Brooks Examines Transcendent Happiness

David Brooks at the Westmont President's Breakfast

David Brooks at the Westmont President’s Breakfast

Despite the crush of daily life and the human culture we live in, there are moments in life that pierce through that. These moments form the basis for why David Brooks, New York Times columnist, wrote the best-selling book “The Road to Character.” Brooks explored the journey to a deeper inner life, explaining why selflessness leads to greater happiness, before a sold-out audience of more than 700 people at the 11th annual Westmont President’s Breakfast on March 4.

He told a story about a sunny, summer evening when he had pulled up to his home in Maryland. He could see his three children, ages 12, 9 and 4, playing ball in the backyard. “They were laughing and tumbling all over each other and having the perfect time,” he said. “I was confronted with this tableau of family happiness. And I remember I just sat there in the driveway thinking I was filled with gratitude that I hadn’t earned. I just sat there looking through the windshield and … time and life are suspended and you get this warm glow of something that has been given to you that you haven’t earned.

More than 700 at the 11th annual breakfast

More than 700 at the 11th annual breakfast

“We all have these moments where you illuminate a higher joy, higher than anything you get at the workplace, and with that comes a summons: you’d like to feel worthy of such moments.”

Brooks said occasionally he will encounter people, like the Dalai Lama, who radiate that type of joy and God’s grace. “I have achieved more in my career than I ever could have imagined,” he says, “but I haven’t achieved that. How do I get that?”

Brooks explained that there are four levels of happiness: material pleasure (good food and nice clothes), ego (being better than others), generativity (giving back to our communities) and transcendence (an awareness of one’s place in the cosmic order, a feeling of love that goes beyond the physical realm, truth, justice, goodness and beauty).

Brooks said Westmont is a place where you can educate the heart with the liberal arts and the soul with God’s calling and the mind with information

Brooks said Westmont is a place where you can “educate the heart with the liberal arts and the soul with God’s calling and the mind with information.”

“We all find it easy to get to the first levels of happiness,” he said, “but getting to level three and four takes a little work. And it takes the kind of education that people get at Westmont.”

Quoting authors and telling anecdotes from saints and heroes, Brooks described a process of making commitments and dedicating lives for bigger things. “You can think of us as thinking creatures, as economic creatures, but love is really at the center,” he said. “And one of the things that I really appreciate about Westmont College, and Christian colleges in general, is some of the schools where I teach at, some of the great schools, they treat the head as the sole source of our identity and the only thing that needs to be cultivated and the heart and the soul are behind the curtain. They think that is not our domain. At a place like Westmont where you can talk about the eulogy virtues as well as resume virtues, where you can not only educate the heart with the liberal arts and the soul with God’s calling and the mind with information. You are educating the whole person. And only a person so educated is capable of reaching commitments and capable of reaching the highest level of happiness, which transcendence.”

The Westmont Foundation and local businesses sponsor the President’s Breakfast to promote discussion of significant issues in the community. This year’s lead sponsor is Union Bank. Gold sponsors include Axia Holdings, Chronicle Family Offices, Davies, Anna and David Grotenhuis, Hub International, La Arcada, Carl and Jo Lindros, Lindsay and Laurie Parton, Matt Construction, Santa Barbara Capital, Sharol and Wayne Siemens and V3 Corporation.