Thank you, Richard. Thanks to all of you, what an honor to be back here at BYU. This is really one of my favorite places to go, and not just because it's the most beautiful place in America. This truly is one of the happiest places in America. I've been looking at the data on happiness for years and years, and it starts to get boring when you see the same statistics over and over again. I've been looking at the rankings of U.S. states on happiness, on happiness defined as, 'How well do you think your life is going?" in anonymous surveys and in very large samples. You find again and again: it's always Utah; you guys have got some sort of secret. And furthermore, when you get to give lectures on happiness in the place in Utah called Happy Valley—well, there's an expression for that, and it's called bringing coals to Newcastle. So I'm not exactly sure that I'm going to teach you anything you don't know today, but I'm hoping that maybe I can give you a couple of tips that you can pass on to somebody else. This is the three secrets to a happier life.
Why am I going to talk about this subject? I've been writing about happiness for years and years. I've studied it; I've written books on the subject, and the funniest thing is that every time I give a speech on happiness, particularly to business people, at least one person that is really successful, really big money-earner comes up to me afterward and says, 'Give me some practical tips on how to be happier." They want real advice, not just statistics—they want some advice on how to be happier. And I tell them three secrets, and these are the three secrets I'm going to tell you today.
Now, when somebody says to you, 'I want to be happier," what are they really saying? They're actually really saying, 'I want to be less unhappy." That's always the case. I mean, no one says I want advice on being happy if they're not unhappy. And happiness and unhappiness are actually very different phenomena; brain scientists find that happiness and unhappiness are processed in different hemispheres of the brain, as a matter of fact. So if I'm going to give somebody some good advice, I really need to talk not about happiness, but about unhappiness, and that's where I want to start our journey here today.
I want to talk to you a little about what we know about who is unhappy and why they are unhappy. A little bit of data for you. Large surveys, anonymously conducted, year after year, you find that between 10 and 15% of the population is honestly unhappy about their life. A third of Americans are very happy (that's, you know, you), 55% or so are somewhat happy about their lives and the rest, 10–15%, are unhappy about their lives. This year, right now, the latest survey shows that 13% of Americans are unhappy. Now, part of this is a clinical problem: 3% of Americans are chronically, clinically depressed, which is a psychiatric medical problem and I'm not going to deal with that. I want to talk about the other 10 percentage points of Americans who don't have a medical problem, but nonetheless they're just not very happy with the way their life is going. Now those are the guys coming up to me after speeches saying, 'Can I get some advice on how I can just be a little bit happier?" because they're just not happy enough.
So what do I tell them? First of all, let's think a little bit because there's a big literature out there from social psychologists about the sources of basic unhappiness. You've all felt it. You've all been unhappy from day to day and you know people who are kind of unhappy about their lives. What explains this? What are the basic categories of unhappiness? The first is just aggravations, the stuff you don't like, the things you have to put up with. And it turns out that there are some studies on this—about what aggravates people the most. Why do I want to tell you about that? I want to tell you about that because you can fix some of those things if you've got some knowledge, so I'm going to give you some practical tips in a second. The second category of things that make people unhappy are the persistent circumstances that are a lot harder to change, circumstances in people's lives. And the last is the most existential: it's dissatisfaction, and that's where I really want to spend my time today, about dissatisfaction in people's lives.
Let's start off talking about aggravation. What is it about people's lives from day to day that makes them aggravated, that brings them down, that makes them a little less happy? You can think about the things in your life that do it. I can think about the things in my life that do it, but there's this one great study I have to tell you about. It was conducted by a social psychologist at Princeton named Daniel Kahneman; he's actually the only non-economist to ever win the Noble Prize in Economics. He's a social psychologist, a brilliant guy. Daniel Kahneman had this theory, and his theory was: people don't actually know what makes them happy or unhappy from a day-to-day and a minute-to-minute basis—not because they're going to lie to you about it; it's just that they don't really remember. They have selective memories. The reason he thought this is that he's a father, and he remembered when his kids were little, and thinking back on it he thought, 'Actually day-to-day and minute-to-minute, they never made me very happy. They always kind of made me unhappy. But I think back on it and go, I love my kids." So he said, 'I wonder if you asked people day-to-day and minute-to-minute, they're going to give you different answers about what's aggravating them."
