the secret of happiness.
Tim Ferriss: Commit. Commit in what sense? Just energetically taking the magnifying glass off of yourself?
Arthur Brooks: Committing to actually these practices in your own life. And this can often be, “I’ve been doing this thing wrong and I don’t want to keep doing this thing wrong. And me telling you it’s making yourself accountable to another person.” All 12-step programs work this way, right?
Tim Ferriss: Honestly, 12-step programs, AA, some of the most important and impressive decentralized organizations I’ve ever seen, and I’ve never participated, but I am so impressed.
Arthur Brooks: But they require accountability because basically what 12-step programs do is knowledge of what’s wrong with me, committing to new habits, and sharing it with others. That’s why AA works is because of those three steps as well.
Tim Ferriss: They do sneak some God in there.
Arthur Brooks: Well, yeah, the higher power for sure. The higher power.
Tim Ferriss: Which is helpful.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: I’m not going to deny it. One facet that I really appreciate of your work and your writing is that you straddle the very old and the very new, and you mentioned Aquinas earlier. Again, everybody read a few pages, at least on Wikipedia, about Aquinas and then Aristotle. And one of your popular columns is about Aristotle’s 10 secrets to happiness. I wonder if any, I do have them in front of me.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, because I can’t remember them.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I was just going to say, this is a lot to remember.
Arthur Brooks: The problem of making a weekly copy.
Tim Ferriss: Well, how about this? How about I read through and then I would love for you to pick out one or two perhaps that have been particularly impacted for you or for your readers.
Arthur Brooks: Right.
Tim Ferriss: Here we go. Name your fears and face them. Two, know your appetites and control them. Three, be neither a cheapskate nor a spendthrift. Four, give as generously as you can. Five, focus more on the transcendent. Disregard the trivial. Six, true strength is a controlled temper. Seven, never lie, especially to yourself. Eight, stop struggling for your fair share. Nine, forgive others and forbear their weaknesses. 10, define your morality. Live up to it, even in private. And I want to take one off the table.
Arthur Brooks: Sure.
Tim Ferriss: Which is the last one because there’s a recency bias here since we’ve been talking, I think fairly extensively about that.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah. Those are, here we go. So let’s start with number seven.
Tim Ferriss: All right.
Arthur Brooks: Never lie, be impeccable with your word, especially with you. Now, I know a lot of people who are pretty honest. Frankly, the reason my wife fell in love with me is not my stunning good looks and my lousy accent.
Tim Ferriss: And the great hair at the time.
Arthur Brooks: Gray hair?
Tim Ferriss: No, great hair.
Arthur Brooks: Great hair. I know. I mean, it was spectacular if I do say so myself. But the reason she told me later is because I was the first man that never lied to her. I never lied. Now, that’s part of my upbringing, and that has to do with your family, et cetera. That was a really super important value in my home. You had to be honest. The only really dramatic and scary consequences with my parents were from lying. Don’t lie, don’t lie, don’t lie. And so the result is, it was kind of in a way easier for me because of the way that I was raised, but I was the first guy she’d ever met that didn’t lie. She’s like, “What’s up with this dude? He doesn’t lie.” And I’ve procured when my oldest son, both of my sons 25 and 23, they’re both married. And when my 25-year-old —
Tim Ferriss: 25 and 23, both married.
Arthur Brooks: They’re both married. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Wow. I need to get relationship advice from your son.
Arthur Brooks: Well, my older son, he’s a piece of work. I mean, I learned a lot from him. He’s literally one of the brightest native intelligence people that I’ve ever met. But he also has this super adroit moral instinct to him. And he asked me, he said, “Tell me one thing that I should never do because I’m in love with this girl, that I should never do.” He asks good questions like that. And I thought about it. I said, “It’s actually pretty easy. Never lie to her ever, ever, ever, ever, ever. Until you go to the grave, never lie to her and ask her never to lie to you. No matter what the consequences.”
Now, that’s the secret to the pure oxygen of a true companionate love, the mystical love of the romance where you feel truly chosen for each other. It has to be based on honesty. It has to be. And a lot of people are like, yeah, yeah, good luck with that. And there are lots of things. That doesn’t mean you have to say, by the way, “Sweetheart, your butt looks fat in that.”
Tim Ferriss: I was just going to ask.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah. No, no, no. It doesn’t mean you have to volunteer every single thing that you’re thinking because you’re not insane. But when there’s a direct question, there’s a direct answer. What I comes down to. Okay, that’s fine. But that’s, you say in Spanish, “That’s [foreign language].” That’s okay.
Tim Ferriss: Table stakes.
