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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tremendously insightful and highly enjoyable read
Paul Dolan's book is groundbreaking, wise and fun to read. In the first part, Dolan brings together three very significant insights:
1) We are what we pay attention to - i.e. our happiness depends crucially on how our attention is allocated. Dolan goes on to explain in the second part of the book how we can construct our surroundings in ways that focuses our...
Published 27 days ago by Joel

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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some good ideas but I wouldn't recommend it as a self-help book
This book has two main parts. The first part defines happiness and says what the current thinking is about it. It's by no means the first book to describe the ingredients of happiness but the emphasis on purpose is an interesting idea. We are all aware of the psychological bias we have towards current versus future pleasure (e.g. having some cake now, before we start our...
Published 2 months ago by suilven


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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some good ideas but I wouldn't recommend it as a self-help book, 25 Sep 2014
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This review is from: Happiness by Design: Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Everyday Life (Kindle Edition)
This book has two main parts. The first part defines happiness and says what the current thinking is about it. It's by no means the first book to describe the ingredients of happiness but the emphasis on purpose is an interesting idea. We are all aware of the psychological bias we have towards current versus future pleasure (e.g. having some cake now, before we start our diet). The author highlights another bias which is that we wrongly assume that simple pleasures such as watching TV will make us happier than purposeful activities such as work. It's a useful perspective.

The second part offers some advice about how to put these ideas into practice. Unfortunately (for the reader!) the author has a successful career, a well-balanced life and is naturally a very happy and active person. If you have real problems, many of the ideas will comes across as trivial and patronising, such as "spend more time with people you like", "improve your commute", "spend less time on the internet" and "stop procrastinating". He even goes into his own experiences of owning a high-powered sports car and bodybuilding. Anyone lonely, jobless or ill is liable to be thoroughly depressed by the time they get to the end of that lot!

Further thoughts:
Well, at least the book got me thinking, but I suspect that the effect of making tweaks to one's life is likely to be short-lived. I recall an experiment in which office workers' morale improved when their lighting was changed... up or down! Of course the morale boost wore off quickly and was likely caused by the novelty factor plus the feeling that someone cared about their wellbeing. I reckon most of us have a default level of happiness just as we have a default weight, and both are very hard but not impossible to change permanently, as dieters will know. Quick-fix happiness is about as likely to be successful as a quick-fix diet. Dolan is rather dismissive of mindfulness-based techniques but if you are prepared to put in the time and effort it really can make a lasting difference. "The Mindful Way Through Depression" by Mark Williams et al is a sensitive and intelligent read, whether or not you are a sufferer.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tremendously insightful and highly enjoyable read, 29 Oct 2014
Paul Dolan's book is groundbreaking, wise and fun to read. In the first part, Dolan brings together three very significant insights:
1) We are what we pay attention to - i.e. our happiness depends crucially on how our attention is allocated. Dolan goes on to explain in the second part of the book how we can construct our surroundings in ways that focuses our attention on the things and experiences that bring happiness.
2) Happiness is experiences of pleasure and purpose. Accounts of happiness (or subjective wellbeing in the academic argot) have primarily measured experiential happiness on one dimension; pleasure and pain. By also taking into account experiences of meaning and futility, Dolan provides a superior definition of happiness.
3) We too often neglect our experiential selves in favour of a more removed, narrative-driven evaluative standpoint when it comes to assessing our happiness. This is an issue that Dolan argues we should address by being more mindful of our actual experiences rather than constructing stories that we tell ourselves. If you get paid a whole lot in a prestigious job but your work is meaningless and painful in the experience of it, you should probably quit.

The second part of the book uses the insights in the first part to provide the reader with practical tips for becoming happier. This section may very well change your life for the better!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At last, a practical book on how to become happier, 7 Oct 2014
By 
Adam Smith (Surrey, England) - See all my reviews
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Professor Dolan has written a superb book. Briefly, its all about finding balance. To be happy, you need to do things that give you pleasure, as well as doing things that give meaning to your life. The big difference between this book and many of the others you see on the subject is that this one is based on research. In the nicest possible way, that is, without too many steamy statistics, he draws upon much of the research on the subject to give us a masterly survey of the topic. He starts with what do we know about happiness, like defining what it is, what causes us to be happy, and if we know, why are so many of us not happier. The second part of the book attempts to answer the question, how do we become happier human beings? Chapter 7 is entitled "Doing Happiness" and is a practical guide to getting happy and staying happy. Pay attention to what you are doing and who you are doing it with, and don't get distracted. I feel that anyone on reading this book can become a happier individual. Just understanding why you are not happy, in a strange way, can make you happier, because the understanding may evoke more commitment to situations or individuals or indeed lead you to a strategy of changing situations. Best book on how to feel better that I have ever read
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting analysis backed up by scientific data, 29 Sep 2014
By 
Uncle Barbar (Essex, England) - See all my reviews
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I've read quite a few books on ‘attaining happiness’. This one of the better ones. It’s no surprise since it is authored by a professor of behavioural science at the London School of Economics. However, Dolan has clearly attempted to make the book accessible to everybody. Dolan's enthusiasm for the topic certainly comes through in the text. The book contains a degree of self-revelation, which is quite common in these type of books. Some people find this a good way to relate to the author and comforting and other people find it an irrelevance. You'll know which one you are and you can skim through those bits if, like me, you're the latter type. What I was pleased to find, was plenty of interesting research to back up the authors assertions.

I did find the 'pleasure-purpose balance' an interesting exercise in considering how we attain happiness. For instance, I did find it interesting to discover that having children is great for our sense of purpose but not so great at contributing to our feeling of happiness, which isn't what one often hears anecdotally.

