Happiness by Design

Happiness by Design

Change What You Do, Not How You Think

Book - 2014
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Pretty much all the advice about happiness we have heard revolves around one basic assumption: that we can think ourselves happier. But in HAPPINESS BY DESIGN, behavior and happiness expert Paul Dolan reveals that the key to being happy does not lie in changing how we think--it's changing what we do.
Publisher: New York, New York : Hudson Street Press, 2014
ISBN: 9781594632433
159463243X
Characteristics: xx, 235 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm

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ksoles Oct 10, 2014

Beginning in 2012, David Cameron launched the UK's National Well-being survey with the help of economist Paul Dolan. Dolan draws on both the results of this survey and other research in his new book in an attempt to shed light on the indefinable and wilfully elusive mindset we call happiness. We have limited time on Earth, Dolan morbidly concludes, so we should focus our attention on those things that make us feel happier.

This observation hardly sounds remarkable but Dolan goes further, interestingly emphasizing the temporal aspect of happiness; how we feel about what happens to us in the moment matters more than hindsight. He argues that we achieve happiness through a string of pleasurable, purposeful experiences over time. When the enjoyable meets the meaningful, we feel content and satisfied.

"Happiness by Design" uses parenting as its main example. Why do we choose to have children? Dolan asserts that, despite the daily grind, parenting feels purposeful. However, drawing wide implications from the subject appears dubious. The productive nature of child rearing can foster positive emotions but, contrarily, the responsibilities involved can feel burdensome, if not crushing to some. Any optimal balance of pleasure and purpose will fluctuate wildly between us all.

Dolan goes on to explore other prompts to happiness such as music and volunteering. He offers an interesting discussion of money, citing that income above a certain level does not make us feel happier on a daily basis. Higher-income individuals place more value on time, which makes it feel scarcer, and thus they find it harder to relax.

Generally, Dolan avoids political implications, instead focusing on personal transformation through "nudge" strategies. His theory of happiness ultimately reads as a work in progress, beginning to offer constructive advice for making ourselves at least a little bit happier. A longer, more detailed book on how to act on such advice now begs to be written.

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