Want to be happy? “It is all about the giving,” nationally syndicated radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt contends in his new book, The Happiest Life: Seven Gifts, Seven Givers, and the Secret to Genuine Success, “that which you have received from God and that which you give in his name.” “And if you have forgotten that,” Hewitt writes, “recall it. If you have failed, start again. If you are happy, be thankful. And if you aren’t, you can be.”
Hewitt talks with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about happiness, within and out of the context of his new book.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: “Courage undergirds every good thing.” Why is it courage, and how do you acquire it?
HUGH HEWITT: Courage is the willingness to tackle any difficult task that carries with it some sort of risk. The highest forms of courage involve facing death on behalf of others, and so courage is rightly associated with warriors. It is a necessary virtue for everyone facing any sort of challenge or difficulty that may turn out poorly or require suffering.
LOPEZ: What makes you such an expert on the recipe for the happiest life?
HEWITT: I am lucky in family, friends, faith, and work, and, as Arthur Brooks noted at last year’s National Review summit, getting at least two of these right is a pretty good guarantee of happiness. The precondition of happiness — a generous spirit — is a learned behavior and I have had a lot of wonderful, patient teachers and examples along the way. That said, everyone is truly an expert on either happiness or misery or both. The basic building materials of life are in every life, and I hope the book helps readers figure out how to increase the former and decrease the latter.
LOPEZ: Tell me about “being a taker in order to become a giver.” Can understanding this — and practicing this — help our politics, particularly when it comes to entitlement reform, budgeting, and electing presidents?
HEWITT: We are all the beneficiaries of an extraordinary political system. That you and I can speak out about faith or politics without fear of physical reprisal is itself an immense blessing of which we take advantage. Having recognized that, I like to think we conservatives work to preserve, protect, and defend such amazing bequests. Committing to the very difficult work of assuring structural reform that allows children not yet even conceived to flourish in this system is the sort of perspective that will actually allow major political reform to occur. I think Paul Ryan is working from this perspective, and I hope that disposition spreads in both parties. We have been taking from the work of previous generations for a long time. Now we have to work for leaders who will do the real heavy lifting.
LOPEZ: “You have to have the courage to give away what you hold dearest, again and again and again. Every day. Remarkably, self-sacrifice and generosity produce the greatest, most enduring happiness.” Do you do this? Do you know people who truly do?
HEWITT: I won’t make any claims for myself, but I know many, many people who do this. My friends in the military who deploy away from their families again and again, teachers who try again and again, the endlessly encouraging receptionist, pastor, or intern — I think the world is full of such people.
LOPEZ: How is gratitude key to understanding God?
HEWITT: I don’t think it is possible to be a sincere believer and be ungrateful towards God. “Every good thing comes from heaven above” is from the letter from James, and this basic understanding pervades all of the great faiths. Secularists can credit accident and natural, though unexplained forces and dismiss gratitude as an unnecessary response to life, but no believer can.
LOPEZ: “If you observe a worthy thing — any job well done or action deserving of praise — you are empowered to say so.” What’s the difference in being encouraging? Can it be unjust to be too encouraging?
HEWITT: Encouragement is so powerful that you are right to worry about its overuse. Undeserved praise can in fact disfigure young people, and distort their values. My chapter on teachers strives to make the point that the best teachers are the most demanding, and the most demanding are at their best when they recognize genuine accomplishment.