Happiness By Design

I had not heard of the book Happiness By Design when I passed it in Waterstones. However, my eyes were drawn to it by a quote from Daniel Kahneman on the front. When I found out Kahneman had also written the forward I decided it was not worth spending any more time figuring out whether it was worth reading and just assume that it was.

The author turned out to be Paul Dolan, a British academic who studies positive psychology. He says that happiness is what you pay attention to. It is essentially the combined total of pleasure and purpose over time.

Both of these contribute to your happiness, so you can do something pleasurable but not purposeful such as watching TV, or you can do something purposeful but not pleasurable such as going to work. Ideally, you would do something that is both pleasurable and purposeful such as volunteering, and not do things which are neither pleasurable nor purposeful, such as commuting.

He also suggests you maintain a balance between these. If you life is all pleasure you would probably be happier if you occasionally did something useful. Equally, if your life is all purpose, go the other way.

This is particularly important in middle age when people experience the least amount of happiness in their lives. This is possibly due to high expectations of this being the top of the bell curve in your life. Having kids is at best neutral on your happiness, though it does add purpose.

Your job is an important contributor to your happiness. The most rewarding jobs are ones who get to see the benefits of their work – florists, gardeners, hairdressers. In contrast working in IT is one of the least rewarding things you can do, second only to being in banking.

There is some interesting related psychology in there too. For example, doing more exercise can often lead to weight gain (and not just from converting fat into muscle). Doing something positive allows you to think “I have earned this treat” even though the exercise does not even cancel out the treat, so you end up piling the pounds on.

Also a reduced sense of smell can lead to a poorer diet. As something with a below average sense of smell, I would be interested in reading further in this.

The summary of the book is that happiness is what you pay attention to, so pay attention to things that make you happy. These are things that contain pleasure, or purpose, or both. And do not put off having all your jam today in favour of having jam tomorrow because once you have lost it, recovering it is pretty much impossible.




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This entry was posted on Friday, October 30th, 2015 at 11:01 am and is filed under Books. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.