November 29, 2022

Paul Dolan Biography, Age, Education, Career, Books and Interview

Paul Dolan Biography

Paul Dolan is Head of Department and Professor of Behavioural Science in Psychological and Behavioural Science at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is Director of the Executive MSc in Behavioural Science which began in September 2014.

He is the best selling author and an internationally renowned expert on happiness, behavior and public policy, he conducts original research into the measurement of happiness, its causes, and consequences. He has previously held academic posts at York, Newcastle, Sheffield, and Imperial and he has been a visiting scholar at Princeton University

Paul Dolan Age

Dolan was born on 10 May 1968. He is now 47 years old as of 2018.

Paul Dolan Image

Paul Dolan Image

Paul Dolan Wife

Married to Karen Dolan

Paul Dolan Career

Dolan has over 100 peer-reviewed publications which cover many topics including behavioural science, subjective wellbeing, equity in health and health valuation. He currently holds the position of the Chief Academic Advisor on Economic Appraisal for the UK Government’s Economic Service. He is also a member of National Academy of Sciences Panel on Wellbeing and of the Measuring National Wellbeing Advisory Forum. In addition he is a visiting Professor at Imperial College London and an associate of the Institute for Government.

He is an author of the “Mindspace” report published by the UK Cabinet Office which seeks to apply lessons from the psychological and behavioural sciences to social policy.

In 2013 Dolan appeared at the Hay Festival in Cartegena, Colombia and discussed the role of modern technology and happiness, as well as his work on experiences of purpose, attention, and happiness. He also gave the Queen’s Lecture on “Happiness by Design” at the TU Berlin in November 2013. Since that Professor Dolan has taken part in a number of national and international speaking events and has appeared on TV in ITV this morning as well as a BBC 2 Horizons series ‘How do we really make decisions?’

On 28 August 2014 Dolan published his book Happiness by Design, with foreword by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman.

Most of us would like to be happier in his book Dolan defines this as experiencing more pleasure and/or purpose for longer. He describes how being happier means allocating attention more efficiently; towards those things that bring us pleasure and purpose and away from those that generate pain and pointlessness. Easier said than done of course, and certainly easier than thought about. But behavioural science teaches us that most of what we do simply comes about rather than being thought about. So, by clever use of priming, defaults, commitments, norms, you can become a whole lot happier without actually having to think too hard about it. You will be happier by design.

In a profile of Dolan published in the Guardian on 22 November 2014, Dolan is quoted as saying:

I have never read a novel in my life. There are only so many hours in the day and I have decided to fill them with activities other than reading made-up stories. Each to their own, eh?

Paul Dolan Happy Ever After

Bibliographic information

Title Happy Ever After: Escaping the Myth of the Perfect Life
Author Paul Dolan
Publisher Penguin Books, Limited, 2019
Length 240 pages

Paul Dolan Happiness By Design

Happiness by Design is a best-selling book written by Professor Paul Dolan. He brings the latest research in behavioral science together with current findings

Paul Dolan Speaking Events and Talks 2015-2019

Speaker – Resolution Foundation – Happy Now? Wellbeing Lessons for Policy Makers. – London – February 2019

Speaker – M&G Management Group – “Happiness and the Importance of Balancing Pleasure and Purpose” – London – December 2018

Speaker – Prudential Impact Development Programme – “Behavioural Insights” – Hong Kong – June 2018

Speaker – World Government Summit 2018 – What makes people happy? – Dubai – February 2018

Speaker – Prudential Impact Development Programme – “How We Really Make Decisions” – London – January 2018


Speaker – HK Strategies (Huawei and Saatchi Gallery) – London – December 2017

Speaker – Behavioural Insights Team – London – 25 Oct 2017

Keynote speaker – Happiness and Policy Making – UAE – 22 Oct 2017

Presenter – McKinsey – Talk “How can you find pleasure and purpose to be happier at work, rest and play?” – July 2017

Presenter – The Happiness and Wellbeing Project (St. Louis University, USA) – June 2017

Speaker – Nudge France – Paris- 8 June 2017

Keynote speaker – CWiPP – Sheffield – 24 May 2017

Impact presentation – Prudential – Hong Kong – 15 May 2017

Panellist – The Times – The Alternative Rich List – March 2017


Speaker – Google – Headquarters Youtube Team – Dec 2016

Seminar Presentation – Prudential – Dec 2016

Speaker – B2B – Customer Experience event – Nov 2016

Presenter – Indeed Interactive Europe – Nov 2016

Presenter – Common Wealth Bank – Presentation to the board – Sep 2016


Speaker – Wired – ‘The Secret of Happiness’ – Oct 2015

Speaker – Edinburgh International Television Festival – ‘Measuring Happiness’ – Aug 2015

