Singers and dancers perform to Pharrell William's 'Happy' during celebrations at Universal Studios. Photo: Getty
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The book that will make you quit your job

Paul Dolan believes all humans strive for happiness, which he defines as a combination of pleasure and a sense of purpose. The problem is that we are often very bad at maximising our own well-being.

Bosses who find their staff reading copies of Paul Dolan’s Happiness by Design should feel wary. “The social media person at Penguin read the book and quit,” Dolan tells me. “Someone else read the draft and dumped her boyfriend of eight years.”

I have come to meet Dolan in his office at the London School of Economics, where he is a professor of behavioural science. He relaxes into an armchair and offers me a sofa. Recently a student has helped him redesign his workspace using research into how physical environments affect behaviour. The soft furnishings were chosen to help promote easy conversation. His desk is oval to resemble a boardroom table and encourage discussion.

Dolan, who is 46, is wearing earrings and has styled his grey hair into a quiff. His shirt strains a little at the shoulders – evidence of his love for bodybuilding, which he describes earnestly in his book.

Dolan believes that all human beings strive for happiness, which he defines as a combination of pleasure and a sense of purpose. The problem is that we are often very bad at maximising our own well-being. In the passage that prompted my question about readers leaving their jobs, he describes how a friend who works for a media company spends a whole evening moaning: she dislikes her boss, her colleagues, her commute. At the end of dinner she tells him, “Of course, I love working for [the company].” (Incidentally, this friend, too, has now left her job.) “I use that story a lot in talks,” Dolan says. “I get a bit bored of saying it now, but when I tell the story, everyone nods.” He believes we often cling to the belief that our work or relationships are making us happy, perhaps because the job is prestigious, or our partner is “our type” – even when our day-to-day experience tells us otherwise.

For a start, the pursuit of success rarely leads to happiness, in part because not everyone achieves what they set out to do. “Lost happiness is lost happiness for ever. If you’re sticking with something that’s making you miserable, you’d better be pretty sure that you’re going to make that back in happiness units.” Dolan says he’d prefer it if his children – he has two, aged five and six – became builders, not bankers, because statistics show that, on average, the former are happier.

Dolan grew up on a council estate in Hackney and was the first in his family to go to university. “I knew I was going to do a job I wouldn’t like, so I thought I might as well put that off,” he says. It turned out he liked this “learning malarkey”. His first research job was at the Centre for Health Economics at the University of York, where he studied the impact of health conditions on quality of life.

He says his background has influenced his view of happiness and made him more “open-minded”. “There was this huge contrast between my working-class background, where I saw lots of experiences of pleasure and not a great deal of purpose, and the academic environment – especially LSE – where there’s lots of purpose but people don’t seem to be having much fun.”

He believes that upward social mobility often affects happiness because it can leave people feeling isolated. So he does his best to straddle his native and adopted worlds. “I’m sitting in my office in LSE,” he says, “but I’ll be back in my muscle-boy gym back in Brighton later, with all builders and doormen.”

From 2004 to 2005 Dolan worked with Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize-winning behavioural economist, and he was a member of the UK government’s “Nudge Unit” until 2011. This work has also made an impact on his outlook: he considers research into how people can, in effect, “nudge” themselves into being happier.

He offers sensible-sounding tips, including spending money on experiences rather than splurging on material goods: these rarely make you as happy as you think they will. A few suggestions seem banal, such as his observation that listening to music will boost your mood, but then medical advice on mental health is often similarly boring: eat your vegetables, do exercise. Some ideas seem a little selfish: surround yourself with happy people. Others are wacky – if a tidy house keeps you happy, why not invest in a lemon air freshener, as studies show that citrus scents encourage cleanliness?

“It may sound a bit smug, but I think I do a pretty good job of using my time and designing my environments in ways that mean I’m more likely to experience pleasure and purpose,” Dolan says. He certainly seems upbeat in our interview, often guffawing at his own jokes. As we part, he asks what I think of the book and adds: “So, are you going to leave your husband?” (I’m not.) And he throws back his head and laughs. 

