Happiness by Design reviewed by Barbara

Happiness by Design

A British professor with a background in health economics, Paul Dolan is an associate of the famous Daniel Kahneman, whose work in the field of the psychology of decisionmaking in economics is renowned.

As such, Dolan takes a quasi-scientific approach to happiness, reviewing the academic literature – statistics and research findings – on the subject. Facts and figures serve as a springboard for a long and tangential discussion about wellbeing in daily life. His conclusion is to find your own personal balance between pleasure and purpose, and pay attention to the moment, the times when you are actually feeling happy but not really taking note of the fact.

In Part two are some practical tips, based on the research, that should serve to increase the chances of success of any self-help measures you take. Affirming that much of what we do is unconscious and unplanned, Dolan explains the power of psychological devices such as priming, the default (having pre-set options that make it less likely that you opt out), and norms (how we are strongly influenced by what others do) and then provides suggestions on how to make them work for you.

A lot of people live in a state of chronic mild depression, so if it makes someone even slightly less grumpy and a bit more cheerful it will be of use. What the author does leave out though, and which gives it a rather solipstic aspect, is that by defining happiness so subjectively, it avoids exploring the unhappiness people inflict on others, whether intentionally or not, and if this subject had been broached the book could have been more balanced.

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