David Brooks's 5-Step Guide to Being Deep

A manifesto against America's 'happiness' and 'resume' cultures
Hartwig HKD/Flickr

ASPEN, Colo.—David Brooks doesn't subscribe to the Pharrellian school of life. It's not that he begrudges Pharrell for being happy. It's that he believes American culture is too centered around attaining happiness, at the expense of "a different goal in life that is deeper than happiness and more important than happiness."

We're not only obsessed with happiness. The New York Times columnist argues that we focus on accumulating power, material wealth, and professional achievements instead of cultivating the kinds of qualities that will be discussed at our funerals. As Brooks phrases it, we emphasize "resume virtues" over "eulogy virtues."

Brooks's objective is to establish a "counterculture" to our happiness culture and our resume culture. It's to fashion a path to "inner depth." In a talk at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is sponsored by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, he did just that. Expanding on a column he wrote in March, Brooks wove together various philosophical, theological, and biographical threads to define what it means to be "deep," and how to lead a life of depth.


As Brooks sees it, resume virtues and eulogy virtues represent two sides of human nature. In a 1965 essay, the American rabbi and philosopher Joseph Soloveitchik developed a dichotomy to capture this phenomenon. He distinguished between "Adam I" and "Adam II."

"Adam I is the external Adam, it's the resume Adam," Brooks explained. "Adam I wants to build, create, use, start things. Adam II is the internal Adam. Adam II wants to embody certain moral qualities, to have a serene inner character, not only to do good but to be good. To live and be is to transcend the truth and have an inner coherence of soul. Adam I, the resume Adam, wants to conquer the world…. Adam II wants to obey a calling and serve the world. Adam I asks how things work, Adam II asks why things exist and what ultimately we're here for."

(Brooks didn't get into this, but Soloveitchik actually conceived of Adam I and Adam II as a way to reconcile the fact that Genesis offers two accounts of how God created man. As an Orthodox Jew who believed in the "divine character" of the Bible, Soloveitchik didn't accept the explanation that the stories sprang from different authors and sources. Instead, he argued, they existed to illustrate "dual man." In the first account, in which man is created "in the image of God," Adam is tasked with "filling" and "subduing" the earth. In the second account, in which man is created out of dust and God's breath, Adam is charged with "serving" and "keeping" the Garden of Eden.)

"We live in a culture that nurtures Adam I," Brooks said. "We're taught to be assertive and master skills, to broadcast our brains. To get likes. To get followers."

Being deep doesn't preclude you from being, well, shallow, he added. "Some days we want to be externally successful, some days we want to be internally good. The question is whether your life is in balance."

So how do we nourish Adam II—the deep Adam? For that matter, what does it even mean to be deep?

"I think we mean that that person is capable of experiencing large and sonorous emotions, they have a profound spiritual presence," Brooks said. "In the realm of emotion they have a web of unconditional love. In the realm of intellect, they have a set, permanent philosophy about how life is. In the realm of action, they have commitments to projects that can't be completed in a lifetime. In the realm of morality, they have a certain consistency and rigor that's almost perfect."

Deep people also tend to be old.

"The things that lead you astray, those things are fast: lust, fear, vanity, gluttony," Brooks observed, in religiously inflected language. "The things that we admire most—honesty, humility, self-control, courage—those things take some time and they accumulate slowly."

Albert Schweitzer, Dorothy Day, Pope Francis, Mother Teresa. These are deep people, according to Brooks.


What qualities spur us to plumb the depths of our being? Brooks outlined five:

Presented by

Uri Friedman is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Global Channel. He was previously the deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy.

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