The Happiness Trap (How to Stop Struggling and Start Living) by Russ Harris

The technique of ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) will help you live life fully. It can help to reduce stress and worry plus handle painful feelings. This book will guide you on how to pursue happiness.

People are now caught in a psychological trap. The more you seek happiness, the more it might elude you. ACT has helped many people so far. Modern society and a higher standard of living doesn’t seem to have people happy. 10% of people have suffered from clinical depression. In the past, people just avoided getting killed. Now, we spend a lot of worrying about other stuff. We like to compare ourselves with others and like to fit in to groups. The human appetite is insatiable. The moment you have something, you want more again. The common definition of happiness is of feeling good. The other definition is ‘living a rich, full, and meaningful life.’ The reality is, life involves pain. There’s no getting away from it. Learn to live a rich and meaningful life and happiness will come to you. Savor your journey.

Myth 1: Happiness is the natural state for all human beings. It is rare and it is incorrect to assume that you are naturally happy. Myth 2: If You’re not Happy, You’re Defective. Myth 3: To Create a Better Life, We Must Get Rid of Negative Feelings. It is okay to feel stress, challenge sometimes etc. Myth 4: You Should be Able to Control What You Think and Feel. We have a larger control our actions than our thoughts and feelings. The Illusion of Control. We have, in fact, very little control of the internal world. One has lesser control over thoughts and feelings. Men like to bottle up their feelings. Some people don’t like to reveal their feelings as they don’t want to be judged by others.

Trying to get all the negative emotions away can be a bad thing. If you are an introvert and fear human interaction, the more you sit quietly and do nothing, the more you will gradually fear human interaction. Although, in the same term, you might be less fearful. Tackle problems immediately and do not allow it to fester or worsen. The two common control strategies are: fight or flight. Flight à Escaping/Distraction/Zoning Out (Alcohol etc). Fight à Suppression/Arguing/Taking Charge/Self-Bully. They don’t work all the time. They become problematic if you use them excessively, in situations where they can’t work and if it stops you from doing things you value. Grief is a normal feeling. For some of us, we refuse to accept feelings of grief. For the not so important things in life, controlling them using the techniques above are easier. The primary motivation matters too. It should not be to get rid of bad thoughts and feelings only. Self-awareness is the key.

So here is the happiness trap in a nutshell: to find happiness, we try to avoid or get rid of bad feelings, but the harder we try, the more bad feelings we create. – Russ Harris

What do you cherish most in life? Health? Work? Family? Friends? Religion? Sports? Nature? It’s no surprise that life is richer and more fulfilling when we actively invest our time and energy in the things that are most important or meaningful to us. – Russ Harris

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. (1) Delusion: lose ability to frighten, disturb, worry, stress, or depress you. (2) Expansion: Make room for unpleasant feelings. (3) Connection: Connect with the present moment. (4) The Observing Self. (5) Values: Clarify and connect with your values. (6) Committed Actions. Mindfulness is a mental state of awareness, openness and focus. Mindfulness + Values + Action = Psychological Flexibility.

We think that we must give full attention to our thoughts. Fusion means the story and the event become stuck together. We like to think thoughts are reality and the truth. Add the words ‘I’m having the thought that XXX’. Distance yourself from the thought and it is less likely you will think it’s true anymore. This is known as defusion. Another way is to think of music. Most of them have negative content. Learn to defuse them so that they won’t affect you. Give the particular thought structure a name too. 1) Having the Thought That…2) Musical Thoughts…3) Naming the Story. When you are depressed, your mind will start thinking of stories too.

The mind loves telling stories; in fact, it never stops. All day, every day, it tells you stories about what you should be doing with your life, what other people think of you, what will happen in the future, what went wrong in the past, and so on. It’s like a radio that never stop broadcasting. – Russ Harris

Figure out whether the thought is giving you good advice. If it is not, defuse it. If the thought can improve your life, then it is worth listening to. All beliefs are stories. Most of the time, you can’t choose the thoughts in your head. Learn to start thanking your mind. You could imagine a cartoon character speaking your thought aloud. Thoughts are largely a string of words. Pay attention to thoughts which will help you.

