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Happy Ever After: Escaping The Myth of The Perfect Life

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  385 ratings  ·  51 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
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 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 do much (like learning, seeing the world, etc.). I'd give it a negative rating if I could.
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
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!
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.
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
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
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
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this strangely (and positively) different self-help book, Paul Donlan focuses on explaining to us all the myths of the so-called "successful" life, as well as the reasons why it is something that can never actually be achieved.

The book is broken down to simple everyday aspects of our lives, in which the "perfect" life is founded, like work success, wealth, and marriage. Backed up by actual studies and data, the chapters are both very interesting and enjoyable. Dolan provides examples, asks v
Akshay Bonala
Oct 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a very well written book, easy to understand. It will breathe some fresh thoughts into your mind if you are having difficulties with social norms.

This review is spoiler-free...

Before you go into the book, some topics may concern some readers especially related to open marriages. But I would suggest to read this book and understand the authors perspective.

We beings part of society, adapt to many things as per social norms although it makes us happy or sad at the moment in the hope that th
Jan 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Another book I tried to enjoy, because I like behavioural economics and science based self help.
Some very good points and advice made unpalatable by the heavy hand of Malthusian doom and gloom about how humans are overpopulating the planet and our grandchildren are all going to die a horrible death by global warming (or whatever the moving disaster target du jour is).
I'm happy to disagree with a number of the conclusions, I'm grateful for the opportunity to get out of my own narrative
Giovanna Walker
Feb 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
Agree with some other commentators here, the message is interesting, however repetitive. There are some technical terms that make it a bit of a struggle sometimes, however the premise is interesting. Falling into social narratives of what we 'should' like/enjoy/do. Being one who has never really fit into the social narrative, been an outsider that is, my thinking is a bit different to start with, I've never been on of the 'pack'. Personally or professionally I haven't 'fitted in' to many social ...more
Elisabeth Marksteiner
Fantastic! We tell ourselves stories to create an image of self-control. We ignore facts and indeed convince ourselves of our beliefs even when ‘proven’ wrong. The premise supposes that once we have enough, more will not make us happier. We fetishise certain goals, health, wealth, education, relationships amongst others and aren’t rational animals to consider WHY we buy into what others want for us.
I’ve noted some primary resources referred to, particularly with regards to education. But if you
Jun 17, 2019 rated it liked it
This was an interesting read. He asks questions at the beginning of every chapter like: 'Would you rather be highly educated but miserable most of the time, or have little education but be happy most of the time?' The problem is, life is never so simple, and one aspect of life never guarantees happiness itself. That is the major problem of this book. You can have a look at the common myths about happiness for fun, but what really determines whether someone is happy or not is the sum of all of li ...more
Chen Ann Siew
Oct 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Largely about social narratives (around wealth, career, education, relationships, health, being altruistic, free will), and how the need to conform to these social narratives have made life miserable for some/most people. Beyond these narratives, some interesting ideas/suggestions: e.g. removing subsidies for higher education, misery reduction (vs well being maximising) as policy goals, we have limited free will (human behaviour one or a combination of the following determinants - genes, social ...more
Apr 15, 2020 rated it liked it
The premise of this book - critiquing dominant social narratives in a variety of contexts - was interesting, as were his findings relating to happiness. I did, however, find the almost academic tone of the book a bit dry and struggled to fully integrate some of the ideas he set forth due to the sheer volume of references and statistics quoted throughout each chapter. I also found some of his deductions to be oversimplified. That being said, there were a few chapters that made quite an impression ...more
Daniel Lambauer
This was overall a good book, which rightly challenges our assumptions what constitutes a ‘happy’ life (who would have thought that you are more miserable the more you are educated). Only reason I marked it down was that I felt the research was a bit selective; and also I am not a utilitarian in my outlook - therefore some arguments did not appeal to me.

But I would recommend reading it, not least as makes a good argument for letting everyone live the life that suits them - and with this I very
Blondi Barnet
Feb 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Well done for allowing other stories to be voiced and ok

Allows us to question what we think is right or will bring us happiness. Allows us to consider changes in our lives that go against the grain in order to reduce misery rather than 'find happiness'. Keep the conversation out there and in public domain
John Kelleher
Largely insightful and offered a great number of opportunities to challenge your own thinking. Sometimes brash in tone but largely to underline the point and consistently so with the books goals. Will I be happier for having read it? I don't know but I'll ask more questions around my assumptions around happiness and the choices of others.
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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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