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Are You Caught in the Happiness Trap?

Are You Caught in the Happiness Trap?

The happiness trap is that in order to find happiness, we try to avoid or get rid of bad feelings, but the harder we try, the more bad feelings we create.
— Russ Harris

Russ Harris is the writer of The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living. Harris makes the point that happiness isn’t necessarily the natural state of the mind. You are not defective, if you are not happy. There is no need to get rid of all the negative feelings. Also, there is no need to always be in control of what you think and feel. These are all myths forming the happiness trap.  

Are you trying to avoid the bad feelings? Are you creating them? Are you caught in the happiness trap? Do you know people that might be caught in the happiness trap? Then continue reading this #careerlion blogpost!

If the answer to any of the previous question is yes, then according to Harris it is time to ACT:

  • A= Accept your thoughts and feelings and be present
  • C= Connect with your values
  • T= Take effective action

This acceptance and commitment therapy is based on developing psychological flexibility that will help you make your life more rich and meaningful. The core principals in this therapy are:

  1. Defusion: Not letting negative thoughts run our lives and defusing those thoughts such as:  “I notice that I am thinking “you are so stupid”” or “Thank you for thinking “you are so clumpsy”, mind”.
  2. Expansion: Negative thoughts call for defusion, but negative feelings call for expansion. You don’t want to suppress the feelings you get when you are for instance anxious or overwhelmed. It is much wise to embrace and accept the symptoms. I personally feel this is really helping me in dancing competitions as well. In the past I would repeat how I shouldn’t be nervous, which let me to think “what in the world is wrong with me, I have done this a hundred times”. Obviously, making me more nervous. Now I embrace the feeling I get before I go on stage and experience it much more as excitement.
  3. Connection: You need to make sure that you are in the present, engaged in what you are doing. Not focusing on for instance what went wrong leading up to this moment. Like mixing up my dance routines just prior to the competition in my case. Also, not thinking about the impact of your mistakes. Such as not being able to get the job you want if you mess up your thesis defense in my case. Both examples of my mind drifting off from the present.
  4. The observing self: Our minds also have the “observing self” ability, that allows us to “see” our thinking. Harris finds that this is a very important aspect in mindfulness, not falling into the happiness trap or getting out of it in other cases. Honestly, I see myself thinking about chocolate. Then thinking about how I was going to lose weight and not have any chocolate. Again, thinking how unfair it is that exercising more doesn’t make the same difference as more healthy eating. I mean, who even creates humans like that. 
  5. Commitment: Commitment according to Harris is about accepting the negative thoughts, but also taking committed action. His equation for psychological flexibility is mindfulness plus values plus action.

Another concept that Harriss raises is the “struggle switch”. He calls it an emotional amplifier, that amplifies all of our negative emotions. For example: I would be angry about the traffic, angry for letting it get to me while I was trying to tame my temper, and then angry for even having a temper to start with. The therapy suggested by Harris, defusing the negative thoughts, expanding our negative feelings and committing to action will help us keep that struggle switch in the OFF mode.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable
— Russ Harris

Personally, I see a lot of people that struggle with wanting to be happy. In my own experiences, I have never found that life is only about being happy. Eliminating negative thoughts would be depressing to even begin with. In my opinion, it would basically mean that I see no future where I can say that I am truly happy. Harris’ thoughts on the happiness trap are therefore very intriguing to me. With this article, I hope that I convince others to accept negative thoughts for what they are and make the best of the time you have on Earth however complicated it may be. Any thoughts of your own? Please share in the comment section below.

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