What if defusion still makes you anxious? Defusion is an acceptance strategy. You have to truly accept the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. Acceptance means embracing life. Accepting means being fully accepting of the reality of your situation. Defusion is an acceptance technique. The negative thoughts won’t go away and you must gradually learn to accept them.

It’s important to let go of any expectations that your stories will go away or show up less frequently. As it happens, very often they will go away. But if you’re defusing them to make them go away, then by definition you’re not truly accepting them. And you know where that leads. – Russ Harris

The bottom line is not whether a thought is positive or negative, true or false, pleasant or unpleasant, optimistic or pessimistic, but whether it helps you create a fulfilling life. – Russ Harris

Recognize your thinking self and observing self. Learn to treat your thoughts as simply background noise. If the thoughts is useful, pay attention to it. If not, accept and then ignore it. To concentrate on your observing self, use ten deep breaths. During this process, when you get hooked on a thought, unhook yourself and concentrate on breathing again.

Our thinking self is a bit like a radio, constantly playing in the background. Most of the time it’s the Radio Doom and Gloom show, broadcasting negative stories 24 hours a day. It reminds us of bad things from the past, it warns us of bad things to come in the future, and it gives us regular updates on everything that’s wrong with us…Unfortunately, there’s no way to switch off this radio. Even Zen masters are unable to achieve such a feat. – Russ Harris

The demons can’t kill you. They are powerless to stop you. The demons will try to stop you. There is a lot more to life than the demons.

How would I act differently if painful thoughts and feelings were no longer an obstacle? What projects or activities would I start if my time and energy weren’t consumed by troublesome emotions? What would I do if fear were no longer an issue? What would I attempt if thoughts of failure didn’t deter me? – Russ Harris

What are emotions? Emotions cause us to take action. It tends to enable us to take action. Do emotions control our behavior? No it doesn’t! Anxious speakers can learn to act calm during public speaking. Emotions are like the weather. They ebb and flow.

Although you don’t have much direct control over your feelings, you can directly control your actions. This realization will have important practical applications later because when it comes to making important changes in your life, it’s far more useful to focus on what you can control rather than on what you can’t. – Russ Harris

In quicksand, your emotions will tell you to struggle. But you mustn’t. Turn off the struggle switch if needed.

Our brain loves to gossip and loves stories. Think about your programming as a child. Why am I like this? I can’t handle it! I shouldn’t feel like this! I wish I didn’t feel like this! React by saying ‘Thanks Mind, but I’m not playing today.’ Your observing self is more powerful than your thinking self

Learn the term ‘expansion’. Expansion means making room for our feelings. Accommodate them. The thinking self never shuts up. Practice deep breathing.

Accepting discomfort has only one purpose: to help you take your life forward in a meaningful direction. Thus, in bringing up some discomfort in order to practice expansion, you are learning a valuable skill for transforming your life. – Russ Harris

It is not easy to practice expansion. It is difficult, but like any other skill, you will get better with practice. When your mind is overwhelming, say Thanks Mind. Acceptance comes first before fun activities. Accept your thoughts and feelings. Connect with your values. Take effective action

Values are important because they can guide you and motivate you through situations where your feelings might lead you off course. Acting in accordance with your own deepest values is inherently satisfying and fulfilling – even though it often forces you to face your fears. – Russ Harris

Emotions prime your body to take action. Some urges can be very strong. If the urge is not consistent with who you are, then don’t act on it. Check with your values. Make room for your urges. Like a wave, the urge will grow in size and then gradually subside. You can’t act on your urges.

