In a moment when happiness has felt elusive for many, The Atlantic is giving readers the framework to orient themselves toward joy and build a more meaningful life with its March issue, themed “How to Find Happiness,” and the launch of an immersive, two-and-a-half-day event to be held this spring. The event, titled In Pursuit of Happiness, will be held from May 1-3 in Half Moon Bay, California. Ticketing is now open for a limited in-person audience. The event will be free to attend virtually. Register or purchase tickets here.
The Atlantic’s March cover features three extraordinary pieces by its staff and contributing writers on the intrinsic and external factors that hold enormous sway over our happiness. The cover is anchored by The Atlantic’s happiness columnist, Harvard professor, and renowned social scientist Arthur C. Brooks, who guides readers on how to escape the satisfaction trap by learning to want less; staff writer Jennifer Senior on the struggle of keeping and making friends in middle age, when you may need them the most; and staff writer Olga Khazan on working to change her personality by becoming more agreeable (and learning more about herself in the process). More details on the three stories follow.
In Pursuit of Happiness and the March issue draw on The Atlantic’s celebrated coverage of the practices and principles of happiness––most notably Brooks’s weekly Atlantic column “How to Build a Life” and related podcast, both of which explore practical, applicable advice for finding joy.
The May event will be an immersive experience designed to give guests the chance to explore all dimensions of happiness. Over the course of two and a half days, virtual and in-person attendees will experience conversations led by The Atlantic’s journalists with experts in the happiness field, including neuroscientists, philosophers, artists, and business leaders. Full details, along with in-person ticketing and registration, are now available. Speakers and a schedule of events will be announced in the coming weeks.
More details about The Atlantic’s March 2022 cover stories follow. Please be in touch with questions or requests to interview our writers about their reporting.
“The Satisfaction Trap,” by Arthur C. Brooks. Mick Jagger said it best. Satisfaction is the greatest paradox of human life. We crave it, we believe we can get it, we glimpse it and maybe even experience it for a brief moment, and then it vanishes. But we never give up our quest to get and hold on to it. No matter what we achieve or attain, our biology always leaves us wanting more. And more, as Brooks tells us in this riveting piece exclusively adapted from his forthcoming book From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life, often equates to building a life that is ever more baroque, expensive, and laden with stuff we don’t actually want or need.
But there is a way out, if we’re willing to make some difficult changes to the way we live. “The secret to satisfaction is not to increase our haves—that will never work (or at least, it will never last),” Brooks writes. “The secret is to manage our wants. By managing what we want instead of what we have, we give ourselves a chance to lead more satisfied lives.”
Much like his viral “How to Build a Life” column and podcast for The Atlantic, in this cover story Brooks offers practical tools for breaking free from the satisfaction trap: three habits he’s developed for his own life that are grounded in philosophy and social-science research. Come on, get happy. Or, at least, be okay with wanting less.
“It’s Your Friends Who Break Your Heart,” publishing February 9. The older we get, the harder it is to keep our friends—and the more desperately we need them. The beauty and fragility of friendship in midlife occupies this piece by staff writer Jennifer Senior, who writes about the pain of losing friends as an adult, and the grueling process of maintaining the ones we have when we have so little time for others. “You lose friends to marriage, to parenthood, to politics—even when you share the same politics,” Jennifer writes. “You lose friends to success, to failure, to flukish strokes of good or ill luck … These life changes and upheavals don’t just consume your friends’ time and attention. They often reveal unseemly characterological truths about the people you love most, behaviors and traits you previously hadn’t imagined possible.”
The pandemic forced many Americans to privilege relationships to spouses, children, and family, and to distance from friends. But are partners and kids the only ones who deserve our binding commitments? “Friendship is the rare kind of relationship that remains forever available to us at any age. It’s a bulwark against status, a potential source of creativity and renewal in lives that otherwise narrow with time.” In midlife, she reflects: “One day you look up and discover the ambition monkey has fallen off your back; the children into whom you’ve pumped thousands of kilowatt-hours are no longer partial to your company; your partner may or may not still be by your side. And what, then, remains? With any luck, your friends.”
“My Personality Transplant,” publishing February 10. “One morning last summer, I woke up and announced, to no one in particular: ‘I choose to be happy today!’” In this punchy personal essay, staff writer Olga Khazan––a self-proclaimed neurotic introvert––embarks on an experiment to see if she can change the elements of her personality that she doesn’t like. Studying the five traits that make up a personality (extroversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness, and neuroticism), Olga gives herself three months to mold hers to one that is more extroverted and less neurotic. She writes, “I learned that it was possible to deliberately mold these five traits, to an extent, by adopting certain behaviors. I began wondering whether the tactics of personality change could work on me.”
Olga joins an improv group to become more outgoing; sits solo at whiskey bars, making small talk with strangers; introduces meditation to her life; and enrolls in an anger-management course. The results are modest, which Olga realizes “is the goal of so much self-help material … Perhaps the real weakness of the ‘change your personality’ proposition is that it implies incremental change isn’t real change. But being slightly different is still being different––the same you but with better armor.” Even if she never learns to become the alpha, she concludes, “I learned to play the role of a calm, extroverted softie, and in doing so I got to know myself.”