Dan Brook, Ph.D. ’97, tackles a big new topic in his latest book: happiness. A professor in the Department of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences at San Jose State University, his previous books and lectures range from climate change and traveling to haikus and American politics. His new book, Harboring Happiness: 101 Way to be Happy (Beacon, 2021), offers tips for living a happier, healthier life. Here, he shares his inspiration for the book and what makes him happy these days.
What inspired you to write Harboring Happiness?
I like to write about what I’m interested in, and I’m passionate about being happy. I took online happiness courses via UC Berkeley and Yale University, and also a mindfulness course via Leiden University. Part of the way I process material is by writing about it. My books always begin with an audience of one.
Does the subject of this book relate to your research in the field of sociology?
All of the tips are science-based, but also personal. Although they do not directly relate to my sociological research, they indirectly do. I’ve written about [the health care proposal] Medicare for All, raising the minimum wage, housing the homeless, reversing our climate crisis and eating plant-based — each of which can make us happier and healthier. I also write poetry and short fiction as well as a recent book on the nature of haiku and the concept of nothing called Sweet Nothings (Hecate Publishing, 2020). My interests are eclectic.
Having been published during the pandemic, how do you hope your readers can apply your tips to their lives during such a stressful time?
It is always a good time to manage stress, learn new skills and find ways to be happy. Although Harboring Happiness might be especially useful during a pandemic, these tips are for all times. Not all tips are necessarily for all people, but everyone can find many that would be useful, interesting and beneficial.
What makes you happy?
So many things make me happy because I choose to be happy about things, using different tips for different situations. Sometimes I employ gratitude, sometimes forgiveness, self-compassion, focusing on the positive, changing my perspective, emulating those I respect, simply smiling or recognizing the absurdity of the situation. As we all know, life can be absurd! It also makes me happy when I picture myself on campus.
Aside from living a happier life, what else do you hope your readers can take away from reading Harboring Happiness?
That’s a big aside! I really want people to be happier. And in addition to that, I want people to learn more and develop skills that could be useful for themselves and that they can easily teach others to have easier, better, more productive lives. That’s how we empower ourselves and others.