Therefore, once you are aware of an urge, you need to ask yourself, “If I act on this urge, will I be acting like the person I want to be? Will it help take my life in the direction I want to go? – Russ Harris

There is only one time that is important: NOW! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power. – Leo Tolstoy

The observing self is incapable of boredom. It registers everything it observes with openness and interest. It’s only the thinking self that gets bored, because boredom is basically a thought process: a story that life would be more interesting and more fulfilling if we were doing something else. The thinking self is easily bored because it thinks it already knows it all. – Russ Harris

Sad scenarios are common. Do not focus on unpleasant thoughts and feelings. Connect with happy moments. Connection with pleasant experiences. It can be a simple activity. Pretend that it’s your first time ever doing it. The author had to wash the dirty dog when he had other important tasks to do. Connect with your experience and make the most of it. Do not judge. Connect with the mundane tasks in life if they enhance your life in the long term. Pick a chore and have no expectations. Connect with a task you’ve been avoiding.

Many people fail to make important changes – changes that could significantly enhance their lives – because they’re unwilling to accept the discomfort that accompanies change. For example, you may avoid changing to a more meaningful career because you don’t want the discomfort of starting from scratch. Or you may avoid asking someone on a date because you don’t want to risk rejection. – Russ Harris

It’s time to take a detour. Mindfulness means being aware of your experience, be open, receptive etc. It is a conscious process. It is about awareness. Bring your awareness to the present moment.

We let our judgments, complaints, and criticisms come and go like passing cars, and we fully engage in the present moment. When we are mindful of our own thoughts, we can see them for what they are and let them go. When we are mindful of our feelings, we can make room for them and let them be. And when we are mindful of our here-and-now experience, we are deeply connected with it. – Russ Harris

When people are stressed, they might hyperventilate. Learn to practice deep breathing. Breathing can be a good control strategy. You can practice it anytime of the day too. It can allow you more time to make better decisions etc. Learn to recognize your brain when it is judging. Give factual descriptions, not judgmental ones.

What do you most dislike about yourself? If you think too much, then you will likely have low self-esteem. Using of positive affirmations won’t help that much too. Sometimes, just step out of the battle. Let go of judging yourself. You don’t need high self-esteem to succeed. However, most people with high self-esteem lead into other problems. Take action in line with your values. Recognize fully your strengths and weaknesses.

Society teaches us that thinking is almighty. The book recommends an exercise for you. The observing self is crucial for self-awareness. It never changes no matter what role you think. It is a viewpoint. It simply notices things. It is always there, but you need to access it. It is forever unchanging. It is the source of true acceptance. What makes you? Use defusion, expansion and connection to overcome obstacles.

Values and goals are different. Values are always better. The author mentions about Viktor Frankl’s struggle in the concentration camp. The ones who survived were not the fittest, but the most connected to life. Values make life worth living. Values help us overcome challenges. If you value nature, then it is worth the effort to organize a trip.

We go through life following the same routine, day after day. But in order to create a rich, full, and meaningful life, we need to stop to reflect on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. – Russ Harris

When you go through life guided by your values, not only do you gain a sense of vitality and joyfulness, but you also experience that life can be rich, full, and meaningful, even when bad things happen. – Russ Harris

Living life by your values is a good example of how we can fulfilment in any job, even one we don’t want, by bringing our values into the workplace. That way, even while we search or train for a better job, we can find satisfaction within the one we have. – Russ Harris

What do you really want? What do you want to stand for in life? What sort of personal qualities do you want to cultivate? How do you want to be toward others? There are 4 domains 1. Relationships 2. Work/Education 3. Leisure 4. Personal Growth/Health. Feelings are not values. The best way to influence people are through your actions. Treat others as you’d like them to treat you. You can make your job more meaningful by bringing in your values. It is normal to lose touch with your values sometimes. However, the sooner you connect with them the better. Reflect on your answers and your life.

Do not lead someone else’s life. Which values would you choose? ‘I’m just setting myself up for disappointment’ demon. ‘I can’t be bothered right now; I’ll do it later’ demon. ‘But my values conflict with each other’ demon. Find the best balance you can. Act on that value. Sometimes, you will have to focus more time on a certain domain.

