The Nature of Happiness

Arthur Brooks discusses "earned success" in Mumbai

Arthur C. Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, is the author of eight books including Gross National Happiness (

MUMBAI, March 22, 2011 — As decision-makers look to a range of factors — from the size of vote banks to short-term economic gains — Arthur Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute, elaborated on the efficacy of a simple and crucial element to guide economic and political policies: their effect on the happiness of people.

At an Asia Society function in Mumbai, Brooks explained that 50-80 percent of our happiness depends on our DNA, and we can only affect 20 to 50 percent of it through our life decisions. He cited numerous surveys on what made people happy, and provided examples of how to incorporate such research in decision-making.

For instance, Brooks recounted surveys to conclude that money buys happiness only for people below the subsistence level. In richer countries like the U.S., where every income group has become richer since the 1970s, money does not buy happiness, Brooks said. He also explained the notion of “earned success,” which is the belief that you have created value in your life and the lives of others. Empirically, Brooks said that people with this feature, found prominently among social entrepreneurs, are happiest.

Further, Brooks said that people are happier when they are richer than those around them. He suggested income redistribution — taking from the rich and giving to the poor — not only fails to drive happiness, it slows entrepreneurship, a potential source of happiness. This information could help structure aid programmes, Brooks said, by contributing to programmes that facilitate people to achieve “earned success.”

Brooks cautioned against using research on happiness across countries, as cultural contexts should mold the framing of surveys. He concluded that the free enterprise system was bolstered by a moral imperative to achieve a more flourishing and prosperous society, and that such research can help point us in the direction to realize this.