Arthur Brooks: Table stakes, man. You want to really be in the game, never lie to yourself. And we’re doing it all the time. We’re doing it all the time. We don’t want to face up to the truth. We don’t want to look really in the mirror and not so that we can think how great our hair looks or whatever, but so that we can actually see the good and the bad. And to say, I’m a true human being. That’s a hard thing to do when people lie to themselves constantly.
And Aristotle talked about that, and Aquinas and the Buddha, and one of the things that they all have in common is that they have this impeccable idea of self-honesty, which is that’s taking a draft of the purest liquor of life. It’s like, yeah, I can drink that. I’m going to drink that. Really? You tough enough to drink that? And once you start doing that, I mean, it’s hard. It’s really hard, but it’s life changing.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. So I have a question about that, and it also makes me think about some of the scientists I respect most, like Richard Feynman who says, “You must not fool yourself, and you’re the easiest person to fool.”
Arthur Brooks: Well, for sure. And a lot of people say, because I’m religious, that I’m fooling myself.
Tim Ferriss: Right. Well, this leads not to a religion-specific question, but rather just to a fine slicing, which is sometimes, and I’m going off the cuff, so this isn’t going to be polished, but we lie to ourselves in the sense that we have a story about ourselves or the world that we know isn’t quite true, but we repeat it enough because we want it to be true. Then there are times when we lie to ourselves, but we are in the delusion. It is because we have a lack of awareness or who knows, there are any number of factors that have fed into this belief, which is simply not accurate, for whatever reason. So how do you catch yourself? Could you give examples, hypothetical or otherwise of, because I think most people would say, “I don’t want to lie to myself.” But when it comes down to actually catching those, catching those self-lies, that self-deception in the butterfly net, so you can do something with them, how do you do that?
Arthur Brooks: Well, you commit yourself to being uncomfortable, for one thing. So there’s a couple of different ways to do that. Number one is you seek outside counsel. You ask people who really know you well. You ask them to be committed to telling you the absolute truth, and then you ask them incredibly hard questions about yourself, and you should have friends that can do that for you. This is one of the ways that you can do it, but your friends really have to be able to tell you the truth.
Most, being a good friend usually means telling you convenient lies. That’s not the right criterion for your closest friends, your real friends. Your real friends, who should be like, “Buddy, I don’t think you’re being straightforward with that right now.” See, this is, I’m doing a fake Atlanta accent because my best friend’s a guy named Frank, and he lives in Atlanta, and we are committed to telling each other the truth. And boy, does he ever give it to me, both barrels, when he thinks I’m being full of it. “Buddy, I don’t know. I don’t know. I know you’re saying that thing, but let’s drill down on that a little bit, shall we?” I talk to him every week. That’s super important.
Tim Ferriss: Every week.
Arthur Brooks: Sure. “Can I talk to you?” because he’s a real friend and that takes work.
Tim Ferriss: Right. No, I understand. But is that like you have a standing?
Arthur Brooks: No, it’s not. No. But he’s somebody where we’re committed to when the call comes in and says “Frank,” I’d take the call. Even if it’s during work time, I take the call. But otherwise, you can’t take every single call that comes in. There are certain colleagues, certain family members, and Frank.
Tim Ferriss: And have you guys explicitly made some type of mutual commitment? And the reason I ask is there are environments also that I suppose I could join, but I haven’t up to this point. For instance, YPO forums, these small groups.
Arthur Brooks: Those are quite good.
Tim Ferriss: They are very good.
Arthur Brooks: Six, seven, eight guys.
Tim Ferriss: And I know people who have benefited from it tremendously. And there, as I understand it, based on my friend’s stories, there are many hot seat moments where you get your beliefs and stories and approaches and strategies interrogated.
Arthur Brooks: And you are committed in a YPO forum to have your BS called out.
Tim Ferriss: Yep.
Arthur Brooks: So if you’re saying [inaudible] not true about you.
Tim Ferriss: There’s some great rules. People can study it also, if you wanted to try to mimic or replicate it. I guess for a lot of folks, and I hate to say it, but I think especially men, they may not have sort of a codified setting like that.
Arthur Brooks: Especially successful men tend to get lonelier and lonelier as they get older. Women tend to get less and less lonely, but men tend to get lonelier and lonelier. So about 60 percent of 60-year-old men say their best friend is their wife. About 30 percent of their wives say their best friend is their husband.
Tim Ferriss: No.
