To Arthur Brooks, the Biden question is about all of us

Harvard professor and author Arthur Brooks speaks about happiness at the Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center at BYU, hosted by the Wheatley Institute, University of Utah and the Marriott School of Business, in Provo on March 28.

Harvard professor and author Arthur Brooks speaks about happiness at the Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center at BYU, hosted by the Wheatley Institute, University of Utah and the Marriott School of Business, in Provo on March 28. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — While the world speculates about whether Joe Biden should stay in the race for a second presidential term, Arthur Brooks thinks the discussion's ripples should hit really close to home for most of us.

"I want you to think about that situation in the context of your own life," says the Harvard professor, author and happiness expert in a video that had over 28.000 views on X as of Monday morning.

"A lot of successful people, they see their lives as a book that they're writing — that they're the author of this incredible adventure. It's a wonderful thing and I admire that an awful lot. And the more successful that you are, the more amazing the book is. But a lot of those people, they don't think about writing the ending of that book. Just the middle," he said.

If people wait too long to step off, maybe even for the "wheels to fall off," the ending is out of the author's control, Brooks says. It was a consideration he faced when he led the American Enterprise Institute. He asked someone he trusted how he would know when it was time to "stop doing a big executive job."

The advice was simple and boiled down to you either leave when you still have more to offer, or you can leave on someone else's terms. "Choose wisely," he was told.

Voters will decide what they want in the 2024 presidential election. But there's a bigger, more personal question, per Brooks.

He says to "vote correctly about your own life. Write the end of your own story. Plan what's going to happen after you leave your own glory." Whenever that is.

Ready to move on?

U.S. Bank's Wealth Management section says there are lots of factors in whether someone is ready to retire. Most of them don't apply to a president, though they're salient for most of the rest of us. Money is, of course, a factor.

But more important — and at the crux of Brooks' message — is the question of identity and being emotionally ready to move on to something different. As LeAnn Erenberger, U.S. Bank's senior vice president, noted, "For many people, their job is their identity. You have to determine if you're emotionally ready to give this up."

Friendships are a real issue, according to the advice from U.S. Bank. "If most of your friendships are with people at work, you should start building new relationships outside of work before you retire."

You also — and this might be a problem for either presidential candidate, once retirement beckons — need to figure out how you want to spend your retirement. Without hobbies or volunteer activities, too much free time can lead to mental and physical decline.

Caitlin E. Coyle, director of the Center for Social & Demographic Research on Aging at the University of Massachusetts Boston, earlier told Deseret News that "'connecting to our purpose' should be a huge goal for retirees. Purpose provides better quality of life."

Gerontologist Anne Asman, program manager at Huntsman Mental Health Institute's geriatric psychiatry clinic, told Deseret News that many retirees have not thought enough about what they want to do when they retire. They haven't figured out their next goal in life or what matters most to them. They may plan a great vacation more thoroughly than they plan post-retirement.

Brooks says he chose to leave "a little before I was ready." And it felt right.

That decision provides time "to enjoy it by paying attention to your faith and philosophy of life, by deepening your family relationships, by having real friends and if you're not prepared for that, well, get after it because that's what awaits you is such that you can be happier and the people around you who love you, they can be happier and admire you, too," Brooks says.

"Your legacy will be somebody who truly was in the middle of a beautiful story that had a beautiful ending that you wrote," he said.

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Lois M. Collins
Lois M. Collins covers policy and research impacting families for the Deseret News.

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