Designing happiness for 2015

Designing happiness for 2015

by Bridget Grenville-Cleave

At an event organized by Action for Happiness last week I heard Paul Dolan, Professor of Behavioral Science at the London School of Economics, talk about his new book, Happiness by Design (subtitled Change What You Do, Not How You Think for the US market and Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Everyday Life for the UK market). This book is an entertaining read about how to live a happier life. It’s based on positive psychology yes, but it’s not like the rest of the titles I’ve read. Over the past 10 years or so, I’ve read a few!

For a start, Paul Dolan probably wouldn’t like to have his book classified as a self-help book although that is what it is, albeit with added science. Quoting some little-known research, he was dismissive of this genre and its ability to help anyone become happier, but that’s another story.

Happiness by Design is different. Refreshingly it doesn’t mention three good things, expressing gratitude, savoring, applying your strengths, or any of the staple positive psychology exercises. It does make some basic recommendations, such as spend more time with the people you like and less time watching TV and on the internet, but I’m pretty confident that none of these will be new to regular Positive Psychology News readers. Instead the book starts by questioning why we measure our happiness by evaluating our lives anyway, especially when this method is inaccurate and the stories we tell ourselves often untrue. According to Dolan we’d learn far more about what really makes us happy if we paid more attention to how we feel, moment by moment, day by day.

Insight No 1: Pay Attention to What Makes You Happy

Dolan tells us to be particularly wary of the stories we create about ourselves, our lives, and our experiences because they can get in the way of greater happiness. It’s not surprising that we’re not as happy as we could be when we focus all our attention on what we think should motivate us and make us happy.

You might keep telling yourself “I’m happy being a working mother,” because all your friends are working mothers, whereas if you paid attention to your experience of being a working mother you’d realize that you’d be far happier at home with the kids. Or perhaps the other way around.

At the event I attended, Action for Happiness director, Mark Williams, volunteered a personal example concerning Facebook. He was an avid Facebook user, getting his fix first thing every morning, until he realized that checking on his friends and adding his own photos and updates wasn’t actually making him happy. If anything the reverse was true. So now he has stopped checking in with Facebook in the morning and feels much happier because of it.

Attending to what makes you happy is vital, primarily because attention is a finite resource. If you’re paying attention to one thing, you cannot pay attention to something else at the same time. So in order to become happier, Dolan advises that we pay more attention to things that make us happy, and less to those that make us unhappy…

…keep reading the full & original article HERE