Arthur Brooks: This is the story of, sad story of unrequited friendship, unrequited companion love at home, for sure. But you know what that means is that a lot of women have very, very close friends that they’ve cultivated, usually through family life and community life, and guys, it’s like, “Hey, man, I worked so hard over the years and hanging out with my friends is stealing from my family. I’m not going to go golfing for five hours on Saturday. When the kids are little, it’ll be terrible at home. I’ll get yelled at and yada, yada, yada yada,” all kinds of excuses, and pretty soon they’re lonely.
Tim Ferriss: And we might come back to this, I mean, the loneliness is a big topic and the bonding and these types of communal relationships. But as far as cultivating a relationship with the friends that you have, that unvarnished feedback and interrogation, is there a suggestion? Might you have any suggestion for how to approach that?
Arthur Brooks: Well, there’s two ways to do it. There’s the organic way and there’s the manual way. The organic way is that you don’t lose those true friends that you’ve had, usually since you were a young adult. And a lot of people do. I mean, we move around a lot and we’re really ambitious and our friends wind up being our deal friends. And our real friends, people will say — I mean, I’ll do an exercise where I’ll say, “Tell me the 10 people that are closest to you. Write them down real quick.”
Tim Ferriss: I can do it easily.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: I literally have it in a spreadsheet.
Arthur Brooks: That’s great. And then put real or deal after each one of those names based on the fact that — and for you, it’s all real, right? Because you have close friends, right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I do. A high percentage from a long time ago.
Arthur Brooks: And you travel with them and you do stuff with them, right?
Tim Ferriss: I put a lot of energy and time into ensuring that we spend time together, which gets harder as people have wives and kids and everything else.
Arthur Brooks: And children, for sure. Family life tends to get in the way of that. But it’s like anything else, you’ve got to do the work.
Tim Ferriss: I’m unfettered by my direct family life.
Arthur Brooks: But the data say that in 10 years you’ll most likely be married and have kids and it’s going to be harder. But you’ll have to put [inaudible]. Folks, let’s work on this. Shall we? Write in the comments your best —
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, yeah. All right. So there’s the organic way.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, there’s organic way, which is make sure that you don’t lose track of your real friends and you have a commitment with your real friends to hold you to a standard of honesty in the friendship and with yourself, because that’s what true friendship really entails. The manual way is the YPO forum way where there’s a bunch of guys that you know that are usually deal friends and you make a deal to make them into real friends. You make a deal. It’s like an arrangement where part of the friendship is actually going to be to go deeper, to hold each other’s secrets, to be honest with each other.
And that can actually be incredibly effective because you’ve actually decided to do that and people will owe up to those particular promises. Psychological safety is really important in that too, because it’s one thing to say, “I want you to be completely honest with me,” and say, “Yeah, you’re a jerk.” It’s like not that honest, or don’t express it in that particular way. You have to have enough psychological safety where the rules of the road are clear that honesty is always wielded as a gift and never as a weapon. That’s also true in marriages, by the way, Tim. The best marriages are completely honest, but the honesty is a gift and never a weapon.
Tim Ferriss: Yep. One of the mantras at Facebook before it was Meta was “Feedback is a gift. Feedback is a gift. Feedback is a gift.” It was repeated over and over again. It was put all over the place to cultivate a culture of feedback. And I’ve thought about that, just grabbing these little snippets. “Make yourself small.” I mean these very pithy reminders that will have some stickiness in the mind and also doubling down on having your friends act as the best mirrors available.
Very brief side note, just to give people a Scooby snack, mirrors, reflections. What are your thoughts?
Arthur Brooks: Get rid of them.
Tim Ferriss: Okay, tell me more.
Arthur Brooks: So I work with a guy, he’s fantastic. He actually is. He’s really, really helpful for me. I’ve recommended him to you because he does incredible body work. Physical therapy is fantastic, and he was a fitness model. There’s almost nothing you can do that’s unhealthier, worse for your mental health, than being a fitness model or fitness influencer.
Tim Ferriss: Why?
Arthur Brooks: Because you’re just looking in the mirror all day long and your physical appearance is that on which you’ll be judged is very emotionally warping. And he hated it. He hated it. He was unhappy. He never ate what he wanted for 10 years. And the truth of the matter is, as we all know, you look great if your body fat is under 10 percent, but you feel crummy and you want everybody in the world to die. It can be really, really hard on you. And he said, but after a while, there’s a reason that 35 percent of people who lose a lot of weight, when they get to their goal, they keep going and a quarter of them develop an eating disorder. The reason is because you can’t stop when you’re looking in the mirror all the time. You can’t stop. You can’t stop. You don’t know how to stop. So he had the presence of mind. He’s an adept, he’s a spiritual adept. He got rid of all of his mirrors and showered in the dark for a year. He got rid of all of the mirrors in his house.
