Some of the world’s most common and widely held ideas about happiness create what psychologist and author Russ Harris eloquently calls a ‘happiness trap’. These ideas – or ‘myths’ – about happiness are misleading and when you believe them or let them dictate how you live your life, they often make you feel shame, stress and sometimes just plain miserable.
In this short animated video, Russ Harris explains three of the most challenging myths about happiness and how easily they can instead lead us towards pain and suffering.
Myth 1. Happiness is the natural state for human beings
The first myth is the idea that perpetual happiness is the natural state for human beings. The myth goes that if you give a person enough food, shelter and connection, they’ll feel happy all the time. The reality of being human, though, is that we experience an ever-changing flow of emotions – which is totally normal and natural! For example, it’s normal to feel sad after a loss, or to feel fear or stress when we’re in danger or there’s a threat nearby. It’s also normal to feel joy in celebration, or overwhelmed when life gets busy. In fact, this is the natural state for human beings – to have a range of different experiences and emotions, from joy to despair and all the other emotions in between.
Myth 2. Happiness means feeling ‘good’ (pleasant) emotions
The second big happiness myth is the idea that happiness means feeling pleasant or ‘good’ emotions or states of being. Most people think of happiness as a state of pleasure or contentment, but if this is your definition of happiness then there is no hope for lasting happiness, because all emotions are fleeting. They do change (no matter how hard we try to chase or hold on to them). Think about the last time you were in a state of contentment or pleasure: how long did it last before this feeling changed and something else arose, like restlessness, boredom, irritation or another less pleasant human emotion?
Russ Harris defines happiness as living a “rich, full and meaningful life” and I like that definition. My shorthand for this is living a life of fulfilment. Russ also wisely points out that if we are to live this kind of full life, it will include feeling the full range of our natural human emotions – the pleasant and the unpleasant ones.
Myth 3. If you’re not happy, you’re defective
The third myth – which is closely related to the first two – is the idea that if you’re not happy, there must be something wrong with you. The reality is that if you’re not always happy, you’re completely normal! Human life is difficult a lot of the time and our minds are tricky too – they often get us caught up. Sometimes life is very pleasant, but it’s also quite hard. There is nothing defective, broken or wrong with you if you’re not always happy.
If you can see beyond these myths about happiness – you then have the opportunity to connect deeply to all the dimensions and facets of your life, including the highs and lows and ups and downs….you can live with more self acceptance, presence and embrace life the totality of yourself and your life- wholeheartedly
If you want to learn more about how to get out of the ‘happiness trap’I highly recommend Russ Harris’ brilliant book, The Happiness Trap, which you can find here.