“How to Build a Life”—New column by Arthur Brooks

Pointing yourself toward happiness—even in the midst of a global pandemic.

Today The Atlantic begins “How to Build a Life” by contributing writer and professor Arthur C. Brooks, a new regular column about the tools needed to construct a life that feels whole and meaningful. Though not created in response to the current crisis and upheaval of American life, the column speaks clearly to the needs of this moment. Time is finite. Priorities shift over the course of a life, and people don't always point themselves toward happiness.

As Brooks, who is a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and senior fellow at the Harvard Business School, outlines in the first installment today: “We’re stuck at home; our lives on COVID time have slowed to a near halt. This creates all sorts of obvious inconveniences, of course. But in the involuntary quiet, many of us also sense an opportunity to think a little more deeply about life. In our go-go-go world, we rarely get the chance to stop and consider the big drivers of our happiness and our sense of purpose.”

“How to Build a Life” is a column about how to find what matters and how to hold onto it—at any age. It’s about how to balance the competing demands on our time and build a life that feels whole. What can we do each day to increase our satisfaction and enjoyment of life? It will draw on social science, philosophy, history, and the arts to devise strategies for how people can surpass "good enough" and build a life that they truly want.

Brooks’s first column synthesizes research on happiness to come up with the three equations for enriching our lives: our subjective well-being (genes + circumstances + habits); habits (our human relationships, productive work, and the transcendental elements of life); and our satisfaction (the calculation of what you have, divided by what you want).

“Think of these three equations as the first class in the mechanics of building a life,” he writes. “But there is much, much more where all that comes from. Hence, this new column. In the coming months, I will pull back the curtain on the art and science of happiness to show how the brightest ideas can illuminate new solutions to our ordinary challenges.”

Find “How to Build a Life” every two weeks at the Family section.

Arthur C. Brooks is Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and Arthur C. Patterson Faculty Fellow at the Harvard Business School. Before joining the Harvard faculty in July of 2019, he served for ten years as president of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). He is the author of 11 books, and hosts the podcast “The Art of Happiness with Arthur Brooks.”