Speaker – Nudgestock – ‘Purpose In Work’ – June 2015

Speaker – Hay Festival – ‘Happiness By Design’ – May 2015

Speaker – Sydney Writers Festival – ‘Business Bites: Paul Dolan on work/life balance’ May 2015

Speaker – The Wheeler Centre – ‘Why thinking Happy Isn’t enough – May 2015

Speaker – Future Fest – ‘What Happiness Is And How To Find It’ – March 2015

Speaker – Ecobuild – ‘Design in Mind’ – March 2015

Speaker – How To Academy – ‘The Pleasure And Purpose of Behavioural Economics’ – Feb 2015

Paul Dolan Books

  • Happy Ever After: Escaping The Myth of The Perfect Life (2019)
  • Happiness by Design: Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Everyday Life (2014)
  • True to Our Roots: Fermenting a Business Revolution (2003)
  • Distributing Health Care: Economic and Ethical Issues (2002)

Paul Dolan Guardian

In a profile of Dolan published in the Guardian on 22 November 2014, Dolan is quoted as saying:

“I have never read a novel in my life. There are only so many hours in the day and I have decided to fill them with activities other than reading made-up stories. Each to their own, eh?”

Paul Dolan New Book

Happy Ever After: Escaping The Myth of The Perfect Life

Paul Dolan Selected national television

BBC Breakfast

Channel 5 ‘Make or Break’

ITV This Morning

ITV Tonight

Channel 4 Sunday Brunch

ABC Late line Australia

ABC One Plus One

BBC 2 Horizon, ‘How do we really make decisions?’

Paul Dolan Selected national radio

BBC Radio 4, Saturday Morning

BBC Radio 4, You and Yours

BBC 5 live

BBC R3 Free Thinking Festival

BBC London, Local Radio, World News, Newcastle, Wales, Essex

Virgin Radio UK

Paul Dolan Education

Dolan gained his degree in economics from Swansea University in 1989. His masters and doctorate on “Issues in the valuation of health outcomes” both came from the University of York in 1991 and 1997 respectively.

Paul Dolan Awards

In 2002 he won the Philip Leverhulme Prize in economics for his contribution to health economics; in particular, for his work on QALYs (quality-adjusted life years).

Paul Dolan Newspaper, Magazine, and blog articles 2015 – 2019

The Telegraph – The secret to happiness? Don’t sweat the big stuff March 2019

Wired – Social media has totally warped how you think about happiness in January 2019

The Times – Review: Happy Ever After: Escaping the Myth of the Perfect Life by Paul Dolan — how to find happiness January 2019

The Times – Paul Dolan interview: the author of Happiness By Design speaks to Robert Crampton January 2019

The Guardian – Want to transform your life? Stop chasing perfection January 2019

Penguin – Stop looking for ‘the one’: how to escape the myth of a perfect life January 2019

The Guardian – The money, job, marriage myth: are you not happy yet? – January 2019

Balance – Is this the UK’s biggest untapped wellness resource? – November 2018

LADDERS – This is the best way to overcome your fear of missing out – October 2018

The Telegraph – How to be happy: 20 pressing questions (and answers) for a more fulfilling life – September 2018

The Telegraph –Meet The ‘Happiness Professor’’: This Man’s 20 Tips To Everyday Happiness Could Change Your Life – March 2018

CITY A.M. – In The Age of Sharing, This Is The Last Taboo – Jan 2018

Dean Street – Respecting Yourself – Oct 2017

The Toronto Sun – Don’t Worry, Be Happy, It’s World Happiness Day – March 2016

The Telegraph – Do You Need A Mind Coach? – Feb 2016

The Guardian – Banish Those Midlife Blues – Feb 2016

Edge.org – 2016: What Do You Consider The Most Interesting Recent News? What Makes It Important? – Jan 2016

The Daily Mirror – The New Year Resolutions You Should be Making – Dec 2015

Capx – Recruiting Ethnic Minorities In The Military: The Solution Is Behavioural Economics – Dec 2015

Wired.co.uk – This Man Knows The Secret of Happiness: The Small Stuff – Oct 2015

ABC Online – ‘Happiness Thinker’ Professor Dolan On Pleasure, Purpose And Everyday Happiness’ – Oct 2015

The Telegraph – Five Things You Can do To Be Happier Right now – June 2015

The Sydney Morning Herald – Paul Dolan on Happiness By Design: Finding A Balance Between Purpose And Pleasure – May 2015

Paul Dolan Website

To interact with his official website Click Here

Paul Dolan Twitter

Paul Dolan Interview

Five minutes with Paul Dolan: “Happiness is experiences of pleasure and purpose over time”

Updated: 28 August 2018

In your new book, Happiness by Design, you write “happiness is caused by what we pay attention to”. Can you elaborate on what you mean by this?

