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During the pandemic, Oprah Winfrey contacted Harvard professor Arthur Brooks, famed for his lessons on happiness, and proposed teaming up to write a book about finding enjoyment and meaning in your life.
The result: “Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier” (to be published by Portfolio on September 12).
Read the excerpt below, and don’t miss Norah O’Donnell’s interview with Winfrey and Brooks onSeptember 10!
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Introduction: The Road Ahead
America is in a happiness slump. Just over the past decade, the percentage of Americans saying they are “not too happy” rose from 10 percent to 24 percent. The percentage of Americans suffering from depression is increasing dramatically, especially among young adults. Meanwhile, the percentage saying they are “very happy” has fallen from 36 percent to 19 percent. These patterns are seen all over the globe, too, and the trend existed even before the COVID-19 pandemic started. People disagree about why this slump is happening on such a mass scale—blaming technology, or a polarized culture, or culture change, or the economy, or even politics—but we all know that it is happening.
Most of us don’t have the ambition of pulling the whole world out of the slump; we’d be content to help just ourselves. But how, when our problems come from the outside? If we’re angry or sad or lonely, we need people to treat us better; we need our finances to improve; we need our luck to change. Until then, we wait, unhappily, and can only distract ourselves from discomfort.
This book is about showing you how to break out of this pattern… You, too, can become the boss of your own life, not an observer. You can learn to choose how you react to negative circumstances and select emotions that make you happier even when you get a bad hand. You can focus your energy not on trivial distractions, but on the basic pillars of happiness that bring enduring satisfaction and meaning.
You will learn how to manage your life in new ways. However, unlike other books you may have read (we’ve read them, too), this one is not going to exhort you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. This isn’t a book about willpower—it’s about knowledge, and how to use it. If you couldn’t figure out something about your car, you wouldn’t solve the problem with extreme willpower—you’d look at an owner’s manual. Similarly, when something isn’t right in your happiness, you need clear, science-based information about how your happiness works before anything else, and then instructions on how to use this information in your life. That’s what this book is.
This also isn’t another book about minimizing or eliminating pain—yours or anyone else’s. Life can be hard—much harder for some people than for others, through no fault of their own. If you’re in pain, this book won’t tell you to wait it out or extinguish it. Rather, it will show you how to decide to deal with it, learn from it, and grow through it.
Finally, this book isn’t any kind of quick fix for your life… Some progress will be immediate, and most likely, people around you will notice positive changes (and ask your advice). Other lessons will take months or years to become internal and automatic. That’s not bad news at all, because the process of managing yourself and making progress is a fun adventure. Getting happier becomes a new way of life.
Building the life you want takes time and effort. To delay means waiting for no good reason, missing more time being happier, and making others happier as well. …
If you are done waiting, let’s get started.
Excerpted from “Build the Life You Want” by Arthur C. Brooks and Oprah Winfrey, in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Arthur C. Brooks and Oprah Winfrey 2023.
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