Happiness! We all want it, but why does it sometimes seem so far out of reach? Quite often when someone is asked what they want out of life, a common answer is ‘I just want to be happy!’ Seems reasonable enough. But what if this chase for happiness is actually making us all miserable?
Dr. Russ Harris, a psychotherapist, argues there are 3 common myths our culture holds about happiness and if we buy into these myths, they can end up making us miserable. He calls this the Happiness Trap.
Myth 1: Happiness is a natural state
The first myth is that happiness is a natural state for humans. You give humans food, water, shelter, loving relationships, and we will all just naturally be happy. This is far from the case.
Being human means we experience a constant changing flow of emotions; anger, joy, sadness, guilt, jealousy, surprise, anxiety… the list goes on! Emotions are like the weather, they always change. We would never say the natural state of the weather is a bright sunny day. The same goes for our emotions.
Myth 2: Happiness means feeling good
The second myth is that happiness means feeling good. If you look up happiness in the dictionary, you’ll most likely come across this definition. The issue though is that if this is your idea of happiness, then there is no such thing as lasting happiness. Think about the greatest day in your life, did this day only give rise to pleasant feelings? Or did other feelings also show up?
The other issue with this notion, is that the things that give life meaning and purpose never give rise to only pleasant feelings. Parenthood, building a career, developing meaningful relationships… do these give rise to only pleasant feelings? Absolutely not! They give rise to an entire range of feelings; contentment, pride, love but also guilt, anxiety, and frustration to name a few.
Myth 3: If you are not happy, you are defective
The third myth is that if you are not happy, you are defective and there is something wrong with you that needs to be fixed. This is not true. If you are not happy, you are normal. Life is hard! We all struggle and we all suffer at multiple points in our lives.
When we buy into this myth that we’re defective, then it can lead us to beat ourselves up for having difficult emotions in the first place. To read more about this idea click here.
What is happiness then?
Dr. Russ Harris defines happiness as living a rich, full, and meaningful life in which we experience the full range of human emotion.
What makes life rich, full, and meaningful will depend on getting in touch with our own personal values. One thing is for sure though, the things that make life meaningful will always give rise to both pleasant and unpleasant feelings.
To learn more about this idea of the Happiness Trap, Dr. Russ Harris has both a book and an online course. Both resources teach practical tools for how to handle difficult feelings when they naturally come up, as well as how to live a rich, full, and meaningful life. Check them out!