So he did a study, and how did he do it? This was about 15 years ago. He'd bought a bunch of devices. They were—you've never heard of these things if you're students—they were called palm pilots. They were called palm pilots. Now they're called doorstops. These palm pilots, they were little PDAs, they were really cutting-edge in those days, and he bought a few hundred of them with a grant. And he induced people to participate in his experiment by saying if you do the study, you get to keep the palm pilot. Cool, right? And everybody's like, 'Yeah, I want the palm pilot," which was useful for like a month afterward. And they strapped on the palm pilots and every fifteen minutes the thing would go, Ding! and they'd pull out the palm pilot and they'd have to write down, 'What am I doing right now and how happy am I or how unhappy am I?" That was an interesting study, and he found out, in order, the most aggravating, unhappiness-provoking actives that people spend their days doing. And they didn't know it, as it turns out. It was a big surprise to people. So I know, and am about to tell you, the most single unhappiness-provoking activity in the average person's day. What do you think it is? Somebody throw one out.
Response 1: Watching TV.
Brooks: Watching TV is pretty high up in happiness, believe it or not. People really enjoy watching TV, which is crazy because there's nothing on. But that's paradoxical, and it's actually a reflection on your good character that you voted that way and I commend you for it. Yes ma'am.
Response 2: Traffic?
Brooks: Traffic. Good! Traffic's number two. The number two aggravation-provoking thing is sitting in traffic. I can tell you, I live in Washington DC. After I'd been there for five years, somebody was asking my wife, neither one of us is from Washington, 'Do you like Washington?" And she said, 'You know it's really great—except, for the traffic and the weather and the people." What else? What do you think is number one?
Response 3: Hunger.
Brooks: Hunger. Well, most people don't feel hunger so probably it would be that would be good if I had enough sample of people that were actually that destitute, particularly outside the United States. So that one doesn't quite count because I don't have that in the data. Okay. Alright one more.
Response: Waking up.
Brooks: Waking up. Yeah, I can tell something about you.
All right, here's what it was. You ready for it? The number one unhappiness-provoking activity in an average day is spending time with your boss. Oh man. Yeah, I really took this one to heart, why? Because I'm a boss. I'm the president of the American Enterprise Institute. I have 206 full-time employees. And I read this study; it's very disheartening. I used to think when I go into the lunchroom and sit down that people kind of go silent, because it's out of respect. It turns out it's depression. I'm eating lunch alone now, for their sake.
So there's a lot of aggravation. If you want to see the study, talk to me afterward, and you can get the paper, you can get it online even. You can look at the list of things, what do you do? Number one, try to control your destiny a little bit better, do fewer of these things. Turns out there's a lot that you can do less of. The main mistake that people make when they get out of college with a really good degree, you know what they do? They say, I'm going to get a job that will pay so I can get a really nice house but I'm going to have to live far away, but that's okay because I'll get used to the commute. No you won't. Right? No you won't. You'll get used to the house; you'll get used to the money, after about six months; you'll never get used to the commute. Don't do it. Don't do it. You'll learn stuff like this from this literature. You can improve your life by getting rid of aggravations.
There are other circumstances, however, that are harder to fix. There are circumstances that make life really a chore and maybe hunger goes into that category, if we had data on that. Here's the big one in ordinary people's lives, here's the big one: loneliness. There's a psychologist at the University of Chicago named John Cacioppo. He's the world's leading expert on the subject of human loneliness and what he finds is really shocking: He finds that 20% of Americans report anonymously that loneliness is a big source of unhappiness in their lives. Look around you: one in five of you actually suffers from some sort of loneliness.
It gets more interesting. These are not just hermits, who live way out and no neighbors—most of these people who are lonely have pretty active social lives; there's just something that's not right. Dig down a little further. Let's think about loneliness a little bit more. Who are the loneliest people in America? The answer is middle-aged men. Middle-aged men, okay? You're going to look at your professors a little bit differently now, aren't you. Why? We know the reason for that too. The reason is a lack of real friendships.