If you could somehow listen in your own funeral and the people you most care about were there, what sort of things would you love to hear them say about you? What would you like them to think about the role you played in their lives? – Russ Harris

Now, that you know your values, it’s time to take action. Actions MUST reflect your values. Family; Marriage and other intimate relationships; friendships; employment; education and personal development; Recreation, fun, and leisure; Spirituality; Community Life; Environment and nature; Health and Body. Set meaningful goals. It is very important to write it down. Set an immediate goal. Start with the easy ones. Set short term goals and be specific about it. Set some medium range goals. Set long term goals. Imagine yourself taking effective action. Keep rehearsing, Write an action plan too. Write down your values, your goals, and your action plans. It is not the most important thing to reach the shore, but it is more important to be sailing toward shore.

In the Western world, life is about status and achievement. Sometimes we get so caught up with earning money. When we pursue meaningful goals, life is a lot more rewarding. Appreciate the JOURNEY. For example, a value when deciding to purchase a house could be to provide security for my family. Being rich is a goal. Do the things you like now. Keep asking yourself ‘What’s this goal in the service of? What will it enable me to do that’s truly meaningful?’ Do not walk around with a mask. Do not keep thinking you’re not good enough. Start with short term goals. Get down to your core values. Be more loving and caring towards others. Your values are always with you.

Practice your mindfulness skills whenever you can. Pay attention to the rain, your food etc. Tiny goals can bring great satisfaction too. It’s all about connection. Don’t get too attached to pleasant feelings. They won’t stay forever. The more you apply mindfulness, the strong, calmer and wiser you will become.

Life gives most to those who make the most of what life gives. – Russ Harris

Fusion, Excessive expectations, Avoidance of discomfort, Remoteness from values. Use your defusion skills. Break down your goal into smaller chunks, Then go ahead and do it. ‘What’s the next small, easy step that would bring me a little bit closer to my goal?. Learn the skills that is necessary to achieve your goal. Practice your expansion skills and make room for your new skills. Set and make room for your new goals in life. Connect with your values on a regular basis. Write them down and re-read them on a regular basis. The mind is very good at coming up with reasons for not doing the things we really want to do. Reasons are just thoughts. Thoughts don’t control behavior. Thoughts have the least influence when you defuse them. Being tired is not an excuse for not running. Reasons are excuses. Always turn to your values for help.

Don’t keep putting off important tasks. Willingness doesn’t mean you like, want, enjoy, desire, or approve of something. Willingness means you’ll allow it, make room for it, or let it be in order to do something that you value. Say yes to obstacles and you will learn to overcome them. Practice expansion and defusion. It’s either you are willing or not. There is no in between. You need to take the pain and accept it. My goal is to… The values underlying my goal are… The thoughts feelings, sensations, and urges I’m willing to have in order to achieve this goal are… It would be useful to remind myself that… I can break this goal down into smaller steps, such as…

From time to time, you will fall and hurt yourself. However, please pick yourself up. Commitment means that you will pick yourself up when you fall. Be willing to endure hardship etc. Success in life means living by your values. Do not dwell on your past. Try something different if something isn’t working. Adopt an optimistic outlook of life. Life involves pain sometimes.

Such is the nature of commitment: you can never know in advance whether you will achieve your goals; all you can do is keep moving forward in a valued direction. The future is not in your control. What is in your control is your ability to continue your journey, step by step, learning and growing etc. – Russ Harris

This is the last chapter of the book. Defusion (Recognizing thoughts, images and memories for what they are and do not fight them). Expansion (Make room for feelings, sensations and urges). Connection (Connect with your present experience and engage yourself fully in whatever you’re doing). The Observing Self (It is unchanging and ever-present and is the key to self-awareness). Values (What sort of person you want to be, what is meaningful to you). Committed Action (Take effective action in line with your values).



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