We are what we pay attention to. Too much of what we thought about happiness posits a direct relationship from the input – money, marriage, sex and so on – to the output – happiness. In actuality the answer to the question, ‘does money make you happy?’ depends on how much attention you pay it. Money would make you happier if you constantly paid attention to how rich you were.

So it’s a production process. Just like a company producing output takes land, labour and capital as inputs and puts them through the sausage machine that makes widgets at the output, your sausage machine for the inputs of money, marriage, sex and so on, is the attention production process, and that converts the inputs into units of happiness.

How easy is it to shift attention towards the things that make you happy?

Most of our attention, or at least a significant part, is unconsciously allocated. We don’t decide to pay attention to the French music that’s playing in the supermarket that makes us more likely to buy French wine. In fact, we’re largely unaware of the fact that we’re paying unconscious attention to the French music that’s driving us to buy the wine. Because so much of what you do and how you feel is driven by automatic processes, you can’t just think your way into happiness. You can’t just be positive like you hear in so many self-help books. What you can do is create the environment, situation, and context that make it more likely that you are positive without having to think about being positive.

The attention production process is incredibly complicated by the fact that you don’t consciously decide like a company does when it combines land, labour and capital to make the output. But you’re being unconsciously drawn around and attending to things in your situations and in your everyday life in ways that you’re largely unaware of. So that raises a challenge about how you can think your way out of trouble and into happiness.

Your book provides a novel definition of happiness and how to measure it.

The original contribution is what I call the pleasure-purpose principle. I argue that happiness is experiences of pleasure and purpose over time.In happiness research there are currently two ways in which happiness is measured: as experiences of pleasure and pain over time on the one hand and evaluations of meaning and purpose on the other. So meaning and purpose only shows up when you’re thinking about how meaningful and purposeful your life is. ButI don’t sit here and rock in my chair thinking about how meaningful my life is. It shows up in conversations like this with you; it feels meaningful, it’s a bit fun too.

So, firstly, we need to understand happiness in an experiential way. Kahneman, towards the end of his book Thinking, Fast and Slow,touches on this, saying that the experiencing self doesn’t get a voice because you live your life in stories and narratives, evaluations essentially about the things that you think should make you happy, without paying enough attention to the day-to-day moments of pleasure and pain. It is these day-to-day moments, the experiencing self as Kahneman puts it, that we need to pay attention to. And once you add in purposefulness and pointlessness, or fulfilment and futility, whatever adjectives you may prefer to use for purpose, you have a much more complete picture of the experiences of someone’s life, which means you don’t have to have recourse to these big stories or narratives that people tell.

I’m making a normative claim that we ought not to pay attention to those stories. The stories, constructions and narratives we tell, or are told for us, sometimes sit in sharp contrast with what actually makes is happy – they, for example, make people stay working in a job they hate and marriages they shouldn’t be in for longer. Happiness shows up in how we feel; pleasure and purpose, moment-to-moment, day-to-day. Therefore we need to shift our attention from those stories towards the experiences. I’m increasingly convinced that that’s actually one of the major obstacles to being happier, and I talk about it in the ‘mistakes’ chapter.

How do you trade off purpose and pleasure? Things that give you pleasure might not be very purposeful and vice versa.

The next step for the pleasure-purpose principle is to think about the marginal rate of substitution between those elements. For the book it was more than enough to set out those two principles and to talk a bit about the fact that if you’re a pleasure machine you can probably be happier if you had a little bit more purpose and tiny bit less pleasure, and if you’re a purpose engine, you could be happier if you had a little bit more pleasant and bit less purpose. So I started getting into this exchange rate, trade-off thing, but nowhere do I make it specific or quantifiable.

I think the next challenge, if people are going to develop this pleasure-purpose principle further, is exactly the issue you just raised. How do you trade them off against one another? How do you know whether you’ve got the optimal balance between them? Probably the answer to that question is you don’t ever know but just kind of muddle your way through.

In the second part of your book, you provide a practical guide for how to be happier. What are some of the ways?

Decide, design, do. They’re the three Ds in part two of the book. Critical in making better decisions is the feedback you get about your experiences. So much of what we do comes about by habit or by accident. We kind of get on and do it without really paying too much attention to whether or how it is making us happy or sad, whether it is has purpose or is pointless.

