Happy coincidence: when the comedian met the scholar

If you measure research impact by how broadly it is shared, associate professor of finance Paul Smeets’ co-authored study on “buying happiness” is doing well by any measure, with high citations and widespread media coverage. But even he’s surprised at where his work turns up, as he discovered on a recent evening at the theatre watching Dutch comedian Guido Weijers’ Masterclass Geluk (Masterclass in Happiness).

“I went along to see his show out of pure interest, because he looks at happiness by mixing science and philosophy with humour,” Smeets explains. “I was telling the person next to me that I was very curious to see what he would say about it, because happiness is a field I study – specifically, the way we can buy happiness by spending money to have more time. At a certain point Weijers started talking specifically about the study I did, and my neighbour looked at me and said ‘Hey, listen, that’s your research!'”

Smeets had no idea his work, and in particular the paper “Buying Time Promotes Happiness” published last year in PNAS, the Procedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, would become part of Weijers’ show. He suspects the comedian read a report about study in the Telegraaf or another Dutch newspaper, or heard about it on the radio.

“But I absolutely didn’t expect it to hear him talking about it onstage. And what he did with it was very funny, I have to say. Weijers is great at telling stories, and making his points via really simple illustrations we can all relate to. He even joked about my research that in his view the best thing about buying time by hiring a cleaner is that not only does the work get done for you, but you can enjoy watching the cleaner, too.”

After the show, Smeets introduced himself backstage in order to let Weijers put a face to the name and pose a comedian-meets-researcher photo. Will there be future collaborations? “Who knows!” laughs the SBE academic. “That would certainly be funny…”

Has Weijers’ performance inspired Smeets to throw a few more jokes into his highly cited work? “Erm… probably not in in the papers. But definitely in my lectures and talks!”