Book Review: The Happiness Trap
Dr Russ Harris
If there is one book that I am constantly handing out to clients and having to repurchase, it is ‘The Happiness Trap’. At the heart of this book is the framework for ACT (pronounced ACT, not A.C.T.) which stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Within that are a series of metaphors, explanations and techniques that, when taken the time to utilise in your day to day, can have a rather profound effect on your life.
That’s a big claim, I know. For that, let me explain a little bit more about why this book is so important.
One of the first things this book sets out to do is to break us free of the shackles of our fairy tale existence where we grow up believing that life is about aiming to achieve a constant state of happiness. As Dr Harris points out, this is an unrealistic expectation to hold onto and can actually limit us from being able to be fully present in the moment and aiming to have a life that is, instead, rich, full and meaningful.
The Happiness Trap offers up a new insight into our thoughts and feelings and emotions. For many people, we often sit with this notion that feelings and emotions are good and bad; that happiness is a good emotion and that anger is a bad emotion. Instead, we’re offered the concept that there are no good or bad emotions; in fact, each emotion has something to offer. Instead of trying to escape from the emotion and avoid feeling it fully, we’re invited to sit with the emotion mindfully and to create a space to allow that emotion to exist. In doing this, we’re not avoiding the emotion but we are reducing the impact that the emotion has on our lives and, in the proces of doing that, we’re able to become far more capable of recognising the emotion for what it is and being able to make choices and decisions that are more aligned with our values and beliefs.
This combination of mindfulness and values are at the very heart of ACT and allow us to ensure that we’re continually moving towards the kind of person that we wish to be and that we’re living a life that is meaningful and rich for us.
The techniques within this book also help us to detach ourselves from our thoughts, referred to as defusion, and to recognise that our thoughts are simply thoughts and, while they make up our reality, they’re not always real. This ability to step back and to notice our thinking allows us to, again, recognise what options we have in our realm of possibilities and to act in a way that is congruent with our core values.
As a writer, Russ Harris has a wonderfully conversational style. At no point will you feel like you’re reading some self-help text transcribed from some boring lecture. His ability to get across his point simply and easily while still being engaging is half the reason why this book is such a success. Anyone who has an interest in being able to live their life in a more meaningful manner will benefit from picking up this book and giving what it has to offer a go.
This needs to be clear; ACT isn’t about eliminating these difficult emotions. While some of the techniques offered within this book may do that, it is more of a ‘bonus’ than an intended outcome. What this is really about is being able to handle painful thoughts and feelings more effectively, creating the space to allow these inevitable feelings to exist instead of trying to replace them with positive mantras that you find, at your core, difficult to maintain.
‘The Happiness Trap’ is simply a wonderful read. It’s conversational and engaging while also capable of delivering some real educational pieces. Anyone who has seen Dr Russ Harris in action (and I would highly recommend that) will know that this is typical of his presentation style; personable and with a great lashing of humour. More importantly, it is a book that offers so many wonderful insights into how we respond to our thoughts and feelings and what we can do to truly connect ourselves with the here and now in the most productive and beneficial way possible.
Of course for those who aren’t really into reading but keen to experience ACT first hand, you can always make a time to come and see me at Release Hypnosis where we can talk about how ACT can help you to reduce stress and anxiety, move on from fear, doubt and insecurity, and allow yourself to move closer and closer towards the kind of person that you want to be.
For more information about the service Release Hypnosis provides around ACT or Mindfulness, click the contact page here.