Summary of Happiness by Design

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Behavioral Science Professor Paul Dolan defines happiness as “experiences of pleasure and purpose over time.” To become happier, pay attention to what makes you happy and do more of it. That advice sounds simple, but it can be hard to implement because your “mistaken desires, projections and beliefs” block your way to happiness. Another impediment to happiness are distractions, both from your internal thoughts and external environment. To pinpoint what makes you happy use the “day reconstruction method.” Record your daily activities and activity partners and rate each activity’s pleasure and purpose on a numerical scale. Dolan’s psychological terminology can be daunting, but he provides a unique perspective on happiness and its meanings. getAbstract recommends his conclusions to academics interested in happiness and to anyone seeking greater joy and fulfillment.

About the Author

International expert on happiness, behavior and public policy Paul Dolan, PhD, is a Professor of Behavioral Science at the London School of Economics and Political Science.



Defining Happiness

Happiness stems from your “experiences of pleasure and purpose over time.” In most surveys about happiness, the questions used to measure it are vague and abstract, like, “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life?” Many studies break down “life satisfaction” into categories, such as a relationship or marriage, job, friendships, activities, and so forth. But such overall “evaluative” questions primarily capture what people think makes them happy and not what actually does during the experience of their lives.

Jeremy Bentham, an 18th-century philosopher who believed in granting equal rights for women and decriminalizing homosexuality, was one of the first to argue that pleasure is the only good and pain the only bad. Most people seek pleasure and avoid pain to increase their happiness. Bentham, however, did not consider experiences of purpose and pointlessness. Yet these sentiments complement pleasure and pain, respectively. Experiences of purpose are experiences of fulfillment or meaning; pointlessness, likewise, as boredom or futility. According to the pleasure-purpose principle, every person daily feels a mix of pleasure and purpose. Invest...

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    L. N. 3 years ago
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    K. H. 4 years ago
    It doesn't make me happy that of those people in the study, the activity that was most pleasurable with least purpose was watching TV. I wish it was something involving self-reflection instead of disconnection.
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    E. J. 4 years ago