The researcher on happiness and wellbeing talks fatherhood, purpose and how politicians could make us feel betterby Josh Lowe / March 13, 2015 / Leave a comment
How happy are you now? How happy were you yesterday? How much do both of these things tell you, if anything? In all areas of public life, from politics to business, there is now widespread recognition that how people feel matters.
But how do we measure and define this? People are notoriously bad at gauging their own moods and, in many cases, what might be best for them. I spoke with Paul Dolan, a behavioural scientist at the LSE and author of the book “Happiness by Design,” about these and other questions.
Why is it important to be happy? I think it’s ultimately what matters. If you think about whatever you desire in life… it’s ultimately because you want to feel good. It would be pretty masochistic actually, if you were doing something in the knowledge that it was going to make you miserable. Equally for policy makers, it would be pretty sadistic if you were doing something to people that you knew for sure was going to make them feel worse.
But even if you don’t believe that, if you care about productivity, if you care about health or social behaviour, then a very important cause of all those consequences is happiness. Happy people are more productive, happy people are more social, happy people are healthier.
What’s the problem with the way we measure happiness now? In the book I think I talked about a “film of your life” [versus] a “snap shot picture,” so if I’m following you around with a camera I might get a [genuine] sense of what you do, how you feel, who you’re with. But if I say “smile” quickly, I’m going to take a picture, you’re going to smile. We all know people look happier in pictures than they do day to day. So I think it’s that snapshot that doesn’t really capture the richness of your experiences. A one-shot evaluation is a pose almost, a pose for the camera which I don’t think gives me sufficient [information] on how happy you are.
We should be paying more attention to [people’s] direct assessment of living their experiences of their life…