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Planning Retirement Online

Beyond the Headlines

Dec 2014

 

By Jeanne DavisJeanne Davis

Each month our resident writer and commentator Jeanne Davis goes behind recent news stories to comment on various ideas and subjects that have special resonance for our age group.

Written in her usual thought provoking and entertaining style, we know you will enjoy this addition every month

To view all of Jeanne's articles visit the Interest Index.

More on how to be happy: finding pleasure and purpose in everyday life

Good news for the New Year. Although there has been what seems like an endless succession of books and articles about how to think happy, we now have an impressively researched book about how to behave happy. And how to incorporate these findings into our everyday lives.

The book is Happiness by Design by Professor Paul Dolan. The book’s thesis is that a happy existence requires not only pleasure but purpose and that we should engineer our lives to allocate time and attention to matters that yield both. A professor of behavioural science at the London School of Economics , Dolan is a former member of the Cabinet Office ‘s ‘nudge unit’ and part of the Office of National Statistics wellbeing team; he has also advised the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

Among his top recommendations for happiness are:

  • Don’t spend on consumer items, spend on experiences. Money never brings people the satisfaction they imagine.
  • Surround yourself with people who bring you joy. Social contact makes us happy.
  • Volunteer: A structured form of social contact based around being nice makes us happiest of all.
  • Become a neophile, a lover of new activities (i.e. yoga)

At about the same time as Dolan’s book was grabbing the headlines, a book by the historian Yuval Noah Harari, also commandeered attention. Does modern life make us happy? Harari, in his international best seller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind argues that the hunter gatherers found their world far more fulfilling.

They lived in close-knit communities and friends were people with whom you were hunting mammoths. You survived long journeys and difficult winters together. You took care of one another when one of you fell sick, and shared your last morsels of food in times of want.

The common thread that strikes me in both Nolan’s and Harari’s conclusions is the critical happiness factor of social contact.

Few of us would disagree that Homo sapiens evolved as a social animal, that man is a social animal. Our wellbeing is usually influenced by the quality of our relationships more than by our household amenities, the size of our bank accounts or even our health.

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