Book Review: The Happiness Trap

The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris is a great book for people struggling with OCD, Social Anxiety, and/or general stress and worry. The author, Russ Harris, builds the case against our obsession with trying to feel “happy” at all times. He suggests that our avoidance of “negative” thoughts and feelings is actually leading us towards greater unhappiness. Below, I detail a couple key points from the book.

Tip 1: Change your relationship with your thoughts and feelings

If you believe that the problem in your life is the existence of negative thoughts and feelings, you are setting yourself up for frustration. The truth is that we have very limited control over our thoughts and feelings. Russ uses the analogy of two neighboring countries at war to emphasize this point. Those countries can resolve themselves to unending war (you can continue to battle your thoughts and feelings), they can establish a cease fire (you can grudgingly tolerate your thoughts, but remain paralyzed by hopelessness and frustration), or those countries can work towards actual peace, even if they don’t like each other all that much. Making real peace involves truly accepting that unwanted thoughts and undesireable emotions are a part of life. It means no longer fighting with all of those doubts and worries and anxieties in your head. So that you can start living your life and moving forward.

Tip 2: Stop taking your thoughts so seriously

Give a thought our full attention, our full fear, our full mental engagement, and it will rule our lives. But do the opposite – be okay with that thought hanging out in our mind without engaging with it and/or trying to get rid of it – and it will no longer control us. The author makes a couple of great suggestions for how to reduce the importance we place on our thoughts. First, it’s essential to realize that triggering thoughts are no different from other thoughts. You can try thinking a triggering thought right beside a non-triggering thought to emphasize this point. For example, you can remind yourself that “No one likes me” is no different than “I’m a banana.” Both are just collections of words. Both are just thoughts. And they don’t have to control us. Second, you can reduce the seriousness you give a thought by singing the thought to a silly tune like “Happy Birthday” or “Jingle Bells,” or imagining it being said in a silly voice (maybe a character from the Simpsons, for example). This can help to put those pesky, negative thoughts in their place.

So, some great ideas but this is only scratching the surface of this incredibly informative book. For those interested, it’s definitely worth the full read. You can find it on Amazon here.