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Summary: Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier by Arthur C. Brooks & Oprah Winfrey

  • Happiness is one of the most universal and elusive human desires, and one of the most important factors for our health, success, and relationships. But how can we achieve and maintain happiness, especially in a world that is full of challenges, changes, and uncertainties? In this book, Arthur C. Brooks and Oprah Winfrey, two of the most influential and respected voices on happiness, share their secrets and strategies of how to build the life you want, and how to get happier along the way.
  • If you are interested in learning how to understand and leverage the science and art of happiness, and how to make better decisions and actions that will enhance your happiness and well-being, then you should read this book. You will gain a deeper understanding of the history, evolution, and diversity of happiness, and the opportunities and challenges it presents for yourself and others.

Build the Life You Want (2023) provides a blueprint for a happier life. Based on scientific knowledge and decades of personal and academic research, it offers practical strategies that you can implement to increase your happiness immediately, regardless of your circumstances.

Introduction: Discover the secret to becoming happier, regardless of your circumstances.

Happiness – it’s as elusive as it is desirable. Maybe you feel like it’s only possible once you’ve achieved certain life goals – the perfect job, the ideal partner, greater wealth, or more friends. You might even be stuck waiting for your external circumstances to change – thinking that happiness will arrive at some point in the future. Or trying to numb your unhappiness with habits that ultimately don’t leave you fulfilled –  binge-watching, shopping excessively, working relentlessly.

But in truth, happiness doesn’t depend on these external circumstances. To experience it, you need to take responsibility for your life and steer yourself toward it. You can do this by building four core pillars in your life. You’ll still experience pain and challenges – but, with your pillars firmly in place, your happiness will remain intact – even when you face hurdles.

Summary: Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier by Arthur C. Brooks & Oprah Winfrey

The true nature of happiness

Are you happy right now? Take a moment to think about that. If you’ve selected this summary, the answer probably isn’t yes. You might not be entirely miserable but you likely think there’s some room for improvement.

Now, consider this question: What’s standing between you and your happiness?

A multitude of ideas might spring to mind. Maybe you have a dear wish or ambition that’s unfulfilled. Or you might find your work dreary. Perhaps you’re lonely, anxious, or something deeply worrying is troubling you. Any of these things could be perceived as obstacles to feeling happy.

But thinking this way will keep you stuck in unhappiness. Because the obstacle blocking your path to happiness is actually yourself, not something external.

Many people don’t realize that happiness depends on how well they manage themselves emotionally. If they let their emotions rule their actions, instead of choosing how to behave, they end up trying to numb difficult feelings with things that don’t fulfill them long term, like money, power, social status, or attention. This takes them away from the three key elements of happiness: purpose, enjoyment, and satisfaction.

So, how can you avoid getting distracted by faux-happiness idols?

Well, first, stop thinking about happiness as a search for the Holy Grail. Instead, view it as something possible at any moment of your life – no matter what challenges you face.

Second, practice taking responsibility for your behavior, instead of letting your emotions rule you. That’ll stop your impulses from leading you to distractions that won’t make you happier in the long run.

And finally, build your life around what will truly make you happier. That means creating four sturdy pillars that will elevate you, every single day. What are those pillars? Family, friends, meaningful work, and spirituality. Let’s explore each of them in the next sections, so you can start becoming a happier you.

Your beloved, complex family

For many people, family is an important part of life. And having a happy family sits high on the priority list. But what does “happy family” actually mean? Does it mean a perfectly harmonious partnership, a completely tension-free household, kids who are thriving and untouched by worries?

Well, the only place families like these exist is on TV. But despite this, family does bring most people a strong sense of purpose – one of the key ingredients of happiness. That’s why it’s the first pillar in building a happier life.

No matter what shape, size, or configuration your family takes, it’ll encounter certain universal challenges. But these challenges don’t need to impact your family’s happiness. In fact, you can use them to deepen your family connections – which will, in turn, increase your happiness. Let’s take a look at two common challenges that families face, and what you can do to help them reinforce your strong family pillar – not undermine it.

The first is conflict. Family conflict affects you deeply because you care so much about your family members. Sometimes, the fear of confronting a loved one likely means you avoid conflict as much as possible. But this breeds resentment, which erodes your happiness. So, instead of viewing conflict as a giant threat, start seeing it as a natural by-product of love. Rather than avoiding it, refocus on managing how you respond to it.

Conflict typically arises from mismatched expectations or miscommunication. To overcome this, make it a rule that everyone tries their best not to be a mind-reader. Instead of making assumptions about what people are thinking, ask them directly and create space for them to be heard. That way, you all get to share your points of view. By improving communication, you open the door to finding mutually beneficial solutions.