Tim Ferriss: The showering in the dark, I need — maybe I —
Arthur Brooks: Well, because you can’t see your abs.
Tim Ferriss: I don’t have that problem, but yeah, I get it. You’ve got washboard abs and you’re looking at you going, “Yeah, man. Yeah, yeah.” And bye-bye watching the water cascade off your 12-pack like rocks in a waterfall.
Arthur Brooks: I know, and the truth of the matter is that —
Tim Ferriss: I hate when that happens.
Arthur Brooks: Extreme —
Tim Ferriss: But yes, I get it.
Arthur Brooks: — physical attractiveness ordinarily is something that you do because you want to become more lovable and you make that judgment on the basis of what you’re seeing in the mirror and not the relationship that you’re projecting to others in real life. It’s really weird. You talk to dudes who are trying to get to six percent body fat and get super jacked and the whole thing, and they have this — they imagine that women are going to be just super attracted to them, and the only people who even say anything are dudes.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, it’s always dudes. It’s like I have friends who’re single guys and they have incredible beard game or mustache game and nonstop it’s just dudes coming up and complimenting them. I mean, I’m sure there are women who like it too, but it’s mostly guys.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, for sure.
Tim Ferriss: It seems to be similar.
Arthur Brooks: No woman has ever said, “Nice car.” I mean, it’s just, no, it’s other guys is the whole thing. And what that is the other guys are just a mirror. They’re just a mirror. The other guys are saying the thing that you think, but it’s profoundly unsatisfying if you’re actually in the heterosexual dating market to have other guys saying, “God, how’d you get those abs?”
Tim Ferriss: Who cares? Now to provide a counter example also, and this is just something I’ve seen on dating apps that we could talk about, but I have yet to meet a single guy I like and respect who’s like, “I love super intense lip fillers and all of this Frankenbotox situation.” I have not met a single one yet.
Arthur Brooks: I know. And have you ever said — I’ve never said to my wife one time, “That’s such a cute little dress. Is it new?” I’ve never said that. All her friends say that, and she’s always like, “I have a cute little dress, and everybody noticed it, but you didn’t.”
Tim Ferriss: For the record, I’m into cute little dresses. I don’t want people to mix up voices here.
Arthur Brooks: The show notes just went [inaudible].
Tim Ferriss: So why did you write this book and how did it come to be? I know you have this long history with thinking about these catalyzing events and tracking, and I don’t want to say pursuing, but analyzing, thinking deeply about happiness. So why now and what do you hope that it will accomplish?
Arthur Brooks: So this new book is the most bread and butter book I’ve ever written about the science of happiness. It’s two parts. Part one is how to manage your emotions so they don’t manage you. Part two is once you’ve got that down, now you can actually build your life and not be distracted and frittering away your time with stupid things. Those are the two parts of the book, and it’s as deep a dive as I’ve ever actually written publicly about neuroscience. It was actually vetted by my colleague at Harvard, Josh Greene, who’s one of the most distinguished neuroscientists in the world, just to make sure, because I’m a social scientist, so I’ve got to be careful getting into the biology side of this thing. I know enough to be dangerous to be sure, but I have to be very careful about that. And by the way, this project was instigated to do a bread and butter owner’s manual on you and your happiness. That’s what it is. It’s an owner’s manual on your happiness. It wasn’t my idea, it was Oprah Winfrey’s idea.
Tim Ferriss: So you occupy some rarefied air. So from the Dalai Lama, you just bump into her on the subway?
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, Her holiness Dalai Lama. I mean, His Holiness Dalai Lama and Her Holiness Oprah Winfrey, right?
Tim Ferriss: Yes, exactly.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah. I mean, when Oprah Winfrey calls, it’s like —
Tim Ferriss: Right. But I’m guessing she didn’t get your phone number on Zoom info. How did this happen?
Arthur Brooks: She calls, I’m like, “Yeah, I’m Batman. No, really? Who is this?” No.
Tim Ferriss: “Hi, it’s Oprah calling again. Your company has been verified by Dunn and Bradstreet.” Oh, wait a minute. Anyway —
Arthur Brooks: So we got connected because she is a regular reader of my column in The Atlantic, and she was during the coronavirus epidemic when people were trying to use the time to learn new things, et cetera. And she was actually a serious reader of the column. And she’s a serious reader.
Tim Ferriss: She’s a serious reader.
