Jana Bakunina was guest speaker at the last Spark of 2013. She is the blogger on www.lifetonic.com and founded the Ladies Who Impress online forum, which celebrates the lives of inspirational women.

Jana started by sparking a heated debate about the merits — or not — of an elite education. This covered many angles: from knowing what is good for us and makes us happy as opposed to whether succumbing to social pressures makes us feel good — and how we can counter such external pressures.

The true meaning of happiness emerged as one of the night’s key themes. In our current economic context, happiness is mandatory: you have to be and feel happy in your personal life, in your job, etc. But how should one define happiness?

This is a tough ask in a society where the ultimate and idealised happiness is about being happy (implicitly successful) in both our personal and professional lives; while nowadays these feel mutually exclusive. We concluded that happiness is not a destination but something to be experienced through everyday life. Jana’s professional path also prompted an interesting discussion around our decision-making ability. Today’s society offers us many options, yet picking the right one is a complex task with the sheer diversity on offer prompting anxiety. “What,” we were asked “do we listen to when we have to make a choice? Our rational brain? Our gut feeling?”

Sunk cost theory often influences our choice, taking into account the amount of time and money spent on something that can prevent us engaging with new experiences. Our gut feel and personal preferences seem destined to play a much smaller part, by comparison with such factors.

This evening offered the chance to discuss social trends, even philosophical concepts in a very relaxed, intimate way. The novel format, a dining club, made for a great atmosphere in which to debate without fear. It also led to valuable insights about our day-to-day work, providing an enjoyable way in which we could enrich ourselves and share our views while gaining inspiration for our work and personal lives.