My Review: Happiness Dissected by Mark Devon

A few weeks ago I was at the Canadian authors book fair at Harbourfront Centre and came across Mark Devon’s booth. He handed me his book Happiness Dissected, saying he’s not in the business of selling books but in the business of reforming how people perceive emotion. I bought his book.


Devon studied at the Harvard Business School under Michael Porter, and says he wants to revolutionize how we think about emotions in the same way Porter revolutionized how we think about competition. I like the idea of coming out of your MBA with a happiness project.


In his book, Devon created nine primary categories of emotion and ranked them in the order that they are important to our happiness.


As a preface, there is no Methodology section in Devon’s book. Although many of the concepts are clearly derived from evolutionary theory, readers are not let in on the scientific method used to elicit these findings.


According to Devon, by far the most important factor to our happiness is social.  To fulfill our social needs, we have to get enough affection. If we don’t get enough affection, we feel loneliness. Devon makes the intriguing argument that all tears are a result of loneliness. If we cry while experiencing an emotion other than loneliness, it is only because another emotion distracted us from the suppression of our tears of loneliness. People who aren’t lonely don’t cry. The more you cry for any reason, the more lonely you are.


Devon argues that we can only get affection from people we are intimate with—not strangers—and we cannot feel affection via text or social media—only in person. Devon makes an estimate that we need about 25 hours of affection per week, and therefore, almost everyone in our modern society is lonely.


The second most important factor to our happiness is our rank, which is the term Devon uses for status. He argues that our objective rank is unimportant—all that matters is that our rank is improving relative to our past rank. Devon argues it’s for that reason that people who reach great success early in life (like child stars or Olympic athletes) or who are born into reputable families often end up feeling depressed. We only envy people of greater rank when they are our peers.


The third most important factor to our happiness is romantic and parental love. Devon defines love as innate, compared to affection, which is something you work on. Love means your happiness is literally dependent on the happiness of the person you love. Affection grows when you invest time into another person, and as a result feel a positive reinforcement from being around the person you feel affection for.


With his definition of love, Devon makes the interesting argument that men love their women; women do not love their men. Women love their children; men do not love their children.


Men fall in love after four months of consistent exposure to a woman who maintains an hourglass shape, meaning she is able to prove that she was not impregnated by another man. Men stay in love for four years, or revolutionarily long enough for the woman to have a baby and for the baby to grow teeth.


According to Devon, women do not feel love, women feel infatuation as a result of receiving consistent attention from a man. Women only feel infatuation for nine months.


People only fall in love with strangers. Thus follows that if you’d like to fall in love, you should be entering social groups with strangers. A woman will be the most visually pleasing to a man the first time he meets her, and will become less so each time he sees her. Men will always be visually stimulated by novel, new women.


For women the fireworks stop after nine months, while for men they stop after four years. Affection is what is left after love, and it continues to grow. Devon seems to make the argument that although many people tend to seek the fireworks, it is actually this growing affection of many years of companionship that makes people happiest.


Devon also commented that many people seek food, sex and shopping, assuming it will bring them happiness, but really those are small factors to our happiness. However, men (but not women) feel the negative emotion of lust if they do not have enough sex. Just like when we do not eat enough, we get hungry; when men don’t have enough sex, they feel lust.


An interesting point Devon makes is that friends tend to be a better source of affection than siblings. Because people assume they love their siblings, they tend to put in less effort to develop their relationships with their siblings. Devon argues that there is no innate love between siblings (as he defines love—happiness dependent on the other’s happiness). The more work you put into a relationship, the better the quality of affection you get from it. Additionally, people tend to choose to be friends with people of similar rank. Siblings won’t necessarily end up of the same rank as you, causing you to feel either envy or compassion (also defined as “selfish guilt” by Devon), which will again lessen the quality of affection you get from your siblings.