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Happy Ever After: Escaping The Myth of The Perfect Life

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  619 ratings  ·  83 reviews

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

Kindle Edition, 229 pages
Published January 17th 2019 by Allen Lane
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Jan 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Happy Ever After by Paul Dolan is a book about uncovering myths about a perfect life. These myths, also known as the happiness narrative, are what we tend to think what makes us happy, but often we are better off abandoning this narrative.

Dolan is a behavioral scientist and thus has, not surprisingly, a very scientific way of looking at this. However, I liked it that he made it more human and relatable by giving his own interpretations of things at times, whilst still leaving space for readers
Dolan writes about how the “dominant social narratives” restrict our idea of what we have to do with our lives, and suggests that sometimes happiness is to be found outside of them. His topics include education, wealth, marriage and children. Some of the statistics he quotes are truly arresting, e.g. “twice as many people in the US compared to the UK are seemingly willing to be miserable in order to be wealthy.”
I read this because I saw the article on The Guardian about how the book talks about how single, child-free women tend to be happiest. However, this was only a smaller part of a wider discussion about happiness narratives and how in actuality, mainstream societal ideas about what happiness and success mean are very different from what actually makes people happy.

I could go on about what I liked and didn't like, but overall I wasn't the biggest fan because it was sort of boring... it took me for
Mar 10, 2019 rated it did not like it
Don't get married, don't have kids, party hard, eat fat and get fat, settle down at $75k per annum. Not that I don't find some of it appealing. But (a) it's one man's vision of happiness and not a recipe, and (b) it misses out on so much (like learning, seeing the world, etc.). I'd give it a negative rating if I could. ...more
Michael Huang
The claims is: Some common beliefs of what leads to happiness held by society just aren’t backed up by data. Duh.
Michael Cayley
Jan 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: misc-nonfiction
A book by a behavioural scientist whose main theme is to bring out the extent to which our life choices and desires - career, wealth, family, health, charitable giving etc - are frequently conditioned by “social narratives” - that is, cultural assumptions and expectations that may actually not correspond to what makes for happiness. The book adopts a “utilitarian” standpoint - what makes for greater happiness - and argues that evidence shows that people are happier if they do not let themselves ...more
Mar 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars
This book is a fascinating read and an excellent chance for self and societal reflection. While I found the introduction very academic (it’s been a long time since I used the word deontological), the rest of the book gave a broad overview of the societal stories we continue to tell ourselves. It doesn’t seek to be an authority on each topic or to cover the field, but force introspection and assessment of how we continue to believe and uphold those narratives.
While the arguments in the
Lynn Brown
Feb 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Based on the description for this book I thought I was going to be reading a self-help book. But instead I found it to be more like a text book for academics on the subject of happiness complete with graphs, or in the case of my kindle ARC no graphs, which wasn't helpful. I can only assume if you buy the kindle edition there will be graphs.