Another challenge families face is negativity. Negativity in a family is a bit like the ambient temperature in a room. Imagine you’re taking a test in an exam hall where it’s freezing cold or boiling hot. The temperature would definitely impact your performance. It’s the same for your family. If negativity is making your household chilly or heated, none of you can problem-solve. In fact, it’s negativity – not conflict – that determines your household’s overall vibe.

If a member of your family is stuck in negativity, don’t tell them to snap out of it or cheer up – that’ll only make matters worse. Instead, try to engage them in their interests. If they love bike rides, spontaneously suggest one when they emerge from their room. Or start making a cake you know they’ll love and invite them to help you. Remember, their negativity isn’t about you, so don’t take it personally or try to avoid them. Gently reaching out in a way that speaks to them will help shift the temperature in your household for the better.

Friendships that run deep

According to research published in the Journal of Happiness Studies in 2007, the quality of friendships impacts overall happiness. That’s because friendship brings support and light to life’s bleakest seasons, making it the second pillar of a happier life.

But quality friendships are becoming more and more rare. A survey conducted in 2021 found that the number of Americans who only had one or two close friends had doubled since 1990. And of course, the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t help. Now, people often spend more time communicating via technology than they do in person. Added to this are the demands of work and family life, which leave limited time and energy to nurture deep friendships.

While many people may feel surrounded by people – at work or through activities their children do – they don’t necessarily feel nourished by these connections. That’s because these are often transactional friendships – ones in which someone stands to gain something. This might be a mutual gain – like carpooling to work or minding each other’s kids. But deepest thoughts and feelings are rarely shared with transactional friends, leaving everyone socially unfulfilled.

The most nourishing friendships are ones that don’t depend on your job, money, or ambitions. They often start when people are drawn together by a shared love for something that brings joy – like a passion for the outdoors, or a spiritual practice. These friendships are filled with the nutrients you crave – prompting you to pursue them for their own sake. And the enjoyment you experience through them actually can make you happier.

If your friendship pillar is fragile, seek out new friends in a setting that’s unrelated to your workplace or personal goals – perhaps at a place of worship or through a charitable cause or hobby you’re passionate about. Form an initial connection, then foster the new friendship by investing time and energy into it. Aim for at least one deep friendship in addition to your romantic partner, if you have one.

If possible, try to conduct your quality friendships in person. During the pandemic, you likely discovered that screen-based friendships were better than nothing, but they didn’t quite hit the spot like in-person socializing does. That’s because part of what’s missing in tech communications is the dimensionality of in-person contact. You lose the complete picture of body language, voice inflection, and emotional conveyance. It’s like getting a 2D version of something you want to be in 3D.

So do what you can to minimize your reliance on tech communications. If you can’t speak to someone in person, instead of just texting, pick up the phone and call them. Not only will you both benefit from hearing each other’s voices, but you’ll also be more likely to share at a deeper level, accessing some of those nutrients that make you happier.

Meaningful work

You’ve probably heard the adage that if you find a job you love, you won’t work a day in your life. Well, that may be pushing it a little. Every job has aspects that are difficult or tedious. But countless studies show that having a job you like makes you happier, which is why it’s the third pillar of happiness. If your work is meaningful and engaging, your labors feel satisfying. And remember – satisfaction is one of the elements of happiness.

Interestingly, there seems to be no hard and fast rule about what makes a particular job satisfying. A 2018 survey found no correlation between the jobs deemed happiest and unhappiest. That’s because we’re all individuals with unique lives and needs. So, the first step to finding a job that makes you happier is understanding who you are.

For instance, Alex initially pursued a career in accounting because it offered him stability. Every few years, he successfully applied for a new job that paid him a little more. But he still didn’t feel happy. After discussing this with his wife, he pinpointed the aspects of his job he enjoyed: driving to the office and chatting with his colleagues. This was a lightbulb moment. Alex decided to quit his job and become an Uber driver. It meant taking a small pay cut and sometimes working longer hours. But he was much happier, which made him a better parent and spouse too.

If, like Alex, your work leaves you feeling flat and unhappy, your current job might only be providing you with extrinsic rewards. These are rewards that come from the outside – like being paid enough so you can meet your financial needs. Job satisfaction occurs when you receive intrinsic rewards too, meaning what you do gives you a sense of enjoyment and purpose – those key components of happiness.

If you’re not in a position to change jobs or career paths at the moment, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to unhappiness. There are two strategies you can use to make your working life happier.

