Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Happiness by Design: Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Everyday Life, by Paul Dolan

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

Economist Paul Dolan gives some stark advice on how to be happy. In short, don't aim too high, don't delude yourself about your abilities and don't waste time thinking about things that may never happen.

In Happiness by Design, former economist Paul Dolan claims to have made the next big breakthrough in the study of happiness. He says that to achieve the maximum amount of happiness in our lives, we need to engage in activities that bring a mix of pleasure and purpose. Too much pleasure on its own is not so good, nor is too much purpose. But if we can balance both out, by finding enjoyment and meaning in life, then we're pretty much there as far as happiness is concerned. He also maintains that we spend too much mental energy attending to things that play no real part on our day-to-day life. We stress about things that may never happen.

The first part of the book explains Dolan's thesis, backed up with the usual array of behavioural research and science. The text is peppered with interesting factoids and figures about how we humans often delude ourselves. Some of Dolan's advice is quite stark: he opines that we generally think too much of ourselves and should be more realistic about our talents and abilities. Too many high expectations only leads to unhappiness. Ambition is also to be treated cautiously. The idea of fame and riches may seem more appealing in fantasy than reality. And the amount of time, sacrifice and effort spent achieving lofty goals might not be worth the reward. This all reminded me of that line by Oscar Wilde: ambition is the last refuge of the failure.

The second part of the book gives tips on how we can design our environment to push our thoughts and actions in the right direction. Paste sticky notes on the fridge reminding you to go to the gym, or make your computer open with a positive message. Stuff like that.

I quite enjoyed this book, but even at 190 pages it's a bit padded out. The prose is also as flat as a tack and plods along, even though the author tries to infuse the text with his own brand of humour. These are fairly minor caveats, however. I imagine Happiness by Design would be a useful tool for those who are unhappy and trying to figure out why. Paul Dolan might well have the answers for them.

Happiness by Design: Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Everyday Life, by Paul Dolan. Published by Penguin. ISBN:  9780141977539  RRP: $22.99

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