See, here's how the story goes. When you're in a typical nuclear family where dad's going to work really long hours, particularly if he's supporting a young family, and if mom works either fewer hours or is staying home with the children, the friendships change a lot. I mean, I can tell you, because I got a house full of teenagers, which is, you know, super fun, and I had kids in the family for a long time. You go to work and you have colleagues, you have relationships with people that are social, but it's not the same thing as the friendships you had when you were in college. You're not going to go out and hang out and have a bite to eat after work with these people because that's robbing your family. So the result is you become very good at being well-socialized but you get worse and worse and worse at actually having friends. Friendship is a skill. Friendship is like a muscle, and you have to work on the muscle to keep it good and strong. Women on the other hand, typically, particularly if they're taking care of children, have more active social lives and are better at keeping up friendships. So what do you find? Men are lonelier and lonelier and lonelier and women are less and less and less lonely. Here's the only statistic you need to know. At age sixty, what percentage of men say their best friend is their wife? The answer? 60%. Sixty percent of your dads say, 'My best friend is your mom!" What percent of wives say their best friend is their husband? Thirty percent. That's kind of sad, isn't it? That's the story I'm trying to tell. Loneliness is a big problem in people's lives. So what do you need to know and take away from that? Don't fall into the trap. Especially you guys. Hold on to your friendships; these are very dear; don't lose the skill. That goes for you ladies too, by the way.
Those are two categories, aggravations and circumstances, and I could go into a whole lecture on either one of them—but I want to get to the big one. Number three: If you ask people who are sad, what's the problem? Ordinarily they can't quite put their finger on it. It's kind of weird. Try it sometime. They'll say, 'Something's missing." There's not enough of something in their lives. They can come up with some sort of lame excuse, but it seems like there's this hole in their life. They're dissatisfied with the way things are going. You know, it felt like things were going to turn out differently. I though that my marriage was going to turn out differently; I thought my job was going to turn out differently—there's kind of a malaise about people who are constantly sad about their lives. There's a dissatisfaction with the way that life is turning out. Try it sometime. Ask somebody who's got these types of issues. And you'll hear this. So here's the question: for people who feel this, how do they fill the hole? How do they satisfy the dissatisfaction, typically? Well we know how. You know how they do it? They do it with four things: fame, power, pleasure, and money. Those are the big ones. Philosophers have been talking about this for thousands of years. St. Thomas Aquinas, The most important saint in the Roman Catholic Church back from the 12th century said that people are dissatisfied. Why? Because they're actually looking for substitutes, for what? For God. They're looking for substitutes for God. And he says it comes in four categories: money, power, pleasure, and honor. Sounds familiar, right? Except when he said 'honor" what he meant was fame in the way that we talk about it today.
So here's my question to you: If that's true, if people are always looking for something and dissatisfied, and they're always looking for fame and power and physical pleasure and money, why do they do that? Why do they think that those are going to actually be the substitutes, the things that they really are seeking? Why do they think they're going to get happiness from those things?
The answer is because that's what the world tells them is going to work. Think about it. There's a reason you don't like TV. There's a reason. Because it gives you inadequate substitutes for what you seek. Because it gives you the bad stuff all the time. There's a reason that your parents never took you to R rated movies and that I don't, and I don't even see those movies. The values are no good. There's a reason you're suspicious about a lot of the media. There's a reason that most universities—not this one—are creating bad values; it's because they're sending the message to people all across the country. You want to be happier? I'll tell you what you need: fame pleasure, money. The world has a formula to relieve dissatisfaction. The worldly formula for happiness—you know what it is? Love things and use people. That's the formula of the world. Think about it, you see it all day long. Love it, buy this, you'll be happier. This is great, this physical thing, make some more money and everything will be fine. And people? Use them for your satisfaction temporarily, step on them for your fame and for your ambition. Love things and use people. That's the worldly formula. It's simple, it's elegant, and it's wrong. I'm going to tell you why. I'm going to give you evidence that it's wrong. And then, I'm going to tell you what the real formula is.