Arthur Brooks: When she has a book on her podcast, she reads the book. It’s just amazing how exhaustive her knowledge is. And then when my book came out, From Strength to Strength in February 2022, she got it literally in the first week, she read it, and that’s when she called and she said, “Would you come on my podcast?” Her Super Soul, which is this book podcast, phenomenal. And we were like a house on fire from the very beginning because she’s — it’s funny because you’ve met a lot of famous people and I’ve met some famous people, and they’re usually not exactly like they appear in public.
She’s like she appears in public. I mean, she’s calm, she’s smart, she’s nice, she’s funny, she’s awesome. She’s actually what people think she is. She’s truly an authentic person. And so we really got along and we have the synchronicity of mission, which is to lift people up and bring them together in bonds of happiness and love, but we have different platforms for doing it. I’m teaching this class on the science of happiness at Harvard University and writing in The Atlantic. She has been in mass media forever, and whenever she weighs in, she has millions and millions and millions of people around the world that trust her and want to hear what she has to say.
And so her suggestion was, “Let’s take that class that you teach at Harvard and that you’re writing about in The Atlantic, let’s present that to a big audience. You want a big audience?” I said, “Yeah. Yes, yes, yes. Oprah, can I have a big audience, please?” And she says, “Let’s write a book together and we’ll present this book together.” And so we did, and we got together at her home and we framed it up. We framed up the book over a three- or four-day period last year in her teahouse in Montecito, California. And I was looking around going, I’m just like this small town college professor who fell off the turnip truck in front of Oprah’s teahouse. You never know. He’s like, God bless America. You never know what’s going to happen. And it was super fun. It was super interesting.
Tim Ferriss: It’s the best country for people who want to work hard.
Arthur Brooks: Oh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness. And she’s the best case study in American success and working hard and believing in others and paying it forward possible. And then we went and we started working on our respective parts of the book and passing it back and forth. And I took a house in San Clemente in California for six weeks in the winter largely to look at the Pacific Ocean to write the book, and she was writing her parts. And then we got to this impasse at one point, not between us, but because the title didn’t fit. The title now is How to Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier. And it was called Fully Alive and it wasn’t fitting, and I didn’t know. And finally Oprah calls me and she says, “Got the wrong title.”
Tim Ferriss: She’s a genius.
Arthur Brooks: “We’ve got the wrong title. This is a how to book. This is an owner’s manual book. This is really a how to book on your own happiness. This should be called How to Build a Life You Want.” And ching, the whole thing fell into place. Because that’s what happens as you know, in the course of writing a book, you think you have it, but you don’t. And then when the title actually completes the book and allows you to finish the book and make it all cohere. Then we finished it up and it was this amazing collaborative experience, a joy, actually, it was the most fun. It was the most positive experience I’ve ever had writing a book because I got to write it with her, and she’s enriched my life.
Tim Ferriss: What a wild, incredible experience.
Arthur Brooks: It’s nuts. It’s nuts, man. I told you my death fear is losing my mind. It’s actually possible that I am and that’s just a hallucination.
Tim Ferriss: “So then we had tea, and we had crumpets, and we played bridge.”
Arthur Brooks: Had tea in her teahouse and all that. It’s like, “But Tim, I know I want the pure truth. But if that’s not true, don’t tell me.”
Tim Ferriss: “Let me keep that one. Let me keep one.”
Arthur Brooks: “Lie to me, baby.”
Tim Ferriss: Sweet little lies. So in this book, are there areas — because I know in my book I can point to specific chapters where I’m like, “Man, I really wish people had paid more attention to X.” Maybe it didn’t quite get the emphasis so I can own that responsibility, but maybe they, for whatever reason, didn’t pay enough attention to this one component. Is there something that comes to mind?
Arthur Brooks: I don’t know yet ’cause it hasn’t come out.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, I know, but I’m just saying —
Arthur Brooks: So what do I suspect?
Tim Ferriss: What would hurt you the most if people missed?
Arthur Brooks: I think what would bother me the most is the amount that Oprah and I emphasize the role of unhappiness in living a full life. See, one of the biggest mistakes that people make as we talked about before, is that people say, “I want to be happy, but…” And then they talk about some source of unhappiness in their life that they think blocks their happiness. And that’s the wrong way of thinking because you can get happier even if you’re unhappy, absolutely 100 percent all day long, because these are existing in different parts of your brain, number one. But number two, happiness is not the goal and unhappiness is not the enemy.
