Rules for Happiness


How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness. Click here to listen to his podcast series on all things happiness, How to Build a Happy Life. He had an article about Seven Rules for Happiness in Old Age in The Atlantic.

“Happiness tends to decline throughout young adulthood and middle age, bottoming out at about age 50. After that, it heads back up again into one’s mid-60s. Then something strange happens. Older people split into two groups as they get old: those getting much happier, and those getting much unhappier.”

In studies, the groups are divided between the “happy-well.” They enjoy good physical and mental health as well as high life satisfaction. On the other end of the spectrum are the “sad-sick,” who are below average in physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.

The Seven

We can control seven big investment decisions pretty directly: smoking, drinking, body weight, exercise, emotional resilience, education, and relationships.

  1. Don’t smoke—or if you already smoke, quit now.
  2. Watch your drinking. Alcohol abuse is a powerful predictors of winding up sad-sick. Get help if it is a problem.
  3. Maintain a healthy body weight. Eat a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and moderate serving sizes.
  4. Prioritize movement in your life by scheduling time for it every day and sticking to it by walking daily.
  5. Practice your coping mechanisms now. Avoid excessive rumination, unhealthy emotional reactions, or avoidance behavior.
  6. Keep learning. More education leads to a more active mind in old age. Engage in lifelong, purposive learning.
  7. Cultivate stable, long-term relationships. Social isolation is antithesis to happiness.