Let's focus on one of those things. We don't have time to talk about everything. If you want, in the Q and A we can talk about fame. I have data on fame, believe it or not, it's pretty interesting. I've got data on pleasure. Pretty interesting too, but I want to talk about money. I'm interested in money; I'm an economist. I think money is an interesting thing, why? Not because it just buys a bunch of stuff, because it makes people act in particular ways. It's a really big driver of behavior. So let's talk about money and let's ask a very simple question: Can money buy happiness? Your mother says no. The church says no. What do the data say? The data say yes. Money can buy happiness. No wait, I'm not trying to subvert your mother. Your mother's wiser than I am. But we know that money can buy happiness if you're poor. How is that? The problem with being poor, in the United States in particular, is that it brings pressure to make decisions that people shouldn't have to make. A decision: Should I buy medicine or food? Should I have my electricity turned off or my water turned off? These are terrible decisions to make, particularly when you have children. If you can relieve the necessity of making these decisions, you will raise people's happiness. Money buys happiness, if you're truly poor. But only if you're really poor. That's not what your mother was talking about—she was talking about you. And your mother's right about you. Once you get above the level of poverty, once you get above the level of subsistence, money doesn't bring happiness at all. Many studies show this, that above the level of lower middle class life, you can add money and add money and add money and you're not going to be bringing any more happiness. So that's one of the big things that we find.
And furthermore, it gets worse. Money is not neutral. People who seek money for the sake of money tend to make themselves progressively unhappier and unhappier. Don't fall into this pattern. Psychologists at the University of Rochester in 2009 they surveyed, studied, and interviewed 147 graduates. Now what did they do? Graduating seniors, they asked them before they left about their goals in life. What do you want? What do you want. I'm going to come back in five years and ask you whether or not you hit their goals, but first you have to tell me what your goals are right now. Think about your own goals. Think about what you would really like to see about yourself five years after you graduate from college, when you're 29 years old or something. Who do you want to be? What do you want to have achieved?
They found that the goals of the people graduating from the University of Rochester fell into two categories: intrinsic goals and extrinsic goals. Intrinsic goals were all about relationships. 'I want to have a happy marriage. I want to have children and a good loving relationship with them. I want to be true to my God." These are the kind of things that people who had intrinsic goals said about their lives. And about half of them said that, believe it or not. That's good to know! The other half had extrinsic goals that were all about, 'I want to be respected and well-seen by my peers or I want to make a lot of money." Fame and money. So either you're talking about relationships that are well ordered with people and God, or you're talking about the extrinsic stuff in life, which is largely about fame, power and money.
Okay. So what did they find? They went back in five years, and there are two big takeaways from the study. Number one: good news, you hit your goals. You're going to hit your goals. That's the good news. It's not like people said, 'Ah, I really wanted these things but it didn't work out." We kind of think that might be the case—it's not the case. You're going to hit your goals. That's what the data clearly say. But here's the bad news: if you have the wrong kind of goals, it's going to be pretty unsatisfactory for you. People who had intrinsic goals were well adjusted and generally very happy. People who had extrinsic goals had, and I quote, 'shame and anger, headaches, stomachaches and loss of energy." If you said, 'I want to get rich," five years later, you probably will be well on your way, and you're going to be pretty miserable about it. The problem here is not exactly making the money; the problem is the intention of making the money, and dedicating your life to these types of extrinsic goals.
Science is clear on this, but of course, you don't need the science, right? Because religion has always taught us this. Ecclesiastes 5:10 'Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless." Or this, 'Before ye seek for riches," this is the second chapter of the book of Jacob, 'seek ye for the kingdom of God." Get it right. Intrinsic first, extrinsic second. Now, this is not just Christianity that says this. I have a collaboration, a great collaboration, with the Dalai Lama. We're talking about the morality of free enterprise; we're talking about the big issues in life. We do this twice a year. So I'm very interested in what the Buddhists have to say about this. And listen to this. There's a word in the Sanskrit language called up?d?na. What does it mean? Up?d?na is the sticky craving of inadequate things, the debased substitutes for the truth that we seek. One word says it all. Isn't that great? It's the economy of Sanskrit, of Buddhist teaching which is entirely consistent with Christian reasoning. So we should have known that the data were going to find this, I suppose.
