(Republishing a post originally published in 2017.)
Just finished the book “Happiness by Design” by Paul Dolan (with a forward by the great Daniel Kahneman). I’d highly recommend the book to anyone who wants to take a deep dive with Behavioral Finance and Behavioral Economics.
Here are a few highlights, and the intersections between Dr. Dolan’s work and my work with Repurposement.
Historically, happiness research has focused on the pain-pleasure continuum, as in removing pain or adding pleasure to induce (or even to measure) happiness. Dr. Dolan contends that there’s an entirely different factor that can’t be ignored, and that’s the role of purpose.
Pleasure, without purpose, does not produce happiness.
Nor does the removal of pain, without purpose.
Happiness has for too long been thought of as simply a pursuit of pleasure, but it has to be a balance between pleasure and purpose.
And this strikes at the heart of the retirement crisis in America. As I’ve previously referenced, according to one study the number one activity among retirees is watching TV. And hence the reason we’re having trouble: because our vision of retirement is as inspiring as a La-Z-Boy and a remote control. Our campaign – our initiative – with repurposement is to get Americans to aim higher.
(And let’s be honest. Aspiring to anything other than letting prime time television dictate your schedule is aiming higher.)
Dr. Dolan references this same study about the primary activity among retirees, and cross-references it with another study on happiness. Dolan writes that in the study “very few people found more pleasure than purpose in their work and very few found more purpose than pleasure in watching TV.”
In other words, even for those who enjoy what they do for a living, it was less pleasurable than purposeful. (The purpose entailed producing a desiring product or service or outcome, as well as the purpose of gainful employment.) Bottom line, even for those of us who enjoy what we do for a living, if the income was removed we wouldn’t keep doing it for free.
Conversely, those in the study were able to achieve some level of pleasure watching TV, but none of the test subjects found more purpose than pleasure in zoning out in front of the television…even if it was for something REALLY important…like college football.
And this gets at the heart of our retirement/repurposement crisis, this balancing act between pleasure and purpose.
The problem with the movement into retirement from a working career in which we had any degree of purpose, is that we’re trading one primary activity (work) which gives us purpose for another (watching TV) which only gives us pleasure.
Some in retirement flounder without purpose, even struggling with undiagnosed depression. They are asking, at some level, “What’s my purpose? Does this world have any more purpose for me?”
Sad because these are supposed to be the Golden Years, the years that are RICH with purpose.
The pursuit of pleasure, with pleasure as the goal, is simply hedonism. Hedonism is not happiness. Dolan talks about being a sentimental hedonist (in other words, a pursuit of pleasure but with purpose).
Dopamine can signal reward or intense pleasure. If happiness is nothing more than reporting pleasure, we could take a pill for that. Unfortunately, there’s not a pill to take for purpose, or repurpose, or repurposement.
There is no happiness without purpose and without repurpose…which is why I’m advocating for repurposement.
We need to get the idea of RETIREMENT out of our heads, and replace it with REPURPOSEMENT.