Interview: Manel Baucells, Author of "Engineering Happiness"

Manel Baucells was the favourite Professor amongst students when I did my MBA at IESE Business School.  He taught Decision Analysis.  There are certain types of situation under which humans will take poor (rational) decisions.  We study this subject so that we can reduce the likelihood that we will take similar poor decisions under similar situations.  Examples of situations that cause poor decisions are sunk costs, loss aversion, prediction of low frequency events.

Manel’s new book “Engineering Happiness: A New Approach for Building a Joyful Lifehas just arrived to my Kindle.  I asked him to answer a few questions about the book, and about how a Microsoft Excel geek could end up at the fluffy end of psychology…  writing about happiness 😉

Interview with Manel Baucells

Engineering Happiness,
by Manel Baucells

What most surprised you in learning about happiness?
How much happiness depends on our attitudes, rather than on external circumstances.

What led you to write the book?
As professors, our audience are the students that attend our lectures and the colleagues that read our academic papers. There is a moment in our careers that we want to expand our audience, and publish a book for a broad audience. It is critical to choose a time that is not too early in one’s career, and ideas are not yet mature; or too late. Rakesh and I felt that this is a good time in our careers to write a book of this characteristics.

Who will benefit from reading the book?
Any one interested in being happier, or readers of popular science books. I feel that the audience for non-fiction, research based books is expanding. This increase is due, no doubt, to the growing quality and relevance of the research done in the social sciences.

What are the 3 most damaging things people do that reduce happiness?
The fundamental starting point of the book is that happiness equals reality minus expectations. There are three key things one needs to understand:

  • The first is that expectations shift. The moment one increases his or her living standards, one get adapted quite soon, and going back down is very painful. 
  • The second is that our happiness is greatly influenced by how we compare with our peers, our comparison group. 
  • The third is that happiness can be engineered by using a “less to more” approach. Always start low, and then increase. 

What 3 things have you changed in your own life since writing the book?
Managing expectations better, create less to more (crescendo) patterns, and engage in activities that accumulate.

The book is accessible for anyone interested in the latest science on the field of human happiness: Engineering Happiness: A New Approach for Building a Joyful Life.

Have you read the book?  Did you have Manel as a professor?  What are your thoughts about the concept of mathematically measuring and improving “happiness”?


The importance of being Bored

I am terrible at being bored.

I fill my days with a constant stream of activities.

Three days ago, I was with my daughter on a beautiful Costa Brava beach.  We were on a journey to explore the ruins of an ancient 6BC Iberian town on the cliffs (located on the head of the peninsula in the photo below).

We sat for a moment on the rocks to see if we could see some fish or crabs.


I found my hand reaching for my smartphone.

Here I was in a beautiful place, exploring nature, speaking about the time of Egypt and Carthage and what the people who lived 8000 years ago must have been like – and some part of me wanted to check email, facebook, twitter, foursquare…


I run from being bored.  It requires more effort for me to just sit and think, than to read and respond to emails, create busy-ness.

Do you do “bored” well?  How?

If, Rudyard Kipling

Parador of Cardona, 9th Century

Last week I was at the anual retreat of my chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organisation.  We spent 3 days in the Parador of Cardona reflecting on our next year from both a professional and personal perspective.

Dinner on Thursday night was a session we call “Noche Bohemia”.  Each person brings a song, poem or book that has marked a significant moment in their lives.

I shared this poem by Rudyard Kipling with the group.  I first read this poem in 1981, during a time when I was reading, dreaming, imagining Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling

What one book, song or poem would you share?  Why is it important to you?

The Myth of Balance in Life

I am reading Mitch Joel’s blog where he tells a story of Patrick Pichette, CFO of Google, responding to a question: “Do you have work/life balance?”

With all of the perks, gimmicks and toys that seem to be part of the life of a Googler, and their commitment to 20% time to focus on areas of your own interest… this could be an interesting answer.

Patrick’s answer:  “You don’t take a job like this if you want balance”.

I love the simple honesty.  It rings true.

Anything worthwhile comes with required sacrifices.  I wrote last week about choosing to suffer for 15 minutes each day.

The key is that the arrangement is a conscious choice, an open accepting of the realities of life.  Idealism creates a lot of suffering.  Patrick could be an idealist and say “I want to be successful at Google, and play golf off of a 3 handicap, and be home every day by 6pm…”  but then he would not be CFO at Google…

Reality can suck, but it is real.

What is this life?

Leisure, by W. H. Davies

WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Your children get only one childhood. Make it memorable.

Holy Childhood Movement
photo: amioascension

“Your children get only one childhood. Make it memorable.”

I came across this quote a couple of weeks ago and wrote it down in my notebook.

What makes a day memorable?
I have been asking friends “what is your most memorable day of school?” over the last few weeks. In general, nobody remembers a “normal” school day. It is a day off, a school trip, sports.

What was your most memorable day of school?