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A review of The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris

A Review of The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris

Are you in the thick of negative thoughts? This is part of life, and there is nothing extraordinary about it. That's why many of us tend to be mindful at all times, enrolling in yoga classes or installing meditation apps to help deal with the situation. While this can be helpful, an isolated and sporadic approach to mindfulness may be ineffective. This is where The Happiness Trap may come in. Wondering what it is? Simple; it is a book written by Russ Harris, a renowned author that wears many other hats: medical doctor, stress consultant, etc. He is also known for his Psychological Flexibility workshops.


About The Happiness Trap

As you will see in this book review, The Happiness Trap is ideally a practical guide to putting ACT into practice. ACT, which stands for Acceptances and Commitment Therapy, advocates living with negative emotions rather than trying to fight them.


Benefits of Reading this Book

While book reading may not be your thing, it pays to read Harris' work because the book comes with a number of benefits. This is not just one of those overhyped self-help books; rather, it is a practical guide to ACT. Thus, if you're in the midst of negative emotions and need something to soothe you out of the situation, then you may want to read this book. The ACT principles illustrated in the book may help you to overcome the following effectively:

•    Self-doubt

•    Insecurity

•    Self-defeating attitude

•    Painful experiences

•    Worry

•    Stress and depression


Myths that undergird The Happiness Trap

Many people believe that they can live happily all the time, and the primary purpose in life should be to avoid bad experiences by controlling what happens around them. Undergirding this "happiness trap" are the following four myths.

•    We should control what we think and feel

•    We must eliminate negative feelings to have a better life

•    If we're not happy, it means we're being defensive

•    Happiness is the default state for all humanity


Six Core Principles of ACT

In The Happiness Trap, Harris first acknowledges that negative feelings, thoughts, and other difficult experiences are part and parcel of life; you simply can't manage to eliminate them effectively. He then proceeds to illustrate the six principles of Acceptances and Commitment Therapy. These principles are meant to help you deal with negative emotions and enjoy a meaningful life. By recommending these principles, the writer assumes that no one is immune to negative experiences (and his assumption is correct). In other words, the author explains clearly that we can live meaningfully when we treat these experiences as unreal and mere words that should not mess up our lives. The six principles include the following:

Acceptance: Allowing unpleasant emotions, thoughts, and feelings to stay in you're your present awareness rather than trying to avoid them.

Cognitive defusion: The ability to recognise your thoughts as just mere pictures or words in your mind. In other words, it is about separating your thoughts and feelings from reality.

Being in the present moment: It means focusing on what is happening right now rather than the past or future happenings.

Self as context: Ability to know to define your true identity as it is rather than allowing experiences to define you.

Values: What you care about the most

Committed action: Taking effective action as guided by your values


Lessons From The Happiness Trap

While different readers have different abilities to extra lessons from what they read (people have different abilities to understand things after all), every written piece has core lessons, depending on what the author intended to communicate. This is not different when it comes to The Happiness Trap. However, the following three lessons stick out from The Happiness Trap, no matter how you want to interpret the content of the book:


You Can Change Your Mind By Changing Your Story

ACT is all about hearing, seeing, and accepting any negative thought that comes to your mind. Did you know that most negative thoughts are our own creations? In his book, Russ states that your mind is a storyteller that keeps on telling stories; it loves that. Now, by advising us to change our story, Russ is simply telling us to lessen the power of these mind-created narratives.

In addition to defusion, the author gives us other ACT techniques to depower these stories, including what he calls expansion. This technique involves creating enough space to accommodate big emotions. By so doing, the feelings will lose power and will not be able to stretch you to your limits. This may help avoid a situation where you're trying to force out negative thoughts to no avail.


Happiness is Not the goal

Are you one of those people who believe that human beings should be in a natural or default state of happiness? The Happiness Trap seeks to effectively demystify this myth. Russ rightly explains that we must all accept the fundamental reality that pain and life walk hand in hand. The earlier we accept this reality, the better we can deal with this pain when it strikes (and it will surely strike). By realising that we don't need to chase happiness (because it is not the goal), we can save time and energy for more meaningful things.


Acting on Your Values is the Answer Rather Than Trying to Control Your Feelings

While controlling your feelings is okay, you should know where to apply it. The Happiness Trap also advises us not to overdo it as this may prevent us from focusing on what we value most. To put it simply, too much control of feelings does no good as the emotions may finally explode. Instead, it is a waste of time and distracts us from concentrating on the important things. Harris advises us to establish what we really value and take gradual steps towards achieving it as we pursue our goals in life.


Bottom Line

Is The Happiness Trap for you? As you're already aware, you're not immune to negative thoughts or mental health issues, and you can't be. However, what matters is how you deal with them. Whether you're a senior retiree expecting a relaxed life or a 20-year old university graduate who is just beginning to face the harsh world realities, this book is worth giving a shot.


by ProTherapy Team

Book Therapist

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