The Wheatley Institution

Secrets to Happiness and a "Magic Briefcase"

Arthur Brooks spoke at the Wheatley Institution's Forum in Civic Virtue on October 1, 2014 and then wrote this recent New York Times opinion piece on his visit to Utah.   Learn more about the secrets to happiness and the "Magic Briefcase."


Originally written on October 2, 2014 by Troy S. Tessem

“When someone tells you they want more happiness, what they really mean is: ‘I want to be less unhappy,’” said Arthur Brooks at the Wheatley Institution’s Forum in Civic Virtue on October 1, 2014.

Brooks, who is the president of the American Enterprise Institute, laid the foundation for his three secrets to happiness by explaining that 20% of Americans report loneliness as a big aggravator in their life. “So how do people satisfy this dissatisfaction?” The answer, he said, is “fame, power, pleasure, and money. Why do they do this? Because that is what the world tells them.” Brooks further explained, “The world is sending the wrong message. Love things and use people. That is the formula of the world.  It is simple, it is elegant, and it is wrong.”

Secret #1:

Remember the moral formula for a happy life. Unhappy people love things and use people. Happy people love people and use things.

Acknowledging that he did not have time to tackle all four of the happiness counterfeits, Mr. Brooks focused on what to do about the tendency to seek happiness from money. To illustrate, Brooks told how he had met a Hindu monk in New Delhi who had grown up in Houston, worked for a large consulting company, made lots of money, and woke up one morning asking the question, Is this all there is? The man then renounced everything and studied seven years to become a Hindu monk. When they met, Brooks asked him his view on capitalism. The man answered, “Poverty is the reason we have to be capitalists, because free enterprise is the only great force against poverty in human history.” Surprised, Arthur asked, “Isn’t money bad?” “Money isn’t bad,” answered the monk. “The problem isn’t money. The problem is attachment to money.”

Secret #2

Don’t “sell the house and car, just don’t love them…Remember, to reject materialism, embrace detachment. Don’t get rid of material things. Make sure you are unattached. The way to do that is to practice charity. Give away what you hold dear and value experience over things.”

Moving into his third secret, Brooks asked, “What percentage of Americans say anonymously, that they like their jobs?” The answer of 89% surprised the audience. “Why is that?” asked Brooks. “The answer is earned success; the belief that you are creating value in your life and that you are creating value in the lives of others. When you believe that you are earning your success you have found one of the great keys to happiness.” Brooks then questioned, “So what do we need? You need and I 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.” So we need a “system in our economy that allows other people to earn their success.”

This system, Brooks explained, must be:

1.       A system where their skills and their passions meet. Where they are in a free labor market.

2.       A system where merit and hard work are rewarded

3.       A system where entrepreneurship and innovation and celebrated.

“Here is the best thing,” he continued, “that system exists and it is called free enterprise—the American free enterprise system. It is almost, literally, a happiness machine for people.”

Secret #3

You are ready to reject materialism? Then you have to fight for a system. It’s not good enough to be virtuous yourself. You have to fight for a system that will deliver earned success for everyone, which is the free enterprise system.

View full lecture here:

More Information

<<Back to Featured Projects