I read a book called The Happiness Trap recently and it really changed the way that I look at therapy. The basis of the book is held in the ideals of something called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which focuses on using mindfulness to let go of high expectations.
Why is this important?
Well, we have been fooled into thinking that if we are not happy, there is something wrong with us. This book and therapy say otherwise. The variety of human emotions we all feel are part of the larger human experience. In order to live a full life, we must accept all parts of it, including the bad.
There is no such person that is always happy. We all wear a mask for the world to see. We all have problems. Happiness is not the natural state for us to always default to. Feeling sad, anxious, or angry are all part of the human experience and there is nothing wrong with feeling these emotions. What we should all be working towards is having meaningful lives, not happy ones.
More importantly, there is no such things as controlling our emotions and the way we feel. What we can control are our actions and how we react to our emotions, but we cannot control emotion itself, according to the book.
Many often try to escape their negative feelings. There are a few ways to do this: fight or flight. Fighting these negative thoughts means trying to make the negative thoughts go away. Flight means avoiding negative thoughts. This can include utilizing substances to substitute happiness.
This leads us to the actual Happiness Trap.
It starts with unpleasant thoughts and feelings that we recognize. We respond by trying to escape them and running to a happier state. We try to avoid the feelings. Meanwhile, trying to get to the happier state often involves things that hurt us in the long run (drugs, alcohol, overeating, smoking, etc.). The other part to this is that these things that help us get to the happier state do not keep the unpleasant things away and breed more, which leads us to being in a worse off state than we were before.
So, how do we have happier lives? In short, you change “happier” to “meaningful”
This means living for our values. Our values are what we hold dear and important to us. Values are the key to living this meaningful life we all want. Values are the key to this.
The book offers a few helpful exercises throughout, which I will discuss in later blogs, so keep a look out!