Sam Wren-Lewis, Ph.D., is an honorary associate professor in philosophy at the University of Nottingham.
His friends call him Happiness Sam. Over the past decade, he has done a Ph.D. on happiness, worked for a charity called Happy City, and lived on a street called Gratitude Road. He has just finished writing a book on happiness. Perhaps surprisingly, after all that experience, the book isn’t about how to be happy. In fact, it’s called The Happiness Problem.
He has published academic articles on a number of happiness and well-being topics, including the nature of happiness, the measurement of happiness and well-being, the role of well-being in public policy, the co-benefits of subjective well-being, and well-being and mental health.
His book is about how we are currently thinking about happiness in the wrong way. We think that happiness comes from control: if only we could get everything in our lives just right—the perfect job, relationship, family, body and mind—then we’d be happy. This way of thinking about happiness is not only too simple, it can also be harmful. The more we focus on the things we can control, the more we blind ourselves to what really matters.
The right way of thinking about happiness is to stop thinking about what will make us happy. We need to focus less on control and more on understanding. And we need to do the same on a social level. Instead of reacting to major social issues with certainty, urgency, and blame, we can respond with humility, curiosity, and compassion. The Happiness Problem is about the forces of control and understanding in our personal and social lives.