I was off to a bad start with this book when the author proclaimed that as an LSE professor he was not expected to swear. He then goes on to say that there is
Mar 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
Namby pamby arguments, the whole point of this book seems to be to promote the author's schtick as "working class professor".
By the way, forget what you knew about class theory. Apparently class is determined by your leisure activities. This guy sure has a chip on his shoulder about being into body building.
However, he has jumped well on the bandwagon by putting 'happiness' in the title, so it will surely sell a lot in our miserable modern societies.
Dec 12, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cae, psychology
It is a source of immense frustration to many social scientists that people rarely do what those scientists think they should. They have come up with lots of theories as to why people do things they ‘shouldn’t’. The most famous is Karl Marx’s notion of ‘False consciousness‘, which held that “members of the proletariat unwittingly misperceive their real position in society and systematically misunderstand their genuine interests within the social relations of production under capitalism.” In othe ...more
May 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Paul Dolan is a psychologist and this is an educated and well researched book but it is for everyone to read as it is truly fascinating. We have a social norm set up for us and we strive to be "happy" by achieving that norm and woe betide you if you deviate in any way. But Mr Dolan suggests that to be really happy "we need to move from a culture of 'more please' to one of 'just enough'". He believes we should have more respect for people who choose to live their lives to a different set of rules ...more
Jan 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A fresh approach on social narratives that follow all of us through our lives. In the western world, we ought to be: successful, wealthy, educated, married with children, healthy,...... The list goes on and on. But do those social narratives make us happy? Some might, and some might not. The book also points out how we are permanently judged by people and how we judge people; too, especially those who make different choices (no children, no university, part time jobs and more leisure time, etc.) ...more
Mar 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a book that won't be easy reading for many people simply because it forces one to question some of our most basic beliefs. But if one manages to keep an open mind and allow Dolan's arguments to take shape in one's mind, it might just convince some people that there are different paths to happiness. The tough topics addressed by the author are more than counterbalanced by the easy prose and the lucidity. I highly recommend this book to people who often ask me whether it is important to ge ...more
Amy Alice
Feb 02, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
An interesting little book discussing whether the social narratives many of us strive for are actually making us happier. Looking at them through a lens of reverse utilitarianism (working towards the least misery), Dolan examines 9 narratives that are usually forced upon us and the data about whether they make us more or less happy. The nine are: wealth, success, education, marriage, monogamy, children, altruism, healthiness and volition. Spoiler alert: generally they don't make us happier. Each ...more
Sophie Childs
I wanted to love this. I really did. I mean, I enjoy self-help books which are science based, so this seemed like the perfect read.

Unfortunately, it's dull as ditchwater. There's a lot of facts and figures which will be appealing to sociology students, but make it a hard reader to the lay person.

Each chapter opens with pointless questions about whether you'd rather be happy or [fill in blank] and miserable. When you put things into that context, of course most people will choose happiness for t
Anna Comerford
Jan 06, 2021 rated it really liked it
Falters in places, but Dolan does a good job of using available research to show why unquestioning adherence to certain narratives of what will make us happy (he looks at wealth, success, marriage and kids, altruism) undermines our happiness and makes sure we're never satisfied with what we have.

Some surprising challenges in here to received wisdom - higher education doesn't make you any happier, single women without children are the happiest subgroup of the population, and self-interested altr
Michael Cook
Jan 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: audible, non-fiction
I mostly enjoyed it - pop science on human behaviours- focusing on and challenging 'traditional' life goals and the hierarchies around them.
The author is an authentic working class voice and also discusses the impact of social class and percieved success which is always a win. I think perhaps a look into how social class when linked to other discriminating characteristics such as sex, gender or race would have provided an extra emphasis!
Didnt agree with all of it but it did challenge thinking!
Apr 12, 2020 rated it did not like it
In my opinion this data collected for this book is biased (collection bias) as well as the new narratives he brings are very hedonistic and I believe in Aristotle’s Eudaimonia as well as Victor Frankyl logotherapy so this book was not for me
Anežka Svobodová
Nov 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
The book is about widespread social narratives that we adopt and that often stand in the way of our personal happiness.

The author makes you ask if you'd rather your friend follow each of these narrative or rather be happy. He asks the same questions about yourselves. He reveals that most of us force ourselves to follow the narratives but are much less strict with frineds to whom we rather wish happiness even if it should mean that they would not follow these socially accepted norms.

The narrati
I have mixed feelings about this book. Some of the conclusions he draws I found relatable or novel, and some I found downright offensive. I think the key point, however, is that the data Dolan draws from mainly appears to be cross-sectional survey data. That's highly problematic if you want to make statements about general populations, like he does. Cross-sections can't tell you anything about cause-and-effect, so all the statements to that effect are just his opinion, jumping off from the data. ...more
David Margetts
Sep 10, 2020 rated it did not like it
Excellent 'self help' book for the: unambitious, mediocre, lazy, irresponsible, unaccountable, ill disciplined, ego-centric, selfish, self indulgent..."I deserve to be happy' and 'life is just about my happiness and the happiness of my off-spring’ individuals!! It is not, ironically, for the 'working class' who according to Nolan have no 'fxxking' chance to succeed due to genetic influences, social environments, decision contexts and of course randomness. Of course to be obsessive about money, c ...more
Bethwyn Badger
Oct 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: review-books
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 actua ...more
Jul 08, 2021 rated it liked it
This book is written by a professor of behavioral science and is about how much of what we think makes us happy is driven by generalized narratives that don't always make everyone personally happy. The main thrust of the book is that we should consider what makes us happy as individuals rather than what society tells us should make us happy (which seemingly can be wrong).