Part of what we have to do is monitor, once in a while getting some light-touch feedback; considering, ‘is this the best use of my time?’ Thinking about happiness as a set of experiences over time forces us to pay attention to the scarce resource of time. What the ‘decide’ chapter does is discuss ways in which you can get feedback from your own experiences and from others as well. Dan Gilbert talks about this in some length in Stumbling on Happiness. If you’re thinking about going on a cruise, ask someone who just got off what it’s like. They’re probably a better guide to your own experiences than your imagination of your experiences would be.

The ‘design’ chapter is the choice architecture stuff. I talk about priming; for example, if you don’t want to spend so much money change your bank password to ‘don’t spend so much money’. I also discuss defaults and commitments; for example, change your homepage from Facebook to a reading website if you want to read more books. The point is that you can have a really big impact from very small changes. You don’t have to think in these big, grand, ‘I need to change my life’ ways, but about how to change little bits of it – how can I get five minutes more of fresh air every day? How can I speak to my mates for ten minutes more each day? Tiny little things can have a significant effect on happiness without you having to go through this huge reorganization of your life in order to do it.

I also talk about norms. We know that we’re social animals; we want to be like people like us. A critical part of being happier is to think about those people that we want to be around. There’s a song by The Smiths where Morrissey sings ‘why do I give valuable time to people who don’t care if I live or die?’ It’s quite remarkable that we do – not in such an extreme way – spend an awful amount of time, especially people are driven by career success for example, with people we don’t really much care for but who we think are going to be useful to us in some way. First of all, they might not be. Even if they are, you’re just going to be miserable on the way. You lose either way it seems to me.

Choosing who to work with and who to spend time with is a very simple thing that many – admittedly not all – of us can do. We should think about how much time we’re spending with people that we really genuinely enjoy the company of – probably not as much as we could – and how much time are we spending with people we don’t very much care for – probably a bit too much.

The “do” chapter is then just about getting on and doing it. You’re happier when you pay attention to what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with, and when you’re not distracted by other stimuli. I talk a lot about modern technology and how we’ve become addicts. Of course I’m not some dinosaur who thinks it hasn’t all been a great advance, but we are literally hooked on the internet and our smartphones – checking emails, checking Facebook updates, text messages, and so on. It’s kind of just happened to us. It’s almost like we haven’t had any say in it. It’s not like we decided to legalise heroin and there’s a heroin dealer on every corner. We’ve kind of put the heroin dealers out there and have said let’s see what happens. That’s pretty much what’s happened with internet addiction. You see it all the time. I’m tempted right now to see whether I have got any emails while I’m talking to you. Not only is it rude, but it makes us both much less happy when I do that.

If you forget your cellphone at home eventually you get to the point where you feel that the world does still turn. You’re not that important actually; people get on without you and you get on with experiencing life. Worst of all is people with their camera-phones out at gigs. Just go home and watch it on television if that’s what you want to do, you get a much better picture on television. Just put it down and enjoy the gig. We’re spending too much time distracted, away from the experiences.

What do you want policymakers to get out of this book? How could this book be used by them?

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get policymakers to take seriously behavioral science and happiness research, and then I thought about how those insights can be applied and used by individuals, most of which don’t care about policy. The simple answer to that question is that this isn’t a book about policy but about using these insights in your own life. Of course, my own personal interests are also on the policy side of things.

I don’t hear very many policymakers talking very much about time use. I hear more about the circumstances of people’s lives – big conditions, life chances, opportunities, etc. Big ticket items without actually thinking about, ‘can we do anything that makes it easier for people to use their time in ways that make them happier and nudge them out of using time in ways that make them miserable’. Time is the scarcest resource we have. We’re 15 minutes closer to death than when we started this conversation. We’re not going to get that time back. You can beg, borrow and steal money, but we’re not going to get that time back. Policymakers should consider more seriously the scarcity of time and think about what policies would look like if they were thinking about ways in which they could either nudge or shove or inform people about better, or different, time use. I’d also like policymakers to think about what the role of attention means in designing interventions. That’s something that should be thought through much more fully.

Then there’s the pleasure-purpose principle. There’s something significant in the fact that people who go into floristry and become hairdressers are happier than people who become lawyers and bankers. Of course, causality hasn’t been established – florists and hairdressers may be happier, to begin with – but I think there probably is something causal about those jobs. I think floristry and hairdressing have a lot of the attributes which would lend themselves to being happy. Banking and being a lawyer have a lot of attributes that lend themselves to being miserable. Not to say then that we shouldn’t have bankers and lawyers, but we should think about some of the attributes of floristry and hairdressing; can we design an environment in banking and the legal world that replicates to some degree some of the attributes that you find in hairdressing and floristry?

Adopted from: blogs.lse.ac.uk