Dr Russ Harris is author of the international best-seller, The Happiness Trap. The title reflects a key theme in the book: that many popular myths about happiness will make you miserable! Here he gives his top 5 tips to escape ‘The Happiness Trap’
Tip 1: Clarify your values
Values are our heart’s deepest desires for how we want to behave: how we want to treat ourselves, others and the world around us. Instead of worrying about whether you feel happy enough, spend some time reflecting on your values – on what you want to stand for in life; the role you want to play in the lives of others; the qualities you want to embody in your actions. As our clarity around your values grows, you can then use them to set goals, find purpose, and guide your life’s direction.
Tip 2: Focus on doing what matters
We live in a ‘feel good’ society, and we easily get so focused on doing what feels good in the short term, we end up neglecting what really matters in the long term. For example we take drugs or eat junk food, instead of looking after our body with exercise and healthy food; or we spend our evenings watching television mindlessly, instead of doing meaningful life-enhancing activities that could enrich our life in the long term.
Tip 3: Acknowledge life is painful
The things that make life rich full and meaningful do not just give us good feelings; they also give us plenty of painful ones. Think of raising kids, building a career, or sustaining a marriage. Sure, these things can give you some wonderful feelings at times; but they’ll also create plenty of difficult feelings. And of course if we live long enough, we will all grapple with illness, injury, grief, loss, disability, and death. So it’s good to cultivate a realistic view on life: it involves plenty of pain.
Tip 4: Recognise if you’re not happy, you’re normal
Western society assumes that humans are naturally happy, so if you’re feeling down, it’s a sign of being weak or defective or abnormal. But is it really? Consider this: One in ten adults will attempt suicide, and one in five will suffer from depression. What’s more, the statistical probability that you will suffer from a psychological disorder at some stage in your life is almost 30 per cent! And when you consider all the misery caused by problems that are not classified as psychological disorders — loneliness, divorce, sexual difficulties, work stress, midlife crisis, relationship issues, low self-esteem, and lack of meaning in life — you start to get some idea of just how painful life really is. Unfortunately, many people walk around with the belief that everyone else is happy except for them. And — you guessed it — this belief creates even more unhappiness. So if you’re not feeling ‘happy, happy, joy, joy’, recognise you’re not defective; you’re normal!
Tip 5: Engage fully in whatever you are doing
In order to find fulfilment in any activity, we need to engage in it fully; give it our full attention. If we do an activity on ‘automatic pilot’, or while lost in our thoughts, or in distracted or disengaged manner, it will not be rewarding or satisfying, and we will not do it well. Develop the skill of keeping your attention fully on whatever it is you are doing.