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Alumni day 2013: The Happiness Effect

Online booking for the Alumni Day is now closed. If you haven’t already registered for the event but would still like to attend please come along to the Alumni Day registration desk in the Students' Union on the day. A programme for the day can be found here and directions to the University, including car-parking and public transport details, can be found here. We look forward to seeing you on Saturday.

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.
Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama


Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.
Ernest Hemingway

As this event has been extremely popular please ensure that you arrive on time on the day as space is limited and we cannot guarantee a place.

March saw the UN's first International Day of Happiness. According to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon it was an opportunity to "reinforce our commitment to inclusive and sustainable human development and renew our pledge to help others. When we contribute to the common good, we ourselves are enriched. Compassion promotes happiness and will help build the future we want."

With this in mind, now is a perfect opportunity to ask whether spending every possible minute working is the best thing for you? Is it this the best way to lead your life? Will it make you happy? What about that work-life balance that we hear about so often?

For Alumni Day 2013 some of the world's leading experts will help you understand the causes of happiness and give you the tools to find it in your life. The day brings together some fascinating speakers with the aim of helping you become happier. Confirmed speakers include:

Tim Harford  

Tim Harford

Make more mistakes

Tim Harford is a world renowned behavioural economist and award-winning Financial Times columnist. Frequently described as ‘Britain’s Malcolm Gladwell,’ his first two books, The Logic of Life and The Undercover Economist, have been translated into 30 languages and sold well over a million copies. He is also presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less.

Tim’s most recent book is ADAPT: Why Success Always Starts With Failure. It shows how the challenges we face today can't be solved with simple ready-made solutions; we must learn to improvise rather than plan. Drawing on psychology, evolutionary biology, physics, maths and economics, Tim shows how adaptive, trial-and-error processes can help tackle everything from innovation to financial crises. Gillian Tett describes it as "required reading for anyone trying to navigate an increasingly complex world."

But whilst he’s a ‘serious’ economist with a career spanning Oxford, Shell and the World Bank, Tim’s FT columns dwell on the economics of daily life and offer tongue-in-cheek solutions to readers’ problems. He used a similar, highly accessible style as presenter of the BBC2 series Trust Me, I’m an Economist.

Drawing on the frontiers of economic research, Tim’s speeches cover everything from theories on how to save the world from Armageddon to how we can match odd socks, lose weight and find happiness. He might also reveal the hidden logic of the world around us: when a teenager commits a burglary or a smoker lights a cigarette we seem to be a million miles from common sense - or are we? Weaving evidence from sources like casinos and speed-dating, Tim shows that human behaviour is actually surprisingly logical.

Andrew Oswald  

Andrew Oswald

Understanding the midlife crisis

Andrew Oswald is a Professor of Economics at the University of Warwick. He taught previously at Oxford and LSE, and at various Ivy League universities in the US. His main research lies at the border between economics, psychology, epidemiology, and behavioural science -- and he is especially known for research that began the field now called the economics of happiness. He serves on the board of editors of the journal Science.

In this talk Andrew Oswald will discuss the latest scientific evidence on whether there is a midlife crisis. It has been known for 20 years that human happiness and mental health appear to follow a giant U shape through most of life. The low period is usually in people's late 40s. This has been found all over the world. So there really does appear to be a form of midlife crisis (in men and women). In December of 2012, Oswald and a team of his psychology and primatology colleagues around the world published a new finding on this in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. They showed that great apes also go through this U shape. This garnered worldwide publicity. The research also ended up being discussed in the places that matter, such as the television programme Have I Got News for You and the radio programme The News Quiz.

Sarah Stewart Brown  

Sarah Stewart-Brown

Is health constrained by the focus of health care services?

Sarah Stewart-Brown is Professor of Public Health at Warwick Medical School. She has been working on mental wellbeing in the context of public health for the last 20 years. Her research focuses on measurement, on life course influences and on ways to improve mental wellbeing though parenting and school based programmes. She has recently developed an interest food and mental wellbeing.

Health services in the Western world are becoming more and more sophisticated and great inroads have been made into reducing the prevalence of specific diseases and increasing longevity. Paradoxically none of this seems to have had an influence on levels of wellbeing. Estimates of poor health and disability have not reduced and if anything we probably feel worse on a day to day basis than we used to a century ago.

