Oprah & Brooks’ 4 Pillars to a Happy Life

Oprah & Brooks’ 4 Pillars to a Happy Life January 12, 2024

key to happiness
Ian Hutchinson via Unsplash

If you enjoy this story, you’ll find 112 just like it in my new book Wake Up Call: Daily Insights for the Spiritually Curious, now available from Wildhouse Publishing.

Is there a secret to happiness—a magic formula that, if you uncover it, can lead to a lifetime of contentment and bliss? In the book Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier, authors Arthur C. Brooks and Oprah Winfrey attempt to answer this question by answering a simple question of their own:

If I want to build happier life, what exactly should I focus on?

Now you might think the answer to this question is an easy one: just focus on the things that make you happy. But the reality is a little more nuanced than that. To be truly happy, you want to identify the things that offer lasting happiness—not the momentary pleasure of sipping a tasty dry martini, having a nice run on the ski slopes, or rewatching a favorite old movie.

Brooks, who comes from an academic background, approaches the happiness question from a social science perspective. That means it’s all about the research. In a study that lasted for years, Brooks sought to identify where we should spend our “time, attention, and energy” to find happiness. He concluded there were four key pillars to a happy life:

  • Family

  • Friendship

  • Work

  • Faith

On the other hand, Oprah looks at the happiness question from a different perspective. She relies on her intuition and a lifetime spent evaluating what improves our lives and what keeps us from reaching our full potential. She starts with a basic observation: Happiness is all about the connections we have made in this life. In her words:

“Our lives are spent in connection—to other people, to our work, to nature and the divine—and the more we do to improve these connections, the better off we are.”

Rather than present her answers in bullet point form like Brooks, Oprah wrote a short essay on the happiness question and concludes, “many of our real-world connections come from family, friendship and faith.”

If you’re keeping score, Brooks and Oprah are aligned on three points, family, friendship and faith. But where Brook’s fourth point is work, Oprah adds a different element: nature.

It’s my opinion that the categories of family and friends can be combined. After all, many of our friends are like family, and our family can often be more like friends. So, a combined list of happiness pillars from Brooks and Oprah looks something like this.

4 Pillars to a Happy Life

  • Family and friends. The people we are tied to by blood or by a shared set of values and experiences that connect us.
  • Work. Brooks refers to this as “what we toil at, paid or unpaid, in the marketplace or at home.”
  • Faith. A belief in a higher power that can be attached to religion or simply be spiritual.
  • Nature. A connection to the natural world or what Oprah refers to as “the majesties of the universe.”

Now it’s time to look at your own life. Which pillars need strengthening?

If you want to enhance the happiness in your own life, you might want to consider your own pillars and how strong they are. Brooks advises us that “you’ve got to pay attention to these things.” Oprah speaks to strengthening our connections to these pillars, saying, “the more we can do to improve these connections, the better off we are.”  So, ask yourself:

  • Am I as connected to my friends and family as I should be? Are there specific people I need to reach out to and connect with on a more regular basis?
  • Is my work satisfying? Am I in a job that nurtures my soul, or at least does it no harm. If I’m retired, am I filling my time with hobbies and activities I find pleasurable?
  • Am I connected with nature? Do I get outdoors to appreciate the wonders of the natural world, breathe in the fresh air, listen to the singing of the birds, take in the majesty of tall trees.

And,sSince Wake Up Call is a spirituality column, I’d like to expand on the fourth pillar just a bit:

  • Am I true to my faith and inner spiritual life, giving it the time it needs to be nurtured and grow? Brooks tell us “there are a number of ways to get started and “it doesn’t have to be complicated. Pray a little, read a little, let go, go for a walk outside without devices.” Brooks asks us to:

“Commit a set period of time each day to your spiritual or philosophical life. For example, start your morning with just fifteen minutes of reading wisdom literature and sitting in contemplation or prayer. If your house is too crazy for that, find that slot during your lunch break or in the evening. At first 15 minutes will feel like a lot, but it will get easier over time and if you keep at it, you will want to extend it. The key to success at the beginning though is consistency. Just fifteen minutes, every day.” 

What pillars are important in your own life?

You can follow the lead of Arthur C. Brooks and Oprah—or feel free to swap in your own pillars of happiness. In my own life, there are five pillars, that I’ve labeled the 5 commitments. I won’t go into specifics, but you will see some overlap with Brooks’ and Oprah’s lists.

  1. My spiritual health
  2. My physical health
  3. The well-being of my family
  4. My connection to friends
  5. Dedication to my craft

About once a week, I take a look at my own list, just to be sure I’m paying attention to the stuff that really matters.

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