The Science Of Human Happiness

Fulfillment isn't about IQ, it's about making social connections
Fulfillment isn't about IQ, it's about making social connections

It's a great narrative, woven around a character named Harold, a sensitive guy, with unique abilities to intuit the feelings and motives of those around him, but whose upbringing stressed ambition, rationality, status, resume-building. Harold's story is interspersed with current research that details the "revolution in consciousness" we are now undergoing.

Some of the most compelling science that has emerged, Brooks writes "illuminates the rich underwater world where character is formed and wisdom us a better grasp of emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, predispositions, character traits, and social bonding, precisely those things about which our culture has least to say." He adds, "the cognitive revolution of the past thirty years provides a different perspective on our lives, one that emphasizes the relative importance of emotion over pure reason, social connections over individual choice, moral intuition over abstract logic, perceptiveness over I.Q."

By the end of the story, Harold has an epiphany, triggered, as it happens, by the revelations of a neuroscientist answering questions from his audience after a lecture:

I’ve come to think that flourishing consists of putting yourself in situations in which you lose self-consciousness and become fused with other people, experiences, or tasks. It happens sometimes when you are lost in a hard challenge, or when an artist or a craftsman becomes one with the brush or the tool. It happens sometimes while you’re playing sports, or listening to music or lost in a story, or to some people when they feel enveloped by God’s love. And it happens most when we connect with other people. I’ve come to think that happiness isn’t really produced by conscious accomplishments. Happiness is a measure of how thickly the unconscious parts of our minds are intertwined with other people and with activities. Happiness is determined by how much information and affection flows through us covertly every day and year.”

It feels so true to me, what the neuroscientist says, and it feels like a variation (in a wholly different context, of course) of what Obama said so very eloquently this week in Tucson at the memorial service for the shooting victims: "In the fleeting time we have on this earth," the President said, "what matters is not wealth or status or power or fame, but rather how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better."

This program aired on January 14, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Headshot of Rachel Zimmerman

Rachel Zimmerman Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 



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