So the question then is what do you do? I gave you the data. Don't go searching after riches. Seek ye not riches. What should you do? The answer is sell everything and live like an impoverished monk, right? Makes perfect sense.
I took that question to a friend, a new friend that I made last year. I was in New Delhi, and it was actually after a visit to the Dalai Lama and in New Delhi I was visiting a very famous temple, a Hindu temple called the Temple Ashkardham. It's an incredible place. It took 10,000 artisans and stonecutters seven full-time years to build this temple. And it's pretty new; it was only built about 15 years ago. The place is incredible, and it's just crawling with these monks in saffron robes, these sardus, Hindu monks. And I was going to meet with one, his name is Swami gian numi. I'm thinking, how good is his English going to be? I meet him, and he comes up to me and he says, 'Are you Arthur?" in a Texas accent. This is really weird. And I said, 'Where are you from?" and he said, 'I'm from Houston!" I said you're from Houston? Well I have to hear your story. I said, 'What's your story?" He said, 'People always ask me that." I said I wonder why. He said, 'I got my MBA after going to the University of Texas. I grew up in Houston because my dad was a petroleum engineer. I was really on my way to a big career. Got my MBA, went to work for Mckinsey. I was doing consulting, I was making a lot of money, and I woke up one morning and said, 'Is this it? Is this all there is?' So I renounced it all. And I went to seminary and I became a Hindu monk. It took me seven years of study, but now finally I found what I'm looking for." I said, 'You really renounced everything?" He said, 'Yeah. I have four possessions. Two robes, prayer beads, and a bowl for my food. That's all I own." I said, 'Really? So I have to ask you a couple of questions because I'm this big free enterprise advocate. Tell me," I said, 'your view on capitalism. I want it straight up. I want to hear it from a guy who got an MBA and was going to make the big money and then he renounced it all and all he has is a couple of robes and beads and a bowl. I want to hear what he has to say about it."
He said—you know what he said? Poverty. 'Poverty is the reason we have to be capitalists because free enterprise is the only great force against poverty in human history." Now that blew my mind. I didn't think he was going to say that, right? 'Really?" I said, 'Well, don't you have strong views on money? Isn't money bad? Isn't that the point of your life?" and he said, 'Money isn't bad. No." He said, 'The problem isn't money. The problem is attachment to money." Huh. Now, I should have known that right? Really got me thinking and here's why I should have known that, because I'm a Christian. St. Paul's first letter to Timothy: 'For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." See, we always remember that as money is the root of all evil, you know that scripture? That's not what he says. Money's not the root of all evil –the love of money is the root of all evil. Swami gian numi says it's the attachment to money, not the money itself. This is the secret. This is the secret that we have to understand. There's nothing wrong with free enterprise; there's nothing wrong with having stuff. Don't go sell the house and the car, just don't love the house and the car. They're not your friends, they're not your family, and they're not God. The solution is detachment, detachment from material things. That sounds really, really Eastern, that sounds really, really Buddhist. Detachment is what we need to do. But it's not Eastern or Western—it's human. You're Christians and so am I: remember, our savior was born in absolute poverty in this world to teach us the lesson of detachment from worldly things. This is the first lesson of Christmas! It's amazing, and yet we forget it. We listen to politicians who say the problem is that we have too much wealth and it's creating too much inequality, and you hear people say that what we need to do is impoverish ourselves, but they're wrong. We need to remember that detachment is the key. It's the first secret.
Here's the formula. Remember the old formula, the worldly formula? Use people and love things? Turn it upside-down. Make it virtuous. Love people, use things. Only love people, only use things. That's the secret. It's the first secret on how to become detached. But you need more practical wisdom than that too. Because there has to be a way to practice detachment, to become more detached of the practices of everyday life and there are. The first one is charity. Give away that which you hold dear. I talk to a lot of clergy; I talk to a lot of Catholic priests and protestant ministers, and one of the questions I ask is 'What does it mean to tithe?" And they say, 'Give away ten percent of your money," and they argue. My dad always gave away ten percent gross. I was like, that's crazy, are you kidding? You have to give it away after taxes. And he said, 'No!" and I said, 'How come, Dad? How come you have to give away ten percent gross before taxes?" Do you know what he said? 'Just in case."