In this session Professor Stewart-Brown will address two important reasons why this is happening. The first is the continuing mindset amongst health professionals that the mind and body operate independently. There is a very large body of research and practice which supports our everyday lived experience that Descartes got this wrong. The functioning of the mind is closely integrated with the functioning of the body and further improvements to health and wellbeing depend on understanding this. The second is the approach adopted throughout Western health care systems of focusing on what is wrong with us – on disease and disability. There is a growing body of research and practice in several different disciplines which examines the effect of focusing on the positive, on what is going well and on good feelings. If we want to enable the growth of wellbeing we need to study this. We need to understand it in ourselves, and to encourage our patients to focus on what helps them feel well. We also need to balance the foci of health research by working as much on wellbeing as we do on disease.

Louise Hardy  

Louise Hardy (BSc Civil Engineering 1985-88)

Making the Olympics happen

A passionate civil engineer, Louise is a Programme Manager specializing in the delivery of complex infrastructure projects such as the 2012 Olympic Park, Tube lines, High Speed 1, a Transylvanian motorway project, the Jubilee Line Extension and the Limehouse Link tunnel, with an excellent performance record in delivering commercially successful high quality results.

Last year, almost nothing made Britain happier than basking in Team GB’s golden summer at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Just as the medal-winners completed the daunting task of reaching the pinnacle of their sports, the transformation of a 640-hectare brownfield site in London's East End into a magnificent Olympic Park has been a tremendous engineering, logistical and project management challenge.

Louise worked on the integration and management of the 2012 programme of design and construction work for over five years, and received the Freedom of the City of London in recognition for her work. She will talk about the engineering and logistical challenges of the 2012 programme with a closer look at some of the key Olympic venues.

Elizabeth Burton  

Elizabeth Burton

Design for wellbeing

Elizabeth is Professor of Sustainable Building Design and Wellbeing and founder director of the WISE (Wellbeing in Sustainable Environments) research unit at the University of Warwick. Having qualified as an architect and urban designer, Elizabeth took up a research career, with the aim of developing an evidence base for architectural practice. Her research investigates the social aspects of sustainability and how the built environment (architecture and urban design) influences people’s wellbeing, quality of life and mental health. She has particular expertise in ageing research, including dementia-friendly design. She has also devised innovative tools and methods (e.g. the Built Environment Site Survey Checklist, BESSC) for obtaining objective measures of the built environment. Elizabeth is now seeking to promote design for wellbeing in the built environment through the development of new cross-disciplinary courses.

There is growing recognition of the impact of the built environment on our health and wellbeing, and a strong focus on the built environment in attempting to achieve more sustainable communities. However, as yet our knowledge of what aspects of design are positive or negative for wellbeing is limited. The built environment professions are based on a culture of originality and creativity rather than evidence. For the last 10 years or so, Professor Elizabeth Burton’s research unit, WISE (Wellbeing in Sustainable Environments), has been carrying out research aimed at generating an evidence base for people-centred design. The lecture will give a flavour of this work and what is needed for architects to create places in which we can thrive as communities, now and in the future.

Phillip Hill  

Philip Hill (BA Psychology and Philosophy 1980-83)

In favour of unhappiness

Philip Hill studied Psychology and Philosophy at Warwick, Psychoanalysis and Genetics at the LSE, and completed a Lacanian psychoanalytic training with the Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research.

He has been working clinically for some 20 years and is the author of Lacan for Beginners (1997) and Using Lacanian Clinical Technique: An introduction (2002). He has also taught and trained widely. His research interests are: psychoanalysis and immunology, psychoanalysis as a theory of the history of science, and feminine sexuality.

Philip is critical of the happiness paradigm and our misguided pursuit of it. He distinguishes 'happiness' from 'satisfaction', which are often confused, both in and out of the psychoanalytic clinic, using arguments from Buddhism, social psychology and Freud. Lacan, following Freud, wrote of satisfaction relative to three radically different categories: needs, demands and desire. Hill asks: Is following your desire compatible with being happy?


