Jennifer Wagner Chartier: Let’s find more happiness in the next election season

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Jennifer WagnerAs we embrace a holiday season heading into what’s bound to be a rough-and-tumble presidential election cycle with two top-ticket statewide races, we probably should be channeling more peace and love.

I’m hoping for more happiness.

Specifically, the ways to construct and practice happiness that can be gleaned from Harvard professor and best-selling author Arthur Brooks’ latest book, “Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier,” which he co-authored with Oprah Winfrey.

Brooks and Winfrey tie together his research findings with her insightful, uplifting brevity and years of experience hosting a show where people sought happiness. The book breaks down happiness to the combination of three key components: enjoyment, satisfaction and meaning. Not pleasure. Not short-term thrills. Also, accepting unhappiness as a part of life.

Perhaps my favorite passages contrast Brooks and Winfrey saying the same thing in their very different ways. For example, this is how they describe the process of managing your emotions:

Brooks: “Your emotions are signals to your conscious brain that something is going on that requires your attention and action—that’s all they are. Your conscious brain, if you decide to use it, gets to decide how you will respond to them.”

Winfrey: “Feel the feel, then take the wheel.”

It is this advice I hope more folks in the political realm—spectators and participants alike—can take to heart in the new year.

Politics has long run on fear and anger, but it’s hard to ignore how much hotter that rage fire burns in the age of social media and widespread misinformation and disinformation campaigns.

Instead of managing their emotions by engaging their conscious brains, people fall into the melée of negativity, swept away by the highs and lows instead of seeking consistency through the practice of examining and understanding those feelings.

Long before he was a Harvard professor teaching about and researching happiness, Brooks headed up the American Enterprise Institute, which produced under his leadership a handout containing seven tips “to become a highly effective conservative communicator.”

I read it with a bit of skepticism, expecting to find only partisan tips and tricks for conservatives to talk to other conservatives.

The main takeaway, however, was that those who want to change the minds of others need to become happy warriors, leading with their hearts and starting with the why, not the what.

The advice spoke to me as someone who’s worked in issue advocacy for more than a decade, trying to find common ground with sometimes unlikely allies and facing down some fierce anger and opposition along the way.

It makes sense that being able to talk to each other about difficult issues begins with building happiness. You can’t have a conversation about values, shared or otherwise, if you approach everything with your feelings—and only your feelings.

And so, as we head into what could be a very contentious 2024, may your holiday season be filled with true, intentional and authentic happiness.•

__________

Chartier is a lifelong Indianapolis resident and owner of Mass Ave Public Relations. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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