Charity. When you ask people what does tithing mean, and they talk about money you say, well, really? What about the things that we treasure, your time and your affection and your energy, your expertise? Aren't those things important too? Have you given away ten percent of your time? Have you given away ten percent of your affection? Ten percent of your friendship? The things that really are the resources that are the treasures in your life? If you do, you practice detachment. Because charity is the way that we can become unattached to the treasures that become our idols.
How do I know it's a secret to success? Well there are a lot of studies out there that show that it makes you healthy, happier, and even richer. I gave a BYU forum a couple years ago, wonderful experience. Had no idea how fun it was going to be. And even more, how long it was going to be sitting on BYUTV because I still get people sending me emails about that. I looked at it, somebody sent me the video, and I thought, 'Man, I have lost a lot of hair." What do you find? There's a lot of literature out there: you're happy, healthy, prosperous if you give more. Here's my favorite study. This is a brand new study from the University of Liverpool. This is a study where men were asked to participate in a study with human respondents, and they were supposed to bring their significant other, their girlfriends or wives, with them to the study. What was the study? It was real easy. Walk from this building to that building. And they would walk with their wives or girlfriends from one building to another, and there's an alleyway between the buildings, and when they got to the alleyway, a homeless guy would walk out and ask them for change. So what was the point of the experiment? They got to the other building, and they would ask the people in isolation, 'How much money did you give to the man?" and then the woman, 'How much sex appeal does the man have?" How attractive is the man? What did you find? The more he gave, the sexier his wife thought he was. This is the secret guys. This is the secret. I mean, it's great. You'll get happier, healthier—you'll even get better looking if you give more money to charity. Detachment. It works.
So, the first way is charity, but there's another way to practice this too. Have you ever seen that MasterCard ad? There's a whole bunch of them just like this. This guy's going to the beach and he starts totaling up how much it costs to get there. Beach ball: $3. Gas for the car: $36 and one night at the hotel at the beach: $136. A weekend away at the beach with my son: priceless. Okay, stupid ad. But what's the point? The point is focus on the value of experiences, not on the price of things. The value of the experiences are rarely, rarely alone—they normally involve relationships. The price of things is just talking about stuff. The point of that ad is you have to shell out some money for stuff, who cares? Who cares about the beach ball? Who cares about the gas? Who cares—what I care about is the time with my son. You know, there's a comedian, the great famous and neurotic comedian Woody Allen. He has this story he used to tell [from] when he was married to his first wife. It was a dysfunctional marriage, what are the odds. He's saying at one point they were really, really down on their luck. They didn't have much money left. They had just enough money either to have two weeks in Bermuda as a vacation, or to pay for a divorce. And they couldn't decide which to do. They decided ultimately on the divorce because the vacation is over in two weeks, but the divorce is something you have forever. Now, here's why that's wrong. Here's why that's wrong. Because experiences bring happiness. Things don't bring happiness. Things give you a temporary boost in mood; experiences bring you true happiness. This is counterintuitive. People always think, 'Well I could blow all my money on some vacation or I can get a new car. A new car would be better because I'm going to have it forever." But no no no, it's wrong. The vacation is something you're going to remember forever. Lots of studies on this, I'm not going to bore you on it, but lots of laboratory experiments show that experiences are always a better investment than things.
