Arthur Brooks || Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life

February 3, 2022

In this episode, I talk to prolific author and social scientist Arthur Brooks about finding meaning in the second curve of life. According to Arthur, the world and our biology urge us to relentlessly chase after the next win. This flawed formula for satisfaction ultimately leaves us unfulfilled. To find true purpose, we must break our addiction to success and confront life’s hard truths. We also touch on the topics of motivation, relationships, aging, transcendence, and love.


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 this February 2022.. 

Website: arthurbrooks.com

Twitter: @arthurbrooks


  • The plane ride that changed Arthur’s life
  • Transcendence as the reward of life
  • The addiction to success
  • Motivated by why
  • From success to freedom 
  • Arthur and Scott’s shared values 
  • The Harvard Grant Study
  • Love, worship, and commitment
  • Vanaprastha: retire to the forest
  • What it means to be fully alive
  • The Dalai Lama’s pen
  • Liminality and the magic of transitions
  • Being happy vs. the need to feel special

3 Responses to “Arthur Brooks || Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life”

  1. Marie Thouin says:

    Hi! I am a dating & relationship expert, and my scholarly research focuses on a little known emotion: compersion.

    Compersion is generally understood as the opposite of jealousy. More specifically, it refers to empathic joy.

    The term emerged in the context of consensually non-monogamous relationships and is widely used in polyamorous communities to describe positive feelings of happiness and gratitude towards a partner’s other loves. However, the word “compersion” is still missing from the main English dictionaries (I’ve emailed the Merriam-Webster editors a couple times to ask for its inclusion, but so far in vain).

    Compersion is a powerful concept, as it can dismantle mononormativity (the belief that monogamy is morally superior and healthier than non-monogamy) – which is based on the assumption that jealousy is the only valid response to extra-dyadic intimacy. Documenting and disseminating the lived experience of compersion thus paves a path for a new paradigm of relationship freedom and diversity. This can have deep ramifications in fields of study and praxis such as psychology, neuroscience, sexology, social sciences, and the law.

    Compersion also has ancient roots in psychology and spirituality. The Sanskrit equivalent of compersion is “mudita”: it is well-known in Buddhist communities as one of the four qualities of the enlightened person (the other three being equanimity, loving-kindness, and compassion). It is said to remedy the illusion of separateness between individuals, as compersion says “your joy is my joy”.

    It is fascinating to look at the intersection between Buddhism and consensual non-monogamy through the lens of compersion. I would love to share more about this, and my academic research on the topic, with your listeners.

    You can learn more about my work here: http://www.whatiscompersion.com.

    Please let me know if this is of interest, and I’ll be happy to jump on a quick call! 🙂


    Marie Thouin, PhD

  2. Shawn O'Brien, Psy.D. says:

    Scott, looking forward to your theory/work on values. From what I’ve observed, there are often multiple sources of motivation in humans, and sometimes they change. Even if you start with one motivation (e.g., share an important idea with the world to promote good and help others), that motivation can devolve into ego-based as one gets all the dopamine hits from the accolades, and then one must ego-defend criticisms of the idea. It has been noted by others that the developmental task of aging is to shed the ego. It seems that both emotional pain and problematic behavior often stem from not living a life consistent with one’s values. Most people have never even seriously identified their values, much less evaluated whether their thoughts and behaviors are consistent with them. Brene’ Brown’s podcast recently discussed an exercise she uses for that purpose, which I highly recommend. Don’t forget to download the pdf:

  3. Shawn O'Brien, Psy.D. says:

    Another thought….Regarding aging, which I’m currently doing far too much of, I agree that the differential changes that take place in fluid vs crystalized intelligence over time impact the type of tasks at which we can remain competent. That’s why folks like you and I, Scott, will be able to remain competent in our field as long as we avoid dementia, since psychology relies heavily on crystalized intelligence, and less so on fluid intelligence. I always lamented my “average” fluid intelligence when young, but I’m now grateful that I didn’t select a career that depends on that as I age. (Rebecca Goldstein’s book, “The Mind-Body Problem,” poignantly describes what happens to a brilliant mathematician as he ages and loses his mathematical genius). I would add that an equally important aspect of cognition, executive functioning, also declines as we age, especially attention and working memory. Unfortunately, this can negatively impact every kind of task! Uh, what was I saying?

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