The book primarily is a show case of his work on Acceptance and Commitment Theory (ACT) developed originally by psychologist Steven Hayes and his colleagues Kelly Wilson and Kirk Strosahl.
Worth mentioning is that ACT is aimed at helping people with a wide range of problems from depression and anxiety to chronic pain and even drug addiction. The twist for those of us not suffering from any of these issues, is to be able to relate to how we can personally apply the principles and strategies – this is where Russ Harris has excelled with The Happiness Trap.
Harris explains how evolution has made it so hard for us to be happy. He writes “Thus, evolution has shaped our brains so that we are hard-wired to suffer psychologically: to compare, evaluate, and criticize ourselves, to focus on what we’re lacking, to rapidly become dissatisfied with what we have, and to imagine all sorts of frightening scenarios, most of which will never happen”.
Key to Harris’ approach is that we shouldn’t be pursuing the ‘feeling’ of happiness, rather to pursue the experiences that will help us flourish and prosper.
In my own way of summarising his philosophy is that while we’re pursuing the experience of a happy, flourishing and prosperous life, we need to make room for pain, and be skilled to reduce its impact on us.
4 Myths of Happiness That ‘Trap Us’
Harris outlines 4 myths of happiness that ‘trap’ us into taking action on things that may not necessarily result in us living more happy, flourishing and prosperous lives. (1) Happiness is a natural state for all human beings; (2) If you’re not happy, you’re defective; (3) To create a better life, we must get rid of negative feelings and (4) You should be able to control what you think and feel.
Let me turn for a moment to my own book Intentionomics and the Intentionomics Blueprint of 9 Inescapable Truths for a Prosperous Life. Inescapable Truth #4 is to ‘Control Your Inner Voice’. This at first might seem to contradict what Harris is saying in the Happiness Trap, because he suggests that we cannot control our thoughts and feelings, but that regardless of those thoughts and feelings, we can still take action that will help us live more happy, flourishing and prosperous lives.
Based on my own experiences, and interviews I’ve conducted over many years with people telling me about what’s really causing them to avoid certain actions that they realise if they could do them would help them be even more happy, flourishing and prosperous, I certainly agree with Harris that you may not always be able to control thoughts or feelings just occurring.
However, you can control your mindful understanding of what’s going on… what are you saying to yourself that causes you to feel a certain way.
The real value any reader will gain from The Happiness Trap is in the practical and relatively simple (not always easy) strategies to help you mindfully be aware of what’s really going on with your thoughts and feelings, and how to take intentional action toward living a more happy, flourishing and prosperous life.
The Happiness Trap will help you to align your intentional actions with your personal values, and despite potentially still being faced with feelings (emotional and physical) that are not all that comfortable, still be able to take intentional action anyway.
Harris points out that most of us in our lives have at times, despite ‘feeling’ anxious, nervous, hesitant or fear, we will be able to find times when we’ve gone ahead anyway and completed whatever the activity was that was seemingly causing us to feel that way. Public speaking, sky diving, bungy jumping, getting married, having a tough conversation.
We can take intentional action toward living more happy, flourishing and prosperous lives – despite how we feel about things.
While the Happiness Trap covers many topics the key for me is the connection Harris makes with success. He writes “Success in life means living by your values.”
Once again, (as I outline in Intentionomics and inescapable truth #2 of the Intentionomics Blueprint) character matters and it’s an inescapable truth that we need to take stock of our truth, understand our personal values and be taking intentional actions and developing intentional habits that are driven by those values.
Life is not just about ‘feeling happy’. Life is about pursuing intentional actions, aligned with our personal values and character, that when pursued and experienced, will help us live more happy, and flourishing and prosperous lives.
I highly recommend The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris.