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Q&A  •  18 September 2023


Arthur C. Brooks shares the selfish reason for his new book with Oprah

Find out what inspired ‘Build the Life You Want’ and what both authors hope readers take away from it.

What moved you to start the research leading to Build the Life You Want?

My answer is so selfish: I wanted to get happier. I am a social scientist – I study human behaviour – but I wasn’t always a very happy person. So along the way, I decided to turn my toolkit towards my own happiness. And what I found changed my life. I taught it to my students and it worked for them, too, so Oprah and I are bringing it to the world.

What is Build the Life You Want about?

It’s easy to say this book is about how to be happy. But in truth, happiness is a direction, not a destination. The goal of this book is progress, no matter where anyone starts out. As Oprah likes to put it, the goal of the book is happier-ness.

What inspired you and Oprah to collaborate on this wonderful project?

Oprah and I are kindred spirits. We both want to lift people up and bring them together in bonds of love and happiness. Our toolkits are different, though, so we brought them together in this book – and the projects to come.

Did any of the findings from your research surprise you while writing this book?

The science of happiness is endlessly surprising, even to social scientists in the field. The big shock is that Mother Nature doesn’t conspire to make you happy, so the old 'if it feels good, do it' maxim is simply wrong. You have to choose the path to being happier.

What do you and Oprah hope readers will take away from the book?

You can be much happier, no matter where you start out!

Why is gratitude such a significant part of becoming happier?

Gratitude is not natural – we are evolved to focus on the negative around us, not the positive. But in almost every life, there is plenty to be thankful for. Choosing to focus on that creates an almost miraculous mindshift.

Why is it important to turn empathy into compassion?

Empathy is to feel someone’s pain; compassion is to do something about it. The former is ok, but the latter actually changes lives. It also empowers you to solve a problem, not just share in it.

What makes you happy?

My family, deep friendship, work that serves others, and my transcendent journey. These are the pillars on which to build the life each of us wants.

What book has inspired you?

The first book that inspired me to build my own life is actually 1,800 years old – The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. This stoic classic was the Roman emperor’s private diary, encouraging himself to act like the man he wanted to be, not like he felt.

This feels like the start of a happiness movement, what’s next for the both of you?

We recommend to readers that they be open to where their life journeys take them. We are taking our own advice, and are open and excited for the next opportunity to share the science of happiness. Is it a class? A documentary series? A podcast? Whatever creates the most good . . . we want our readers to tell us what they would like to see!

Build the Life You Want Oprah Winfrey, Arthur C Brooks

You can get happier. And getting there will be the adventure of a lifetime. In Build the Life You Want, Arthur C. Brooks and Oprah Winfrey invite you to begin a journey toward greater happiness, no matter how challenging your circumstances. 

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