In his book, The Happiness Trap (Harris, 2014), Dr. R. Harris analyses the four main myths of happiness.
Myth #1: Happiness as a natural state
According to Dr. Russ Harris, it is a main trait of the western way of thinking, to believe that we should always be happy. Most of us grow up believing that we should make finding happiness our main goal in life. On top of this vague goal, comes all the impressions we get from our environment, telling us that everyone else is doing better, everyone else is happier than us. Naturally, these thoughts can make us even more miserable.
Myth #2: If I am not happy, there is something wrong with me
Based on the belief that “happiness is a natural state”, it comes naturally the belief that emotional struggles are unnatural. In this context, when painful thoughts and feelings are present, we may see ourself or others as weak, needy, or not clever enough. Diagnostic terms as “depression” or “anxiety”, initially constructed to help health professionals, can be perceived as confirmations on how wrong things are with us.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is based on the opposite assumption: the way our brain has been evolved leads unavoidably to some psychological suffering. Our mind is just doing its job, it is not broken or defective. What we can do, is learn how to adapt to this process.
Myth #3: To make my life better, I should stop having negative feelings
If you try to find happiness, the first thing we have been taught to do is to try to get rid of negative thoughts and feelings, and try to have positive ones instead. At first glance, this seems rational. The issue with this is that everything that is important in life cause with a full range of emotions, both positive and negative. An example is being in a close relationship: even if there are amazing feelings like love and joy, sooner or later other feelings will arise to, such as jealousy or disappointment. This is true about anything at matters, as things may create feelings of excitement, but will also have an element of fear and anxiety. This myth is particularly dangerous, as it is impossible to create a meaningful life without being willing to experience uncomfortable feelings.
Myth #4: I should be having control over my feelings and my emotions
Based on this, some psychological approaches will teach you to spot negative thoughts and feelings and replace them with positive ones, or repeat positive affirmations. All these approaches may work: the problem is that the results are usually temporary, as unpleasant feelings do not stay away for too long. When they come back, we tend to feel inadequate.
All these myths are what creates the happiness trap: the struggle that we can never win, as all feelings are what constitutes the human experience.
If you’re struggling emotionally and would like to speak to a professional, you can book an appointment here.
Elena Marinopoulou is a Behaviour Analyst with Willingness Team. She works with children and adults and has a strong interest in parent training, sleep and feeding issues emerging during childhood, as well as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
Harris, R. (2014). The Happiness Trap Pocketbook. New York: Constable & Robinson.