Getting happier is the goal. Oprah coined this term in the book. She said, “We’ve got to stop talking about happiness because that’s actually not the goal. The goal is happierness.” That’s really what we’re going for is happierness. And to get happierness, you need unhappiness in your life. Look, you need negative emotions to keep you alive, but you also need the deferral of gratification to get your satisfaction. And you need to understand the nature of the frustration that comes such that you can start to manage your wants. You need serious, full-on suffering to find the answers to the questions of meaning that we talked about. You do. My son needed a bootcamp. You and I need substantial problems with mood, to put it euphemistically. No, look, we need sadness. Jung, Freud’s greatest student, Carl Jung, so much greater in so many ways, said that you don’t really understand happiness until you’ve experienced unhappiness because of the contrast.
But more to the point, you’ve not been fully alive because unhappiness is what actually — the suffering is what helps you understand what you’re made of and what you can bear. And only then will you find the answers to the “Why am I alive?” or “For what I’d be willing to die?” questions. You don’t find the meaning questions, the answers at that week at the beach in Ibiza. You find it in the depths when somebody you love dies, when you’re afraid of what your future holds, when you feel hopeless. That’s when those moments become real, and that suffering turns out to be an integral part in your journey to happiness. So 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.
Tim Ferriss: It is a diverse and ever-changing tapestry, that is for sure.
Arthur Brooks: It is. And I think about it, one of the biggest mistakes that I think that my students make — by the way, right now, if I were to go back to 1968 or 1969 Woodstock and the hippies said, “If it feels good, do it.” I remember my dad heard that for the first time, and he’s like, “That’s the end of America.” He was kind of right. Anyway, if we had a Woodstock today, it might be, “If it feels bad, make it stop. If I’m suffering, treat it. If there’s pain, it’s evidence that I’m defective, that I’m broken. Something’s got to change.” That’s wrong. That’s wrong thinking. Look, the Tim Ferriss I’m talking to right now had to suffer. I mean, these messages that you’re giving are dramatically different than what you were writing 15 and 20 years ago. They’re dramatically different. It doesn’t mean it was wrong 15 and 20 years ago, but it was incomplete. It wasn’t deep in the same way. And the depth actually comes from the — not just from the good. It also comes from the bad.
Andrew Solomon, who wrote The Noonday Demon, have you read that book?
Tim Ferriss: No.
Arthur Brooks: It’s the best book I’ve ever read about anxiety and depression. Andrew Solomon’s a phenomenal writer.
Tim Ferriss: All right, so what is the title again?
Arthur Brooks: The Noonday Demon, which was an ancient way of talking about depression, which comes over you like a noonday demon.
Tim Ferriss: It’s like the black dog.
Arthur Brooks: It’s like Winston Churchill’s black dog for sure. The Noonday Demon, an Almanac of Depression. And in the end, it’s an incredible book. It’s a total page-turner for anybody who’s actually had anything close to [inaudible].
Tim Ferriss: That face value does not sound like a page-turner.
Arthur Brooks: I know. It’s phenomenal though. It’s so interesting. It’s just beautiful writing. But in the end, he said, “In the sum and final balance, I have to conclude that I love my depression because it’s part of who I am as a person, and it’s allowed me to learn what my life is all about. I don’t wish it on anybody. I don’t want it to come back, but it is who I am, and so therefore, I have no choice but to love it.” I’m paraphrasing, but his words are more beautiful than anything I could remember. But it’s really an important thing for us to remember. And anybody who’s watching you and who follows you and who admires you and gets a lot of sustenance from the knowledge that you bring to this podcast, what they have to realize is that they are beneficiaries of Tim Ferriss’s suffering. And if they want to lift up the world, they have to suffer too.
Tim Ferriss: It’s food for thought. Yep. Food for thought. May not be candy bars, might be high fiber, but it is important food for thought.
Arthur Brooks: It’s a philosophical Clif bar. Sorry, people love those. Not to cast aspersions, my friends at Clif —
Tim Ferriss: But I have thought about this very deliberately, and I don’t wish suffering upon anyone, but I had someone give me very good advice at one point, and the words can be substituted, of course. But she said to me after I’d gone through — very gifted therapist with a lot of experience, a lot of mileage with different types of patients, including some very tragic and difficult cases. And she said, “Take your pain, make it part of your medicine.”
And I was like, “Okay,” meaning the medicine in my case, the way I think of that is what I can teach or provide or just the perspective through which I can speak and explore, given that I have the history that I have and understand.
Arthur Brooks: This is what the best therapists do. They teach you about yourself. They help you to learn and grow from your pain, and they help you to treat yourself and serve others. That’s what the great therapists do. The worst therapist is like, “Yeah, I’ll help you take care of that. We’ll make that problem go away.” No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I want to learn. I want to grow and I want to surf.
Yeah. Surf part has been very critical to the tether of meaning that has given the suffering meaning.
