The stories people save to Pocket reveal something unique—not only about what’s occupying our collective attention, but also about what we aspire to be. This year, our data showed a few key themes, including a desire to redefine our relationship with happiness.
This was most apparent in the popularity of Arthur C. Brooks, the columnist behind The Atlantic’s How to Build a Life series, who claims the title of 2022’s Most Pocketed Writer.
In case you missed some of his great work this year, we’ve gathered the top 10 stories from his series that resonated the most with Pocket readers. Brooks—who’s also the New York Times bestselling author of this year’s From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life, a book so meaningful it was blurbed by the Dalai Lama—was also kind enough to share a bit about why he believes 2022 was the year so many of us were ready to take charge of our contentment. – Pocket team
In 2019, and at the age of 55, I made an abrupt career change. I left my post as president of a Washington think tank and became a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard Business School. On arrival, they asked what I wanted to teach—maybe economics or management? No, I said, we need a class on the science of happiness—a class on how each of us can get happier, and teach the secrets to those around us. To be sure, this took me back to my roots as a social scientist. But it struck some as a strange focus for someone previously dedicated to public policy. It was, in truth, a better match with my personal mission than anything I had done before: To lift people up and bring them together using science and ideas.
The class generated a lot of interest from students, faculty, alumni, and the media. And it stimulated Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic’s editor in chief, to ask whether a column dedicated to the topic might be a fit for the magazine. We gave it a shot, and it worked—there was indeed a readership for the science of human flourishing, many of whom save the column to read later on their favorite social bookmarking app, Pocket. This collection is a small sample of the weekly column that has occupied my waking hours (and a lot of my dreams) for the last two-and-a-half years.
The philosophy of “How to Build a Life” is simple: You can be happier, if you do the work to understand yourself, practice good happiness habits, and share the ideas with others. Notice that the promise is not that you will attain happiness, which is a Shangri-La-like mythical paradise. Rather, it is that if you make the effort, you will get happier. This is a promise I know I can keep, because the practices in each column are based on the best academic neuroscience and social science using human experiments. And I don’t recommend any practices I don’t try on myself, Arthur Brooks, HGP (Happiness Guinea Pig).
This year’s columns – which have ranged from how to want less, to learning from ancient thinkers like Seneca, to becoming happier at work, to dealing with online trolls – each touch on aspects of modern life with which we all struggle at times. Materialistic culture (wrongly) insists that more things will deliver well-being; busy online life leaves us little time to read and learn from ancient wisdom; the COVID pandemic has left us lonely, at work and at home; and online spaces like Twitter overwhelm us with negativity. My columns address these issues, so that we can see life’s challenges as happiness opportunities and lessons, to improve our own lives, and share as a gift with others.
Thank you for building the “How to Build a Life” column. It is dedicated to you. – Arthur C. Brooks
Your well-being is like a retirement account: The sooner you invest, the greater your returns will be.
Go deeper into Brooks’ work and buy the NYT bestseller now.
Arthur C. Brooks
Arthur C. Brooks is a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard Business School, where he teaches courses on leadership and happiness. He is also a columnist at The Atlantic, where he writes the popular How to Build a Life column. Brooks is the author of 12 books, including the 2022 #1 New York Times bestseller From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life. He speaks all around the world about love and happiness, giving more than 150 speeches and lectures per year in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.
Originally from Seattle, Brooks currently lives outside Boston, with his wife Ester Munt-Brooks, who is a native of Barcelona. They have three adult children.