From Strength to Strength – Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life by Arthur C. Brooks (217 pages) is meant for “ambitious strivers to embrace a simple formula for success in work and life.” Brooks discusses two very different types of intelligence – one when we’re young and another when we age. He calls them “fluid intelligence” vs “crystalized intelligence.” Understanding what each is addresses all kinds of phenomena that naturally and inevitably take place in our lives.
Brooks was a classical musician (French horn) as a youth and young adult, and discovered that as he aged into his 20s, his performance of the instrument diminished no matter what he did. He then earned a BA and Masters Degree on-line and eventually led the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a prestigious Washington DC think tank, for ten years. Now a Professor in the Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School, and a prolific author of books and a writer at the “Atlantic,” Brooks teaches a course on happiness at Harvard that is among that school’s most popular classes.
He draws on science, classical philosophy, theology, history, western and eastern religions, and shares counterintuitive strategies for “releasing our old habits” (and addictions – most especially “work-a-holism”) and forming new life practices. A practicing Christian, Brooks’ long-term friendship with the Dalai Lama informs his life, teaching, and writing.
Brooks was motivated to write the book when he overheard a conversation on an airplane that began this way:
“It’s not true that no one needs you anymore.“
These exasperated words came from an elderly woman sitting behind me on a late-night flight from Los Angeles to Washington, DC. The plane was dark and quiet, and most people were either sleeping or watching a movie…
A man I assumed to be her husband murmured almost inaudibly in response.
Again, his wife: “Oh, stop saying it would be better if you were dead.”…
…I formed an image of the husband in my head. I imagined someone who had worked hard all his life in relative obscurity; someone disappointed at his dreams unfulfilled – perhaps the career he never pursued, the schools he never attended, the company he never started. Now, I imagined, he was forced to retire, tossed aside like yesterday’s news.
As the lights switched on after touchdown. I finally got a look at the desolate man. I was shocked: I recognized him – he was well-known: famous, even. Then in his mid-eighties, he has been universally beloved as a hero for his courage, patriotism, and accomplishments of many decades ago. I have admired him since I was young.“
This story is the launch of a several-year study of what brings meaning and fulfillment in every stage of life, and how to manage the changes that most everyone experiences at different periods in our lives.
I wish this book had been available when I was younger (it was published in 2022). I found myself, and most people I know who are hard-workers, accomplished in their chosen fields, and by western standards “successful” reflected on every page.
This is a terrific book for retirees, for people contemplating retirement, and most everyone else too (especially from one’s 40s onward). It helped me during this month of Elul to think about the large motivating issues in my life, my past successes and failures (professionally and personally), and my current challenges and the new ways of being as I age, along with an even deeper appreciation for the many gifts in my life, especially my family, friends, the ideas and causes I care most about, and the things I love doing and that occupy my days.
Whether you have time to read this small volume (it is a quick-read) now or after the High Holidays, I believe it will be worth your while as it frames brilliantly how to age gracefully given the inevitable changes, the losses and sadness we confront along the way, what we all experience physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, the acquired skills we’ve attained over a life-time, the wisdom we now possess, and the approaches necessary for us to experience the fulfillment that is available for a happy and meaningful life.
לשנה טובה ומתוקה – May you enter this New Year 5784 with renewed strength and courage, appreciation and gratitude, generosity and love.