First, find some room for learning and growth. This is called earned success. Perhaps you can develop a new system to improve work processes; learn a new skill that lets you do your work in a more satisfying way; or even just up your game a little, like finding ways to improve passenger comfort during your Uber rides.

Second, there’s service to others. Helping others won’t just bring light to their day, it’ll make you happier too. No matter what you do, there’s always scope to help someone else through your work. It doesn’t need to be a grand gesture. Even just making a colleague smile will increase the happiness you feel.

Something greater than you

It’s easy to get caught up in your own life: the needs of your family, the demands of work, the distractions of social media, what you’re going to eat for lunch, and so on. This is natural – you are, after all, the protagonist of your own life story. But it can make you lose perspective.

Embracing a more spiritual path reconnects you with a broader context. And this, in turn, makes you happier. For instance, a metaphysical path will stop you from mindlessly scrolling social media before bed, so you can look out the window and marvel at the stars instead, reminding you of the wonder of your own existence. This makes you happier, which is why spirituality is the fourth pillar of a happy life.

Before we explore any further you should note that spirituality in this context doesn’t need to mean practicing a particular faith. It has nothing to do with beliefs and everything to do with the fact that we’re all part of a beautiful, complex web of being. For some, a spiritual practice might take place within the context of organized religion – but it doesn’t have to.

Spiritual people tend to have a strong sense of purpose – an important component of happiness. So, how can you create a spiritual practice if it’s something unfamiliar to you?

Well, there are two practices you can adopt that will cost you nothing but time.

The first is mindfulness. Do you spend a lot of your life reliving the past or worrying about the future? If so, this is cheating you of deeply experiencing the present – which is where you’re most alive. But mindfulness can help redress this by guiding you to focus on the now.

Mindfulness comes with a gamut of benefits that increase happiness, from lowering anxiety to improving memory. Download an app to support you, and commit to dedicating some time to mindfulness each day. Start small and build your practice, knowing that soon you’ll be more alert to your life as it unfolds.

Second, spend time in nature regularly. Like mindfulness, being in nature improves memory and mood, while lowering anxiety. It also puts things in perspective and inspires a sense of awe and wonder. No matter where you live or what you believe, build your spiritual pillar by quietly immersing yourself in the landscape, whether it’s trekking through a forest, visiting your local park, or walking barefoot in your yard.


Becoming a happier person doesn’t depend on having the perfect family, job, or lifestyle. In fact, it’s not dependent on having the perfect anything. To be happier, you must take responsibility for your life, perspective, and actions. Start by reflecting on whether you’re nurturing the aspects of your life that will support your happiness – both now and long term. Are you fostering deep and meaningful connections with your family and friends? Does your work feel satisfying? And are you in touch with something that inspires awe and wonder? Establish and maintain four strong pillars on which to build your happiness and start living your best life.

About the Author

Arthur C. Brooks and Oprah Winfrey


Motivation, Inspiration, Sex, Relationshipsm Personal Development


The book is a practical and inspiring guide for anyone who wants to increase their happiness and well-being, regardless of their circumstances. The authors, Arthur C. Brooks and Oprah Winfrey, are both experts and practitioners of happiness, who have overcome personal and professional challenges and achieved success and fulfillment. They share their insights and experiences, as well as the latest scientific research and the stories of ordinary people, to show how happiness can be cultivated and sustained. They introduce the concept of the “macronutrients of happiness”, which are enjoyment, satisfaction, and purpose, and explain how they can be obtained and balanced. They also suggest four pillars of happiness, which are family, friendship, work, and faith, and provide practical tips and exercises to strengthen each pillar. They emphasize the importance of emotional self-management, which is the ability to regulate one’s emotions and cope with stress, adversity, and change. They offer tools and techniques to improve one’s emotional self-management, such as meditation, gratitude, forgiveness, and optimism. They also address some of the common obstacles and myths that prevent people from being happy, such as comparison, perfectionism, materialism, and hedonism, and show how to overcome them.

The book is a well-written and well-organized book that combines wisdom and science, inspiration and action, and personal and social aspects of happiness. The authors write in a clear and engaging style, avoiding jargon and technical details, and using examples and analogies to illustrate complex concepts. They also inject humor and passion into their writing, making it enjoyable and inspiring. The book is well-structured and organized, with each chapter focusing on a different aspect of happiness and its implications. The book is not only an informative and authoritative guide to happiness, but also a provocative and visionary outlook on the potential and challenges of happiness in a complex and uncertain world.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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