How are you approaching the second half of life? There are inevitable declines to deal with. But there are gifts that emerge that, if you’re attuned to them, can create greater meaning, renewed purpose, and happiness as you retire. Arthur Brooks, Harvard Professor and happiness columnist in The Atlantic, joins us to discuss his new book From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life. Are you ready for The Second Curve?
Arthur Brooks joins us from Massachusetts.
Arthur C. Brooks is the Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and Professor of Management Practice at the Harvard Business School. Before joining the Harvard faculty in July of 2019, he served for ten years as president of the Washington, D.C.-based American Enterprise Institute (AEI), one of the world’s leading think tanks.
He is also a columnist for The Atlantic, host of the podcast “How to Build a Happy Life with Arthur Brooks,” and subject of the 2019 documentary film “The Pursuit.”Arthur has written 12 books, including the national bestsellers “Love Your Enemies” and “The Conservative Heart.” His most recent book is “From Strength to Strength,” available on February 15, 2022.
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On The First & Second Curves
“I noticed that analysis and innovation get harder as we get older and and I started looking into why that was. And there’s a whole body of research that shows that there’s something called fluid intelligence.
Fluid intelligence is what makes you good at what you’re good at. So you were a Wall Street (HR) guy and and what made you good at your job was that you were able to answer other people’s questions and solve other people’s problems faster than anybody else. That’s what makes you really good in the knowledge business and the ideas business. And that gets easier, and better, through your 20s and and into your 30s. And then in your late 30s, according to the research, that fluid intelligence, the ability to do that actually starts to decline, and is really in free fall in your 40s. That’s why certain things for people who are in perfectly good health and have high levels of skill, find their job getting harder and just more challenging than it used to be. That’s why lawyers find that in their 40s they’re not as sharp as they were in their 30s and surgeons find the same thing – whether they’re willing to admit it or not.
But here’s the good news. Actually the research shows that’s not your only intelligence. The first intelligence curve goes up and comes back down – but there’s another intelligence curve behind it called the crystallized intelligence curve, which makes it much easier for you not to answer somebody else’s questions, but to ask the right questions. You get much better at taking the information that’s out there and assembling it into a coherent storyline and solving problems that way now. That’s a different task than I’m going to answer your questions and solve your problems faster and better than anybody else. It’s: I’m going to go figure out what the right questions are and then I’m going to put together a team that’s going to solve them. It’s a different discipline. You’re basically going from innovator to instructor, from visionary inventor to master teacher.
That’s the crystallized intelligence curve and that goes up through your 40s, it goes up through your 50s and it stays high in your 60s and 70s, and even in your 80s, so as long as you’ve got your health and your marbles. You could be a sage. You can be a master teacher. You can be the Dalai Lama basically is what it comes down to. But you got to jump from that first curve to the second curve.”
“So just as food is made up of proteins, carbohydrates and fat, happiness is a combination of enjoyment, satisfaction and purpose. Those are the 3 macronutrients that go into happiness. And you will find that people say that they’re happy when they have all 3 in abundance and in balance. And people notice that they’re not very happy if they’re missing one or more of those macronutrients, just like you’d be. You won’t feel well physically if you’re missing one of those macronutrients from your nutritional profile. So those are the three. Now enjoyment is pretty obvious, although there’s a big research literature on what it means. Satisfaction is tricky because satisfaction is the reward and the joy that comes from a job well done – and as Mick Jagger sings I can’t get no satisfaction. The truth is you just can’t keep no satisfaction. And that’s because of the the way your brain is designed to make you run and run and run and run and run. I do a whole lot of research on how to break that in the book. I actually talk about the formula for breaking the back of that tyranny. And finally, purpose or meaning actually requires challenge and trauma and hardship and pain – and actually requires unhappiness paradoxically. So these are kind of complicated phenomena, but altogether, everybody can get better at getting happy if you’ve got the knowledge and skills.”
“But there’s also the habits to develop for the people who are the happiest people. Now the habits of the unhappiest people are that they maximize 4 things: money, power, pleasure, and fame (or prestige). Most people don’t want to be famous actually, but they want to be admired. They want the prestige, so that’s the formula that people think will bring them happiness. And it just does not. That’s the formula for chronic dissatisfaction and yeah, your Grandma told you that. But you know your Grandma’s always right.
The real formula is what we need to pivot to – and these are the habits. This is based on 10,000 research articles and so I’m boiling the ocean here, but the habits of the happiest people is that they think every day about putting a deposit in 4 accounts. This is important retirement wisdom here. You got to put this in these 401(k) accounts for your happiness. And that’s your Faith, your Family, your Friendship and Work – and that is not necessarily paying work because a lot of people retired to listening to this. It is work that that where you earn your success by, in other words creating value with your life and by serving other people who who need you.
Faith, by the way, is not necessarily a traditional religious faith. It’s a sense of the transcendent – something bigger than you. Friendship is pretty obvious. Family: The ties that bind and don’t break and that we don’t choose (and God knows in many cases we wouldn’t choose) but these are the people that we can count on. These are the 4 accounts. So start your spiritual journey. I have a whole chapter in this book on how to start your spiritual journey, how to re-cultivate the root system in your life for your family.\
If you’re retiring, and if you have adult kids, call them. Re-establish these relationships. You need to go move near him if you’ve got grandkids. Don’t be like: I‘m gonna live in Florida because it’s warm and I can golf. No, that’s not going to bring you happiness like being near your grandkids is going to bring you happiness. Friendship is critically important. There are a lot of people who are retired today, older people who just don’t even know how to make friends. Successful people from Wall Street, they got tons of deal friends, but no real friends. I have a whole chapter about how to make real friends, not just deal friends, and find meaningful work where you serve other people. Those are the secrets: Faith. Family. Friendship and Work. That’s those are the habits of the highest happiness people.”
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Intro and Outro voiceovers by Ross Huguet