Professor Paul Dolan is the Head of Department and Professor of Behavioural Science at the LSE.
Born in London and from a proudly working-class background, Paul was the first person in his family to go to University. His criteria for choosing a University was to pick one a couple of hundred miles from home so his parents couldn’t just turn up out of the blue. He also liked the sound of a campus university and so with the beachfront setting and distance from London, Swansea clinched the deal.
Reflecting on his time at Swansea Paul recounts “My Dad drove me down to Swansea with all my stuff in the back of the car. We went for a beer in the Antelope pub in Mumbles and I told him I’ll need to get a job to keep me going while I’m studying. My Dad said why don’t you ask in here and I said, ‘What? Now?’ So, anyway I went up and asked at the bar and got lucky. I started working in the Antelope from my first week in Swansea. I did Friday and Saturday night and at the end of the night went straight down to Cinderella’s to join my mates”.
"I really enjoyed myself there, it’s a wonderful place, I really loved it there (Swansea)"
Paul recalls that he had a great time at Swansea. “I really enjoyed myself there, it’s a wonderful place, I really loved it there”. He also credits Swansea as being the place he really discovered he enjoyed learning. It sowed the seeds for the academic career to follow.
After completing his undergraduate studies, Paul briefly dabbled with accountancy but eventually went to the University of York, where he started to get interested in Health Economics. It was this work that really sparked his interest in behavioural sciences.
PhD in hand, Paul started to do some teaching alongside his research. Acknowledging the safety and security of his newly found middle class career, Paul threw himself into his academic career. A happiness conference in Milan and a chance bus ride with the Nobel prize winning Psychologist Daniel Kanneman, took him to Princeton and his ideas around happiness and in particular the psychology of happiness began to take shape.
Paul’s work now focuses on the measurement of happiness, its causes and consequences, and the implications for public policy. He has advised governments on behavioural science and wrote the questions that are being used to monitor happiness in the UK.
His work challenges the social conventions of what it means to be happy. The money, job, marriage myth; these narratives give us guidelines by which to live our lives. These concepts did not originate with present-day people in mind and while for many people these serve as a useful template, for many others they can cause more harm than good. Paul’s advice is to forsake the social narratives if they are not for you. Each of us has to decide when we conform and the circumstances under which we want to stand out. We can each live our lives in ways that increase our personal happiness as much as possible while also properly accounting for the impact of our actions on others. Paul has published two books, “Happiness by Design” and “Happy Ever After”.