Panel discussion: Mapping the happiness effect


Michelle Collins (BSc International Business 1999-2003)

Michelle Collins is the Head of Happiness at The Flying Dodo. She uses her knowledge of the brain, consumer psychology and marketing to turn what was once seen as a subject for the self-help shelves into a field of expertise taking pride of place in the business section of the bookshop. She sees happiness as the greatest source of competitive advantage in our experience economy by using it to create richer, stronger and more memorable customer and employee experiences. Since graduating from Warwick in 2003 with a BSc in International Business, Michelle has gained over a decade of experience in marketing, market research and consumer psychology. She has worked across industries and sectors including consulting, FMCG, healthcare, defence and hospitality. Prior to launching the Flying Dodo, she spent 4 years working in luxury hotels and was latterly Head of Sales and Marketing for a 5* hotel in Tanzania.

We're taught that an organisation's ultimate success can be measured in terms of market share and profits. We're also taught that to achieve this success we need to set SMART objectives and identify the steps necessary to reach these goals. We do this because we believe that, if we're successful, we'll be happy, and happiness as we all know is the aim of all human existence. But what if this paradigm of success is wrong? That we're measuring the wrong things and focusing on the output when we should be focusing on the process? Throughout the course of her presentation, Michelle Hawkins will take you through the investment appraisal case for happiness and show you why happiness offers the best return on investment and greatest source of competitive advantage in our experience economy.


Andrew Clark (BA Economics 1982-85)

Andrew Clark was a Warwick undergraduate, and holds a PhD from the London School of Economics. He is currently a CNRS Research Professor at the Paris School of Economics (PSE), and previously held posts at Dartmouth, Essex, CEPREMAP, DELTA, the OECD and the University of Orléans. His work has largely focussed on the interface between psychology, sociology and economics; in particular, using job and life satisfaction scores, and other psychological indices, as proxy measures of utility. The broad area is social interactions and social learning.

One research field has been that of relative utility or comparisons (to others like you, to others in the same household, and to yourself in the past), finding evidence of such comparisons with respect to both income and unemployment. This work has spilled over into theoretical and empirical work on evidence for and the implications of following behaviour and learning from others' actions. Recent work has involved collaboration with psychologists to map out habituation to life events (such as job loss, marriage, and divorce) using long-run panel data.

Much empirical work in social science has suggested that individual well-being is relative with respect to income, so that individuals compare their income to a benchmark. The income comparisons that matter here can either be with respect to others (social comparisons) or to oneself in the past (adaptation). This explains the Easterlin paradox (higher income for everybody makes no-one better off). Some have suggested that policy should not then aim to increase GDP per capita, but rather be directed at non-income fields (marriage, jobs, social capital…). But what if social comparisons and adaptation are found in these domains also? Professor Andrew Clark aims to shed light on this question.


Nick Powdthavee (MSc Economics 2000-02)

Professor Nattavudh (Nick) Powdthavee holds a joint position as a Professorial Research Fellow at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economics and Social Research, University of Melbourne, and a Principal Research Fellow in the Well-Being research programme at the Centre for Economic Performance at the LSE. He obtained his PhD in Economics from the University of Warwick in 2006 and has held positions at the University of London, University of York, and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. His research interests are quantitative social and behavioural sciences, specializing in the areas of behavioural economics and the economics of happiness. His research findings have been regularly discussed in the media, including the Financial Times, the Economist, and the London Times. He is the author of the popular economics book, The Happiness Equation: The Surprising Economics of Our Most Valuable Asset, Icon Books. For more details, see:

In his talk, Nick talks about why do we find it so hard to change our life-style even when we know very well that it is not doing us any good, short-term or long-term? Nick Powdthavee’s presentation will explore the cognitive biases that prevent most of us from taking the necessarily leap for a healthier and happier life.


Sharon Neal (PGCE General Primary 2003-04)

Sharon Neal is a Learning and Development Manager at the University of Warwick and she leads and co-ordinates development for staff in non-academic roles. Within this role, her primary focus of this is to manage leadership and management development provision for all staff, academic and administrative and she has led the creation of a suite of progressive management development provision for the University’s staff, alongside an internal consultancy service supporting leaders in managers in developing teams and achieving change.

