“I just want to be happy”. This should not be happening to me. We tell ourselves that we should feel happy. I will be happy after I _____ become, achieve, obtain… Then why is one still unhappy during their pursuit of happiness?
Dr. Russ Harris is a therapist who uses Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and author of the book “The Happiness Trap”. He has an excellent video that explores three common myths that can hold us back from experiencing happiness.
1. Happiness is the natural state for human beings.
Many people expect to be happy, that this should be the natural baseline and anything less is not OK. Our natural state is ever changing, like the weather and so are the emotions that we experience. We experience brilliant moments of sunshine, partly cloudy days, and times where we don’t see the sun at all. Rain may come as a gentle trickle and snow as a soft dusting but can also be experienced as a torrential downpour or snowstorm.
2) Happiness means we always feel good.
Have you ever noticed how fleeting emotional states can be? Milestone events that evoke feelings of “happy ever after” such as a marriage/ relationships, career or personal achievement do not mean that we will now experience happiness. In fact, researchers have found that there are moments of great discomfort within the pursuit. Along with pleasure there are also moments of pain. Happiness may be better described as an emotional state that provides one with a sense of meaning and contentment rather going from one major moment of happiness to the next.
3) If you are not happy, you are defective.
“There must be something wrong with me if I am not happy”. If one is unhappy, this does mean that you are defective! What would it be like to notice whatever emotional state you are feeling, identify where this is experienced in the body, and listen empathetically to understand? By moving towards acceptance, one can better learn how to sit with discomfort and cope with the ever-changing state of emotions. Perhaps it is time for a change such as learning new skills, setting goals, investing in new relationships, or practicing self-compassion.
ACT utilizes mindfulness and acceptance along with commitment and behavioral strategies. By learning mindfulness skills, one can learn to live and act in ways that are consistent with their personal values. The goal is to increase psychological flexibility. Therapists at CARE Counseling have been trained to utilize ACT approaches.
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