Book Review: Paul Dolan’s Happy Ever After proves we don’t have to be princes & princesses to experience bliss

I’ll have what she’s having. Or will I? When it comes to “Happy Ever After” many of us believe we all want the same things. But Paul Dolan’s latest book, Happy Ever After, challenges us to think otherwise. He does this with some myth-busting and some clear-eyed, intellectual arguments.

Paul Dolan, as Professor of Behavioural Science at the London School of Economics, is known as a happiness expert. In Happy Ever After, Dolan draws on a number of different studies, covering topics like: wellbeing, inequality and discrimination. In doing so, he shows that there can be some unexpected paths to achieving enduring happiness (despite what society and the media would have you believe).

The book is split into three distinct sections; in the first, titled “Reaching” he examines concepts such as: wealth, success and education. Across the section, Dolan describes how we need to slow down and consider when things are just enough for us, rather than being operating as insatiable human beings. It’s a refreshing approach and proof that The Beatles were right when they sang “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

In the second part, Dolan turns his attention towards relationships, putting his critical magnifying glass over ideas of marriage, monogamy and children. For many people those three points would raise an emphatic “Yes”. However, Dolan utilises and describes studies where those in the opposite situation can be just as – if not – happier.

The final part of the book examines health, altruism and volition. Our society assumes that we will act in a responsible way and that this is what helps create the illusion of order. But Dolan takes the opposing view and says that there are no added benefits when you compare these to ones that are motivated by your own self-interest. This is likely to be contentious reading for some people, but the whole premise of this accessible volume is for us to step back and be challenged. Through some rigorous studies and data, we can gain a whole new perspective and a fresher outlook on life.

Happy Ever After is an intriguing volume that proves there are no simple answers. Life is one complex mess of different things and a one-size fits all approach doesn’t end up helping anybody. Dolan’s volume is ultimately a well-researched and easy read about a large range of topics. It also proves that there can be so much more to happy endings than what meets the mind’s eye.

THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Paul Dolan’s Happy Ever After is available now through Penguin Books Australia.

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Natalie Salvo

My writing portfolio can be found at: https://nataliesalvo.wordpress.com/