Can we design our happiness? Can we get ‘better’ at being happy?
Paul Dolan, known as ‘Professor Happy’ at the London School of Economics, says that we can – and we should.
I recently came across his book ‘Happiness by Design‘, which promises to guide you through finding purpose and pleasure in everyday life. The book is written in a direct and friendly style, and it mentions tons of scientific research to support his views.
Being an economist rather than a psychologist, he looks at life as a ‘production chain’ that we can optimise for best results. Although I didn’t agree with everything, I did find the book very stimulating in making me think differently about the meaning of happiness.
We often look at happiness as an abstract goal that we need to reach ‘eventually’. Instead, his argument is that it can be planned to happen organically in everyday life.
The theory is based on research that shows that we operate on two systems: the conscious system, where we proactively do, and the unconscious system, which makes repetitive tasks more efficient in ‘autopilot’. If we can design our lives so that the ‘autopilot’ system can help us do more of the things that makes us happy, then we are in business.
So how do you actually design your happiness? The key is to pay attention to what makes us happy in this very moment. This can be difficult because we can get stuck in a belief that something or someone is good for us, when in reality we are just miserable (take something like being in the wrong job or with the wrong friends). Paying attention to what we do is the trading currency that we need to be happy, and I would add that being honest, really honest with ourselves will get us there quicker!
One interesting point the book makes is that we often attach idealistic outcomes to our choices (I’ll do X now so that at some point in the future I will have Y) but we overlook the impact that they have on our life. More conscious choices would mean that the journey that takes us from X to Y will also be bringing us either pleasure or purpose.
There were many other good points that I took from the book, and I certainly reflected on what I want to prioritise in my life. However I found this view a bit too straightforward to fit all the nuances and challenges that life brings us and that are outside of our control.
I would have wanted the book to expand on ethics and sudden changes, for example. But overall there are lots of good points that can be applied to real life.
Next on my reading list is Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, I’ll keep you posted!