Here's how I learned it. I've known these things for a long time, not sure I believed. Here's how I know it. Five years ago, my middle son, his name is Carlos. He's 14, he's turning 15. When he was nine, I asked him, 'Carlos what do you want for Christmas, buddy?" and he said, 'I've been thinking about it. All I want this year—I don't want any stuff—all I want is to go away with you alone hunting and fishing." Pretty nice, right. See, he doesn't know that that costs 19 times more than the stuff. But anyway, he thought he was doing me a favor, right? 'All I want is to go away hunting and fishing with you," and I said, 'That's awesome! Let's do that." So we did, and we didn't just do it that one time. Now, he never gets anything for Christmas. Every year, we go hunting and fishing together between Christmas and New Year's. This year, we're going to go hunting wild boar and then light tackle fishing off the coast of Florida. Why do I tell you that? Because I can't wait. I'm really excited. I can't wait and Carlos can't wait. We talk about it all the time. He can tell you every single trip that we've done, everything he's shot, everything he's caught, and he can show you the pictures of it. If I'd been giving him the stuff, two months after Christmas he wouldn't remember even what I gave him. 'I think I got a bike? I don't know. A Skateboard? I don't know." 'Oh! That's the time I shot that white-tail deer. That's pretty cool." I'm doing the same thing with my other kids too. But, they don't all like to hunt. One of them likes to go to concerts. So we go to concerts together for his birthday, we go to New York, we go listen to concerts. He wants to go to concerts and museums, go figure. I love that stuff too. It's great. That's how I learned it. Value of experiences, not the price of things. Here's how we get to experience that fact every day, because, again, this is detachment, detachment from worldly physical things. It's getting the experience and the value of the experience which always revolves around relationships with other people. Love people, use things.
How do we get to experience this a lot? The answer is work. The answer is with our work. When you have a job that you love, even a job that you just kind of like, why is it that it's so important to you? You might say, 'It's a living. I want the money." But that's not really the big thing—it's your identity. It gives your life meaning; it gives your life shape. This is a really big deal to people, this is the reason, and this will explain a statistic I'm about to give you that you're going to find surprising. What percentage of Americans like or love their jobs? Get a number in your head. Don't shout it out. Get a number in your head. What percentage of Americans say anonymously that they like or love their jobs. Got a number in your head? It's wrong. The number in your head is wrong. It's 89%. I know you thought it was lower, right? Everybody thinks, 'I like my job but everybody else hates theirs." Wrong! The person who makes your sandwich tomorrow loves her job. The guy you see cutting a yard on your way home from school, loves his job, most likely. It doesn't vary with respect to amount of education; it doesn't vary with respect to income, believe it or not. Eighty-nine percent of Americans, what a blessing, what a wonderful thing.
Why? Why is that? Why do 89% of Americans like or love their jobs? It's not the money. I already ruled money out by looking at it with respect to the neutralization of money in the experiments. The answer is earned success. Earned success, the belief that you are creating value with your life and you are creating value in the lives of other people. When you believe that you are earning your success, you have found one of the great keys to happiness. It's an amazing thing. I have data from the University of Chicago. Take two people, same people basically, statistically. Same age, sex, race, religion, same region of residence, even the same level of education—they both feel that they've been very successful, they have earned their success, but one person earns eight times as much as the second. They will be equally likely to say that they are very happy about their lives. Money doesn't buy happiness. Earned success through meaningful work is one of the great secrets to happiness.
So, what do we need? You need to work in an apostolate that serves others and serves your values. Because that will bring you earned success no matter how much you make. You might make a lot, you might make a little. And furthermore and if we really want to serve others, even other people that we don't know, we've have to have a system, we have to have a system in our economy that allows other people to earn their success. What are the characteristics of an economic system where people can earn their success? Let me propose this: Number one, a system where people have their skills and their passions meet. Where they're in a free labor market where they can go find a job that more or less matches what they're good at and what they like. It's a system where merit and hard work are rewarded. Generally speaking, if you work harder, you make more money; if you're a better worker, you make more money. And we need a system where entrepreneurship and innovation are celebrated. You're not called stupid because you're working harder and trying to do something new; that's celebrated. We need a system that does those three things. And here's the best news. Here's the best news of the afternoon: that system exists, and it's called free enterprise, the American free enterprise system. It's a system that is almost literally a happiness machine for people. But wait, I hope you're a little skeptical right now, because I just said two things that are a little bit in conflict. The first, I just told you right now that it's really good for bringing happiness, but haven't you heard your whole life that free enterprise and capitalism bring materialism? And materialism, loving things, is something I was complaining about a minute ago, so what's the story? You've been hearing your whole life that capitalism creates incentives to consume, to get ahead, to squash the other guy, to acquire a lot of possessions and that's the secret to unhappiness.