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The new caliphate

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No, the battle in Momentum isn't about young against old

Jon Lansman and his allies' narrative doesn't add up, argues Rida Vaquas.

If you examined the recent coverage around Momentum, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was headed towards an acrimonious split, judging by the vitriol, paranoia and lurid accusations that have appeared online in the last couple days. You’d also be forgiven for thinking that this divide was between a Trotskyist old guard who can’t countenance new ways of working, and hip youngsters who are filled with idealism and better at memes. You might then be incredibly bemused as to how the Trotskyists Momentum was keen to deny existed over the summer have suddenly come to the brink of launching a ‘takeover bid’.

However these accounts, whatever intentions or frustrations that they are driven by, largely misrepresent the dispute within Momentum and what transpired at the now infamous National Committee meeting last Saturday.

In the first instance, ‘young people’ are by no means universally on the side of e-democracy as embodied by the MxV online platform, nor did all young people at the National Committee vote for Jon Lansman’s proposal which would make this platform the essential method of deciding Momentum policy.

Being on National Committee as the representative from Red Labour, I spoke in favour of a conference with delegates from local groups, believing this is the best way to ensure local groups are at the forefront of what we do as an organisation.

I was nineteen years old then. Unfortunately speaking and voting in favour of a delegates based conference has morphed me into a Trotskyist sectarian from the 1970s, aging me by over thirty years.

Moreover I was by no means the only young person in favour of this, Josie Runswick (LGBT+ representative) and the Scottish delegates Martyn Cook and Lauren Gilmour are all under thirty and all voted for a delegates based national conference. I say this to highlight that the caricature of an intergenerational war between the old and the new is precisely that: a caricature bearing little relation to a much more nuanced reality.

Furthermore, I believe that many people who voted for a delegates-based conference would be rather astounded to find themselves described as Trotskyists. I do not deny that there are Trotskyists on National Committee, nor do I deny that Trotskyists supported a delegates-based conference – that is an open position of theirs. What I do object is a characterisation of the 32 delegates who voted for a delegates-based conference as Trotskyists, or at best, gullible fools who’ve been taken in.  Many regional delegates were mandated by the people to whom they are accountable to support a national conference based on this democratic model, following broad and free political discussion within their regions. As thrilling as it might be to fantasise about a sinister plot driven by the shadow emperors of the hard Left against all that it is sensible and moderate in Momentum, the truth is rather more mundane. Jon Lansman and his supporters failed to convince people in local groups of the merits of his e-democracy proposal, and as a result lost the vote.

I do not think that Momentum is doomed to fail on account of the particular details of our internal structures, providing that there is democracy, accountability and grassroots participation embedded into it. I do not think Momentum is doomed to fail the moment Jon Lansman, however much respect I have for him, loses a vote. I do not even think Momentum is doomed to fail if Trotskyists are involved, or even win sometimes, if they make their case openly and convince others of their ideas in the structures available.

The existential threat that Momentum faces is none of these things, it is the propagation of a toxic and polarised political culture based on cliques and personal loyalties as opposed to genuine political discussion on how we can transform labour movement and transform society. It is a political culture in which those opposed to you in the organisation are treated as alien invaders hell-bent on destroying it, even when we’ve worked together to build it up, and we worked together before the Corbyn moment even happened. It is a political culture where members drag others through the mud, using the rhetoric of the Right that’s been used to attack all of us, on social and national media and lend their tacit support to witch hunts that saw thousands of Labour members and supporters barred from voting in the summer. It is ultimately a political culture in which our trust in each other and capacity to work together on is irreparably eroded.

We have a tremendous task facing us: to fight for a socialist alternative in a global context where far right populism is rapidly accruing victories; to fight for the Labour Party to win governmental power; to fight for a world in which working class people have the power to collectively change their lives and change the societies we live in. In short: there is an urgent need to get our act together. This will not be accomplished by sniping about ‘saboteurs’ but by debating the kind of politics we want clearly and openly, and then coming together to campaign from a grassroots level upwards.

Rida Vaquas is Red Labour Representative on Momentum National Committee.