Book Review: Happy Ever After by Paul Dolan

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Title: Happy Ever After
Author: Paul Dolan
Publication Date: 17th January 2019

Synopsis: "Paul Dolan, the bestselling author of Happiness by Design, shows us how to escape the myth of perfection and find our own route to happiness.

Be ambitious; find everlasting love; look after your health... There are countless stories about how we ought to live our lives. These narratives can make our lives easier, and they might sometimes make us happier too. But they can also trap us and those around us.

In Happy Ever After, bestselling happiness expert Professor Paul Dolan draws on a variety of studies ranging over wellbeing, inequality and discrimination to bust the common myths about our sources of happiness. He shows that there can be many unexpected paths to lasting fulfilment. Some of these might involve not going into higher education, choosing not to marry, rewarding acts rooted in self-interest and caring a little less about living forever.

By freeing ourselves from the myth of the perfect life, we might each find a life worth living."

My thoughts: This was a fascinating and surprisingly affirming read for me. Dolan talks a lot about stepping away from narratives that we have been conditioned to follow - marriage, kids, high-paying job, high level of education, etc. - and focusing instead on just... being happy. For me, someone who has had to step away from some social narratives (high-paying [or any] employment; good health) and chosen to step away from others (having kids), reading about the data and studies on whether these things actually do make us happier was extremely interesting. I think the one that shocked me most was the fact that pursuing education didn't make people happier in general - though I also understand it from knowing that the education system doesn't really serve kids in certain ways, and just tries to cram them into boxes that can be a very poor fit. As someone who really loves learning new things, and has a couple of degrees (albeit ones hidden in a cupboard because... I can't work in the way that I probably envisioned whilst getting said degrees), the choice to not learn more isn't something that occurs to me easily.

The way this is broken into sections is brilliant - Dolan takes you through each section with both a view to educating, but also a wry and intelligent tone. At times I did have a little trouble understanding the data that was getting thrown at me, but that could have been because I've been having a particularly bad week when it comes to sleep, and so focus isn't exactly my forte at the moment. Otherwise I found myself really invested in what Dolan was saying, the data he was presenting, and I highlighted a lot of things. I kept thinking, even whilst reading, that this would be an excellent book to revisit when I inevitably got caught up in the narratives of needing to have a conventional job, or when I needed to remind others of why the choice to not have kids is a completely valid one.

I absolutely love books like this one that remind me that happiness isn't going to be found at the end of the (*insert aim here*) rainbow, and that, even when other people on social media tell me that 'if I can do it, then you can' that that isn't...necessarily true. Dolan explores so many facets of what we, as a society, believe to be happy-making, and calmly and carefully deconstructs them and shows us the parts. I think, if we can keep those deconstructed parts in mind a little bit more, we may well be a little less judgey, and a whole lot happier.


{I received an ecopy of this book from Netgalley/Penguin Books in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you!!}

A favourite line from the book: 'Social narratives make prescriptions about what people should want, do, think and feel. They influence us whether we like it or not. We fall into a narrative trap when we get so carried away with a social story that we expect everyone around us to conform to it.'

You would like this book if: You enjoy nonfiction that looks at data around happiness and traditional narratives of where happiness can be 'found'.

Tea to drink while reading this book: I'd suggest something caffeinated, just to keep brain cells activated for taking in all that data. But perhaps tea doesn't fit into what makes you happy! So drink what you want :D

Rating:  8.5/10

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