Tim Ferriss: Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: Meaning made it — I don’t say irrelevant, but the greater the potency of the meaning, the less the suffering incapacitates you. Let me ask you, is it possible you’re not afraid to suffer more now?
Arthur Brooks: Because you said pleasure and as a defense, et cetera, et cetera. But I don’t feel like I’m sitting with somebody who’s afraid of suffering.
Tim Ferriss: It’s certainly less than it was. I also think that they’re just pleasurable things that I really like.
Arthur Brooks: Well, there’s that.
Tim Ferriss: There’s that. Weird, how bizarre. There is that —
Arthur Brooks: So I remember reading about one of your sexual experiences in The 4-Hour Body where it was like, “To get more testosterone, and then I ate a single Brazil nut.” And you’re —
Tim Ferriss: Oh. Yeah, it was lots of Brazil nuts, cholesterol loading. I did lots of crazy stuff in The 4-Hour Body.
Arthur Brooks: But it was somebody who knew how to have fun.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, yeah, that chapter.
Arthur Brooks: How old were you? What, 34 or something when you —
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, early thirties.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. So anyway, no, I respect the fact that you like to have fun and you like to feel good. I get that, but I don’t sense fear from you.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I would also say what I have done is I’ve built into my life a lot of premeditated, deliberate discomfort to inoculate myself against the fear of unpredictable discomfort. And it’s not a cure-all, but I have found that —
Arthur Brooks: It’s exposure therapy.
Tim Ferriss: It’s exposure therapy, also just wadding into some of the deep waters psychologically and psycho-emotionally that I would be prone to fearing. Learning how to take swimming lessons in some of those deep waters, I would say is also an approach. So, it resembles exposure therapy, but there’s also a skill development piece on top of that, which is combined with the exposure I would say, which I know is a bit nebulous.
Arthur Brooks: No, no, but it makes perfect sense and there’s actually a way that we can all get better at that, because I know a lot of people are watching this like, “Yeah. How do we get better at that?” Here’s one way to do that that actually is a very practical way to do it, start each day with a statement of fact and then an aspiration. The statement of fact is, “I don’t know what’s going to happen this day. I don’t know.” I learned this from a pediatric oncologist, by the way, somebody who gives bad cancer diagnoses to kids. He says he tells the parents to every day start the day saying, “I don’t know what’s going to happen in my future, but I do know I am alive this day and I’m deeply grateful for everything that happens for good and for bad.”
It takes cojones, man. It’s hard because you’re like, you catch your breath a little bit. Because what Mother Nature wants you to do is to look for the good feelings and to avoid the bad feelings, because that’s the evolutionary imperative, to avoid the disgust and the anger and the sadness and the grief and the loneliness, and to avoid those things, not to embrace those things to say it’s inevitable, bring it on. But if you can actually do that to steal yourself, to steal — as they say in Isaiah, “I steel my face like flint.” And that’s how to do it. “Look, I don’t know what’s going to happen today, but I do want to know I’m alive right now. I’m not going to waste this day. And the way I don’t waste this day is by being grateful for every single thing that happens, good and bad. Bring it on. Here we go.”
Tim Ferriss: It’s a gift I received quite a while ago, but actually — steel my face like flint. It is a piece of, I think it is steel, and it’s engraved with a quote from, I think it is Neale Donald Walsch. I may be getting that off. Someone can fact check. But the quote is, “The struggle ends when the gratitude begins.” And it’s such good advice. Yeah. And you don’t have to be grateful only for the obviously good things.
Arthur Brooks: No, no, no, no. On the contrary. And that’s really, that’s what separates first-course gratitude from PhD-level stuff is saying — and by the way, here’s a practical way to do that, to be grateful for bad things, a very practical way to do it. I ask my students to make a failure journal. And so what that is that every time bad thing happens, something bad happens frequently. When you’re 28 years old, somebody breaks your heart today and tomorrow you’re going to be on a test. And the next day after that, you don’t get the interview for that job you hoped for. And it’s just a constant string of disappointments and thrills because it’s like when you’re 28 years old.
So, every time something happens that really frustrates and disappoints you or you screw up or whatever, you take out your failure journal and you write in your failure journal what happened. And then you leave two lines open behind it, and you put reminders on your phone, ding, one month from now you’ve got to go back and six months from now. One month from now, you’ve got to go back and say what you learned from that thing that you would forget otherwise.
And six months from now, you’ve got to go back and say a good thing that happened because of that thing. And there’s always entries, always, always, always. And so it’s like, “I went into my performance review and I thought I was doing a really good job. My boss basically told me that I’m a B player at best.” This happens constantly. “That bums me out and I just want to put it behind me, and I want to go hang out with my friends and have a couple of beers and complain about my boss and move on.” No, no, no, no. Write it on your failure journal one month from now, remember it and go back. “Huh? You know what I learned from that is I thought I was going to be super bummed about that for a long time, and it bothered me for a week.”
