Sept. 15, 2019

The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris: Happiness is not the goal

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About the author

Russ Harris is a doctor, therapist, father, trainer of health professionals, and author of The Happiness Trap (plus eight other books).

Russ started his career as a newly-graduated doctor back in 1989, and soon discovered that most of his patients were expressing a significant degree of dissatisfaction in life; stress, anxiety and unhappiness were widespread. He strongly related to their struggles, because he was experiencing something similar.

He just couldn’t understand why he felt this way. Russ had achieved all the goals that society says tells us will make us feel happy. But it wasn’t working. And he wanted to know why. One thing was for sure, simplistic stories that it was all due to an unhappy childhood or too much negative thinking or a chemical imbalance in the brain were definitely not the answer.

So Russ set off on a journey to find out a) what makes people unhappy, and b) far more importantly, what creates genuine and lasting happiness. That journey took him down a lot of blind alleys and dead ends. But eventually, it lead him to ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.


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About the book

Russ Harris explains that the way most of us go about trying to find happiness ends up making us miserable, driving the epidemics of stress, anxiety, and depression. This empowering book presents the insights and techniques of ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) a revolutionary new psychotherapy based on cutting-edge research in behavioural psychology. By clarifying your values and developing mindfulness (a
technique for living fully in the present moment), ACT helps you escape the happiness trap and find true satisfaction in life.

  • The techniques presented in The Happiness Trap will help you to:
  • Reduce stress and worry
  • Handle painful feelings and thoughts more effectively • Break self-defeating habits
  • Overcome insecurity and self-doubt
  • Create a rich, full, and meaningful life



Videos, articles, 8 week course and more from Russ here:

Liked this one? You might also like the Courage to be Disliked or Everything is F *cked episodes of Steph’s Business Bookshelf.


BIG IDEA 1 (6:37) – Happiness is not the goal.

In the book, Russ dispels some myths we have, one of them being that happiness should be our default or natural state. This makes people think that if you’re not feeling happy then you must be defective and therefore to create a positive life you need to reduce any negative feelings.

All of these things result in a vicious cycle, because if you’re not happy, you feel defective which makes you even less happy. These stems from thinking that happiness is the natural state that we should all be aiming for.

Another myth is that belief that we should all be controlling our feelings, which shouldn’t be the case as that often works against us in practice (see big idea #2).

There’s also an argument in the book against positive psychology; about telling ourselves all the positive things all the time and lots of positive affirmations.  This takes a lot of energy and distracts us from what we are really trying to achieve and makes us less present.

Once we realise that happiness is not the goal, we will save ourselves a lot of time, energy and angst which we can spend on other things.

BIG IDEA 2 (8:19) – Control is not the answer.

Control is okay in some situations but not when used excessively or in a situation where it won’t work, because it will stop you from doing what you value. When we try and control our feelings too much, eventually it will all come out… and probably in a fairly unproductive way.

It also distracts us and does not solve anything. Trying to control our feelings, telling ourselves other stories instead, trying to rewrite stories in our head towards scenarios that will make us feel a certain way is not helpful and wastes a lot of energy.

BIG IDEA 3 (10:16) – Change your story to change your mind.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is all about accepting, seeing and hearing the negative thoughts that pops into your mind. Accepting that a lot of that is a narrative that we have created ourselves. But this isn’t about rewriting a story, simply taking away its power.

Russ gives a lot of methods in the book on how to depower a story / voice; from creating a persona for it to turning it into a song.  Some things might not work for you and that’s okay but try some of the suggestions out, adapt them and do what you need to do that makes it stick for you to use it.

Another element of ACT is diffusion which is seeing a story and realizing that it’s not reality. For example, when you feel like you’re failing, understanding you’re just actually making mistakes and learning, which is normal.

The important thing is depowering the story. Questioning, hearing, experiencing, thinking about the work you are doing and ultimately accepting it as part of life but not letting it take over. 

Music By: The Future Is Now – Instrumental Version Song by MARLOE.

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