This type of book is never going to solve your problems. All it can do is try to help you gain insight into how you perceive them. And this book does try very hard to get you to analyse your own perspective. I would be surprised if most people didn't get at least a few pointers in raising their happiness quotient from this book. I would recommend this as a worthwhile read for anybody interested in analysing their own perspective on what makes them feel happy and then trying to do more of it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thank you, Professor Happy, for this encouraging book!, 8 Nov 2014
By 
G. Bright "chronically sedulous" (Derbyshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This book is about happiness and behaviour, and is written in two parts:

Part one explores the concept of happiness and includes new research which refers to other researchers' materials and findings. Part two is concerned with examining our own experiences and makes suggestions on how to deliver happiness for yourself and those you care about. There are simple diagrams to illustrate points raised, and tables to examine your own daily experiences.

My favourite areas are the social stories which put the information into a practical context, and enhances understanding of the written texts.

I found this book clear, concise and easy to read. I have been encouraged to examine my experiences and retrain my focus. I am currently filling out daily feedback charts - look out world!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Happiness by Design - it does exactly what it says on the tin, 24 Oct 2014
I found this book very interesting. It gave me a method to understand how my day to day activities, habits and so forth impact my happiness. For example, I find that my mind might argue that going to the pub is a waste of time and that I should be using my weekends in a more purposeful manner. After the reading the book, I have come to understand that while the pub might be viewed as a pleasurable experience, it is also purposeful in building stronger friendships, helping me unwind etc.
I am not trained in Psychology but I found the author's prose engaging and the content of the book generally easy to understand.
Most people want their family and mates to be happy and after reading 'Happiness by Design', it will certainly be a stocking filler this year.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended!, 21 Oct 2014
Paul Dolan explains to us what happiness really is (and no, it's not sex, drugs and rock and roll): it's having a balance of pleasure and purpose in life. So many people live hedonistic lifestyles in the belief that pleasure will make them happier, when actually, it's the indulgent stuff combined with the meaningful, worthwhile stuff that makes us truly happy. Dolan also shows us show we can design our lives to achieve our own personal balance of leisure and purpose, and debunks a large bunch of myths about happiness along the way. This is a really refreshing thesis and a really practical guide to a happier life. Definitely worth reading and chock full of great research too! Highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I am happy with it, 11 Nov 2014
By 
Andrew Dalby "ardalby" (oxford) - See all my reviews
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It is not often that you find an academic who can write with wit, humour and an obvious passion for their subject, as well as maintaining academic credibility. It is always a fine line between popularising and being rigorous but Paul Dolan walks the line perfectly. This book carries you along on an exploration of happiness and his key view that it is attention that drives happiness. Once we are more aware of what we are attending to then we can discover our happiness. This means that happiness is more than the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure, against this has to be balanced a sense of purposes. Dolan also shows that this will change over your life and because of events and that in some areas of your life the balance shifts between pleasure and purpose. So I have to say that it made me happy and I am paying some attention, even if I cannot imagine the misery he associates with having children (he does say that this is balanced by pleasure but for me they don't have a down side).
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I think I might be a sentimental hedonist too, 14 Sep 2014
This is an excellent book. I did my undergraduate degree in Psychology and now work in marketing, so that's where I'm coming from. I remembered many of the principles it talks about from my degree like confirmation bias - "we attend to information and evidence to support what we believe and ignore information that does not" - but there were many fresh twists like behavioural spillovers - exercising can unconsciously spill over to rewarding yourself to eat more and so might not help with weight loss. I really watch out for that now! The book begins by defining exactly what happiness is, experiences of pleasure and purpose, as in contrast to momentary evaluations about life overall. I was persuaded by the argument that we should seek happiness as an ultimate goal even though many people don't, especially considering happiness includes purpose, and so working for me can be seen as contributing towards my happiness and not just by bank account. I liked the focus on changing your environment to change behaviour to be happier and not just trying to think happier... a bunch of interesting research in there like how Twitter might help with weight but I won't spoil the book any more than I have. The practical examples at the end on procrastination and helping others were useful in thinking about how I could apply the principles earlier in the book, although I don't really struggle myself with doing either of those things. I do wonder, though, how possible it is to separate evaluations from experiences...
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a happiness book like you've never seen one before, 18 Sep 2014
This is a happiness book like you've never seen one before.

Most books in this canon will ask you to re-train your brain. However, brain training for happiness is an incredibly difficult task and takes year of work - everyone from Buddhist monks to frazzled city-workers to melancholic meaning-seekers struggles with it. This is because we're essentially hardwired to freak out (it's evolutionary - our natural tendency to focus on the negative used to keep us alive when threats loomed around every cave corner) and the skill and effort needed to re-set our Palaeolithic programming should not be underestimated.

This book blazes a new trail by showing us that there is a new way to wellbeing. Dolan empowers us with a strategy for achieving happiness that does not require us to overcome the deeply ingrained thinking patterns that evolution has left us with, but rather one that shows us how to work with them and to use them to our advantage.

Given that most of our feelings, thoughts and behaviours are automatic reactions to stimuli that we process unconsciously, Dolan shows us that we can actually design our environment so that the feelings, thoughts and behaviours that are most conducive to happiness are systematically and continually triggered, independent of any need for brain training or active "thought management". By optimally designing our physical and social contexts, we can relax the effortful happiness-seeking remit of the conscious mind, safe in the knowledge that our unconscious brain will be bouncing off the types of stimuli and sensations that science has proven will make us feel good. Aside from the wellbeing benefits themselves, another huge advantage of this solution is that the conscious mind is freed up to deal with things more strategic than worrying about the pursuit of happiness.

Dolan's book is revolutionary because it doesn't tell us to think our way to happiness; it tells us to invest a little up-front effort in some re-structuring of our daily routine, and then to sit back and let our unconscious mind deliver the rewards. It's happiness by default, thanks to happiness by design.
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