Sharon has worked in learning and development at the University since 2005. She began her career as a librarian, working in UK public libraries, managing children’s and young people’s services before moving on to leading business and European information services. Since then, Sharon has worked as a manager in a number of public sector organisations, including as a Health Service Administrator at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, in social work administration with the London Borough of Camden, as Director of Management Services for the UK Arts Council West Midlands and in Governance with Rugby Borough Council. Between 2000 and 2002, she also ran her own business.

Workshop summary:
Mediation - why it’s in the news, and why it has a role to play in reducing conflict and the resulting stress. Government is encouraging the use of mediation in a number of arenas including relationship breakdown, settlements in family courts and resolving conflict in the workplace. Find out why mediation is regarded as such a powerful tool and see how it can be used in the workplace to help colleagues find a way to resolve working relationship difficulties.

Susan Rogers  

Susan Rogers (BA Psychology 1976-79)

Susan Rogers graduated from Warwick in 1979 with a degree in psychology and spent her first life in marketing holding senior posts including head of market and strategic planning for Kellogg’s and global marketing services director at ICI before setting up her own consultancy in 2005. She retired to start her second life in 2012, the focus of which is working through her bucket list, which not only includes travel and writing, but lots of new and different experiences. She has a range of hobbies and interests including a jazz band, creating a nature reserve and pyrography.

Workshop summary:
Creating a second life – big decisions, big benefits. Susan made the decision about 18 months ago to start her second life. She will cover what led her to this point, how she decided to tackle it, the pitfalls and ah-ha! moments and what has happened since. It will include some simple tips and techniques that everyone can use at home to enhance those areas of their lives requiring a little extra sparkle. Susan has already inspired other to adopt elements of the second life philosophy, and hopes to have a similar impact on the audience.

Anne Grey  

Anne Grey (BA Philosophy and Literature 1972-75)

Anne is passionate about living a happy, healthy, successful life, and assisting others to do the same. She is delighted to be returning to Warwick having studied Phil/Lit and had a wonderful time chairing the Dance Society and being involved in the development of Warwick Arts Centre.

Anne had an exciting and successful first career promoting contemporary dance, setting up a number of innovative arts organisations. For the last 20 years, Anne has worked with individuals and groups to help create greater health, happiness and wellbeing. She works both with people who have significant health challenges, and with those who simply wish to have support in dealing with the pressures of a successful but demanding life. Anne is married with two adult sons.

Workshop summary:
This workshop offers the opportunity to learn simple techniques for you to have the experience of increased happiness, here and now. If you choose, these are techniques you can use in your daily life for increasing happiness. Techniques include:

  • Living in the Present Moment: the most successful, effective and fulfilling way to live.
  • Focussing on What You Want: not on what you don't want.
  • Developing an Attitude of Appreciation.
Steve Mills  

Steve Mills (MBA 1995-99)

Steve Mills is a thinker, writer and presenter. Driven by a desire to find real meaning in life, he has spent the past 50 years seeking to understand what leads people to think, feel and act the way they do. What is it that motivates certain religious practices, group dynamics and consumer purchase behaviour?

His MBA from Warwick Business School, combined with his marketing expertise gained over 30 years, have fostered a particular interest in what drives our desire for consumer goods (i.e. more stuff!). In Steve’s professional career, he runs workshops focused on understanding consumer behaviour for many international brands. This has also given him the opportunity to experience first-hand many different cultures, consumer habits and paradigms.

Drawing inspiration from all these sources, he has put together a fresh and energising perspective and philosophy on how to enjoy life. It is based on exercising a fit and healthy mind. Parallels are drawn from the development of a fit and healthy body and translated into a series of practical and energising exercises for the mind.

Workshop summary:
Have you ever had feelings that although life is pretty okay, it could be even better? Have there been times when it hasn’t been okay and you haven’t known how to rediscover life enjoyment? Do you wish there was a practical way to really enjoy life to the full, every day?

Steve Mills has discovered a new way of thinking that has transformed his life enjoyment. It is captured in a book entitled ‘Enjoy Life by exercising a Fit & Healthy Mind’. Written as a dialogue between two good friends, it makes for an engaging and enjoyable read. For the Warwick Alumni Happiness Effect day, it will be acted out as a dialogue, as the two friends explore how to make life more enjoyable.



Where: Students' Union, University of Warwick
When: 10AM - 5PM


Check out the full programme here