The neuroscientist and author of The Idiot Brain on the difficulty of trying to explain happiness and what he learned from Charlotte Church
Dean Burnett, 35, is a Cardiff-based neuroscientist, blogger and occasional standup comedian who writes the Guardian’s science blog Brain Flapping. His bestselling book The Idiot Brain, published in 2016, portrayed the human brain as an extraordinary organ that is also messy, fallible and disorganised. In his follow-up, The Happy Brain, Burnett delves into our grey matter once more to explore the slippery notion of happiness, asking: what causes it, and why? What makes our brain like certain things so much, but not others? Can eternal happiness actually exist – and would it be desirable anyway?
How did the book come about?
The publishers kept saying: “What’s your next book about then? We need another one.” I didn’t have any ideas, so I started asking friends and colleagues and got lots of suggestions, all very different and generally all rubbish. People kept saying: “At the end of the day you’ve just got to write about what makes you happy.” I’m a very literal person, so I took that at face value. What makes us happy? That branched out into why things make us happy, which turned out to be a very rich source of investigation – especially when there are so many self-help books and articles saying “The key to happiness is…”