That’s interesting. Now that’s homeostasis. There’s a lot of brain science in that. Six months later, you come back and you say, “When I thought about that, I realized that that probably wasn’t the perfect fit for my career. And I went on the market and I have a better job now. I think that the job I have now is a better fit.” And every single thing that happens that you put into your failure journal, you will realize that there’s something generative that happens from this in terms of learning and in terms of gratitude. And you will turn that thing into something — sooner or later when something really bad happens to you, you’re going to be like, “Oh, God, I get to put it in the failure journal.” It’ll really change your perspective on it, because failure and disappointment and frustration and sacrifice and pain will take on their proper perspective, which is part of your full life.
Tim Ferriss: We shall see. That’s great. We shall see. That’s terrible.
Arthur Brooks: I know. The famous parallel.
Tim Ferriss: We shall see.
Arthur Brooks: We shall see that famous parallel.
Tim Ferriss: We shall see. So true.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Well, Arthur, this has been so much fun. Now, the title of the book is —
Arthur Brooks: Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier.
Tim Ferriss: And by the time this comes up, people will be able to certainly find it and purchase it.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, yeah. “Where all fine books are sold” is the saying.
Tim Ferriss: Where all fine books —
Arthur Brooks: And also, if people like, Oprah and I will read it to you.
Tim Ferriss: You mean, I’m guessing, in audiobook form, not on Cameo.
Arthur Brooks: Look, no, we’ll come to your house and with dulcet tones of Oprah’s voice, we’ll lull you to sleep now. No, I mean, we read it.
Tim Ferriss: You could raise a lot of money that way.
Arthur Brooks: Yeah, that’s right. “Sorry, Oprah, I committed us to a thing. Let’s just say the book tour is taking on new dimensions.” But we read the book for Penguin Random House, and I’m really super happy with the way that it turned out, mostly because my voice is interspersed with her beautiful voice, one of the most famous voices in America.
Tim Ferriss: What an incredible experience. Congratulations.
Arthur Brooks: Thank you.
Tim Ferriss: So people can find the book where all fine books are sold. I just love saying that. And is there anything else you’d like to point people to, whether it’s a social profile or a request of the audience, an ask of the audience, something you’d like to close with, anything at all that you’d like to add before we wind to a close?
Arthur Brooks: This is really a teaching experience, both for me and Oprah and just part of my life, which is dedicated to writing, speaking, and teaching about love and happiness, to bring people together in bonds of love, using the science and ideas. That’s really my mission statement for the rest of my life. And that really is a teaching mission, just like yours is a teaching mission. So there’s a lot of stuff that I’m doing ancillary to books and columns, et cetera. I have classes like video classes and things that people can watch. And my goal in doing those things — this all on my website, arthurbrooks.com, but when people do those things, my goal is training them to be happiness teachers. This is really what it’s all about because remember, it’s understand, change your habits, share with others.
And so to learn more about exactly how to do that, we’re developing a lot of resources that make that possible in, I think, a pretty effective way. And I would love people to do that for the single reason that I want a movement. I want to be part of a movement of people whose hobby is the science of happiness and bringing it to others. There’s a lot of people who are broken in this world and who are sad and who are suffering. And if we had people who are warriors for greater happiness for themselves through others, through real knowledge and a commitment to change, I’m truly convinced that this is the one thing that I can do that could have an impact on the world that needs to be a lot happier.
Tim Ferriss: Arthur, so glad that we were able to find the time, have this conversation, and I admire the work you do. I respect the work you do. I value the work that you put out in the world. It does help people. So I wanted to also just simply thank you for putting out what you put out and spending time on the things you spend time on.
Arthur Brooks: Likewise, Tim. I’ve only met you today in person, but I feel like I’ve known you for a long time because I’ve been consuming your work like so many millions of other people, and you’ve enriched my life a lot. Thank you for that.
Tim Ferriss: Thanks, man. I really appreciate it. This has really sparked a lot in me. I’ve taken copious notes, so I have a number of things that I’ll be focusing on: getting small, Brothers K, muscular philosophies, I just love the phrasing, so I wrote it down, Aristotle, Aquinas, all things that can lead you to build the life that you want. And for everybody listening, we’ll have extensive show notes, links to everything as usual at tim.blog/podcast. And until next time, be just a bit kinder than is necessary to others and to yourself, and thanks for tuning in.
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