Book: Designing Your Life

Written by: Tom Banks
Published on: 13 Sep 2016

In this exclusive extract from Designing Your Life: Build a Life That Works for You, we spotlight how design principles can help ensure your happiness.

book article

Bill Burnett and Dave Evans introduced the Designing for Life course to Standford University in the US 15 years ago. Those that enrolled were younger students, mid-career professionals and retirees, who were all taught to “think like a designer.”

The basic idea is to encourage people to design a career and a life that is “meaningful, joyful and fulfilling” to help them reduce anxieties and reach clear goals.

The course has now been translated into a new book…

Choosing Happiness

Designing a career and a life requires not only that you have lots of options and good alternatives; it also requires the ability to make good choices and live into those choices with confidence, which means you accept them and don’t second-guess yourself. Regardless of where you’ve started, what stage of life and career you are in, how great or dire you perceive your circumstances to be, we would bet our last dollar that there is one goal you all have in this life you are designing:


Who doesn’t want to be happy? We want to be happy, and we want our students to be happy, and we want you to be happy.

In life design, being happy means you choose happiness.

Choosing happiness doesn’t mean you should click your heels together three times while wishing to go to your happy place. The secret to happiness in life design isn’t making the right choice; it’s learning to choose well.

You can do all the work of life design – ideating and prototyping and taking action – all leading to some really cool alternative life design plans, but this doesn’t guarantee you will be happy and get what you want. Maybe you’ll end up happy and getting what you want, and maybe you won’t. We say “maybe” because being happy and getting what you want are not about future risks and unknowns or whether you picked the right alternatives; it’s about how you choose and how you live your choices once they’re made.

All of your hard work can be undone by poor choosing. Not so much by making the wrong choice (that’s a risk, but, frankly, not a big one, and usually one you can recover from) as by thinking wrongly about your choosing. Adopting a good, healthy, smart life design choosing process is critical to a happy outcome. Many people are using a choosing model that cuts themselves off from their most important insights and actually prevents them from being happy with their choices after they’ve been made. We see it all the time, and studies agree: many people guarantee an unhappy outcome by how they approach this all-important design step of choosing.


On the flip side, choosing well almost guarantees a happy and life-giving outcome, while setting you up for more options and a better future.

The Life Design Choosing Process

In life design, the choosing process has four steps. First you gather and create some options, then you narrow down your list to your top alternatives, then finally you choose, and then, last but not least, you… agonise over that choice. Agonise over whether you’ve done the right thing. In fact, we encourage you to spend countless hours, days, months, or even decades agonising.

Just kidding. People can waste years agonising over the choices they’ve made, but agonising is a time suck. Of course we don’t want you to agonise, and that is not the fourth step in the life design choosing process.


The fourth step in the process is to let go of our unnecessary options and move on, embracing our choice fully so that we can get the most from it.


We need to understand each of these choosing steps to appreciate the important difference between good choosing, which results in reliably happy outcomes and more future prospects, and bad choosing, which preconditions us for an unhappy experience.

Designing Your Life: Build a Life That Works for You, by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans is published by Penguin Random House on 15 September and is priced £14.99