The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris is one of my most favourite ‘subjective well-being’ books. Harris’ main premise is controversial. He writes…

“… lasting happiness is not normal

Harris draws on extensive research including the World Health Organization, that suggests almost half the population will at some stage suffer anxiety and a sense of overwhelm that may result in them at least considering suicide. Harris also suggests that our minds have been programmed for thousands of years to avoid danger and fear and 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.”

In fact, The Happiness Trap paints a pretty gloomy picture that warns against us falling into the trap of pursuing happiness.

What Harris is basically saying is this. Don’t pursue the ‘feeling’ of happiness, rather, pursue the experience of a flourishing and prosperous life. Which is well backed up by other positive psychology research including that of Lyubomirsky, Fredrickson and Seligman to name a few – it’s in our intentional actions that will add most to our sense of ‘subjective well-bein’g.

What I find most useful is Harris’ Acceptance and Commitment Therapy’ or ACT model for change, which fundamentally and practically shows you how to be mindfully aware of what your saying and feeling at any given time, and rather than try to combat the self talk and emotional or physical feelings, to acknowledge them for what they are, just thoughts and feelings, and to take intentional action that in some way moves you forward to a more flourishing and prosperous life.

Harris’ approach to mindfulness is refreshingly practical and immediately applicable, and his formula for psychological flexibility (“the ability to adapt to a situation with awareness, openness, and focus and to take effective action, guided by your values), while simple (not easy) is very powerful. The formula is

Mindfulness + Values + Action = Psychological Flexibility.

Now, in the previous paragraphs I certainly haven’t outlined the entire process – that’s not the purpose of this book review.

I highly recommend if you’ve not had the success you really want from trying to fight and control any negativity from your inner voice, and you’re looking to be able to get on with your life and pursue more flourishing and prosperous (and intentional) activities that are aligned with your personal values… even if you’re apprehensive or have what seems to be uncontrollable ‘mind traffic’ – read this book.