Related to this, we have a big national debate going on about inequality, income inequality. Some people have so much and some people have so little. The people who have so much they don't need it, and the people that have so little they don't like it, and this is creating lots of unhappiness in life. And that's a problem with free enterprise too. Wouldn't it be better for fighting materialism, wouldn't it be better for inequality, if we had less free enterprise? If you listen to the government in Washington, they say, 'Yeah! That's right!" More taxation, more redistribution more regulation. Less free enterprise. Well, think about this for a second. Let's think first about the nature of real materialism. You hear about inequality, right? If you're on the wrong side of income inequality, you're a victim! You're a victim of society. Is there anything that's more materialistic than that assertion? Because you're making a low salary, let's say you work for a non-profit organization, your starting salary is $34,000 a year. And one of your buddies gets out of college and he is making $109,000 because he's working for some consulting firm. You're on the wrong side of inequality—you're defined as a victim of society. Do you want to be a victim just because of the choices and circumstances of money? The worst thing that a politician can do is to debase the dignity of an individual by saying that person is a victim on the basis on income inequality. Yet that's what politicians do all day long, lamenting class grievance and stripping the poor of the dignity that they deserve. That's the first thing to remember. But here's actually the big argument about this. You know, free enterprise makes people more materialistic. You ever been to a socialist country? Some of you have, right? Go to Cuba, go to Vietnam, or better yet, ask somebody what it was like behind the iron curtain back in the old Soviet Union days. You will never see more materialism than that. You will never see more selfishness, more greed, more cheating, more corruption than you will find in socialist countries. Why? Because there's a scarcity mentality, because life is a zero sum game. 'I'm going to get what's mine." That's what we find in socialist countries.
The real problem in a nutshell is not the economic system when it comes to materialism, when it comes to selfishness, when it comes to avarice, when it comes to greed. The real problem is not economics; the problem is morality. The problem is humans acting badly. No system without the principles of brotherhood and service to a greater good will ever reflect virtue or bring about a good life. That's a fact. Don't let anybody sell you the snake oil that an economic system will perfect humanity—because it won't. I don't care if they tell you it's capitalism, or they tell you it's socialism. You know and I know this starts with your virtue, this starts with your heart, this starts with your relationship with others and your service to God. That's where your morality begins, and that comes before economics. That's the real problem with selfishness. So before any discussion of materialism, we have to have a discussion about our morals. But once you do, if you have your morals in order, if you really have your act together, free enterprise is so much better than all the alternatives. It's ironic, if we love people and use things—if our morals are right—the system that brings the greatest wealth, which unambiguously free enterprise does, is also the system that can move us from materialistic misery to an exciting, happier life. It's the system where we can be set free to pursue the experience of earning our success. It's the system that, with hard work, we can actually maybe create a little surplus and give it to our fellow men and women who are in need.
I'm almost done. But I want to reiterate the three secrets. Next time somebody says to me or somebody says to you, 'I want to be happier," here's a little news that they can use. Here's a little practical information. Here are some tips for a happier life. Number one: remember the moral formula for a happy life. This is diagnostic. Go to an unhappy person. You will find, they love things and use people. Go to a happy person, they love people and they use things. Don't forget it in your own life. And give it to somebody else as well. That's number one. Number two: remember to reject materialism [and] embrace detachment. Don't get rid of material things; make sure you're unattached, you're detached from material things. And the way to do that, the practices to do that, are practicing charity. Give away. Give more away of what you hold dear, and value experiences over things. And finally number three: You want to reject materialism? Are you ready to do it? Then you have to fight for a system. It's not good enough just to be virtuous for yourself. You have to fight for a system that will deliver and always has delivered earned success for everyone, which is the free enterprise system. If we do all these things together, this is our project, people are going to live better lives. And we're going to be happier people, and we're going to be able to pass on these secrets so they can live better lives as well. God bless you and thank you.