One of the most interesting ideas in the book was that we should be careful about how we define happiness. The author takes th
Austin Gaghadar
Nov 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Overall this book did a good job of challenging my biases regarding what makes a happy life, augmented by the use of data. I felt that the author was ultimately successful in enabling me to think more critically about what I want to pursue and why as well as softening the judgemental lens with which I view the decisions of others. In particular, I found the reaching narratives to be the most applicable with the author raising a number of counterarguments, all supported by research that suggested ...more
Helen French
Feb 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Dolan seeks to bust the common myths about how we think we need to live in order to be happy. i.e. we are sold the fact that education will make us happy, or wealth, or marriage, but when you look at the stats, who's actually happier?

He asks questions at the beginning of every chapter like (totally paraphrasing from memory) 'Would you rather be highly educated but miserable most of the time, or have little education but be happy most of the time?' and the same question about a friend (ie 'would
Richard Mullahy
Aug 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
No self-help book this, but a serious look at a vital topic. The author is an academic at the LSE and everything in the book is backed-up by research. It's refreshing how it challenges so much received wisdom (in the form of what he describes as "narratives") that are more likely to lead to unhappiness than the other way around (I particularly enjoyed the discussion on "Healthism"), and it's messages are corralled into a coherent structure. The author's unconventional background (northern workin ...more
Kalle Wescott
Feb 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
I read /Happy Ever After: Escaping The Myth of The Perfect Life/, by Paul Dolan:

Dolan explores the dichotomy between what our society defines as "success" - which is supposed to be fulfilling and make us happy - and actually being fulfilled. Getting a good education and then landing a good job, getting married, and having children may be filling of one's time, but not necessarily fulfilling (obviously).

Using statistics, data, and anecdotes, Dolan explores
Daniel B-G
Feb 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology
Mostly good. I'd give it a 3.5 but I'm rounding up.

The good: This does an excellent job of debunking some of the most widely held beliefs about the good life. The stats are all relevant and powerful.

The bad: This is more of a philosophical challenge. The author is strictly individualist and exclusively utilitarian, and I take issue with it. He poses the argument over whether something is right solely in individualist terms specifically deontological vs. utilitarian, completely missing Aristoteli
Dec 15, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: educational
There were interesting, eye-opening points made in the earlier half, though I feel like much of that was personal validation more than anything. Still, there were some statistics in there that I never knew about and many points made about the influence of the growing middle-class on the working-class that I failed to truly consider before. However, as the book progressed, it started getting very repetitive and predictable (you read the chapter heading and can predict the arguments you're in for, ...more
Nov 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Read this book as an audiobook. The main argument is that the ubiquitous social narratives about prerequisites to a happy life (being married, having children, being healthy etc) may be flawed. The book is well structured, arguments are supplemented with concisely described studies. Most studies seem to be of correlational designs, but this is the nature of most behavioural research literature. And of course, correlation doesn’t mean causation. However, some evidence are of longitudinal design a ...more
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“Even without the constant bombardment to reach for more wealth, ‘just enough’ can still sound like a weak counter-narrative to ‘keep striving for more’. But even if it appears boring to accept that you (may) have enough wealth already, it can also be tremendously liberating. Once you have enough money to afford the basic things you want in life, you can stop constantly worrying.” 0 likes
“Attending to being wealthy also means that we harshly judge others for being happy with what they have – we might call them unambitious or lazy – thus preserving the status quo and making it more likely that more people will be miserable with what they have. So we need to stop judging others as lazy, uninspiring or unambitious when they report being happy as they are. The narrative of reaching for wealth stigmatizes those who do not want more money. Let’s instead celebrate those who choose to devote their time and effort to causes of social worth rather than question them for not accumulating more personal wealth. Social media could be a great catalyst for this too.” 0 likes
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