The happiness trap

Selected quotes from The Happiness Trap

A hundred thousand years ago we had only the few members of our immediate clan to compare ourselves with.

Myth No.1: Happiness Is The Natural State For All Human Beings

Myth No.2: If You’re Not Happy, You’re Defective

Myth No.3: To Create A Better Life, We Must Get Rid Of Negative Feelings

Myth No.4: You Should Be Able To Control What You Think And Feel

So here is the happiness trap in a nutshell: to find happiness, we try to avoid or get rid of bad feelings—but the harder we try, the more bad feelings we create.

Thoughts=words inside our heads Images=pictures inside our heads Sensations=feelings inside our bodies.

In ACT, our main interest in a thought is not whether it’s true or false, but whether it’s helpful; that is, does it help us create the life we want?

In a state of cognitive fusion, it seems as if: •  Thoughts are reality—as if what we’re thinking were actually happening.

In a state of cognitive fusion, it seems as if: •  Thoughts are reality—as if what we’re thinking were actually happening. •  Thoughts are the truth—we completely believe them. •  Thoughts are important—we take them seriously and give them our full attention. •  Thoughts are orders—we automatically obey them. •  Thoughts are wise—we assume they know best and we follow their advice. •  Thoughts can be threats —some thoughts can be deeply disturbing or frightening.

‘I’m having the thought that...’ Now run that thought again, this time with the phrase attached. Think to yourself, ‘I’m having the thought that I am X.’

Cognitive defusion reminds us that thoughts are just words. In a state of defusion, we recognise: •  Thoughts are merely sounds, words, stories or bits of language. •  Thoughts may or may not be true; we don’t automatically believe them. •  Thoughts may or may not be important; we pay attention only if they’re helpful. •  Thoughts are definitely not orders; we certainly don’t have to obey them. •  Thoughts may or may not be wise; we don’t automatically follow their advice. •  Thoughts are never threats; even the most negative of thoughts is not deeply disturbing or frightening.

Now go back to the thought in its original form. Once again, hold it in your mind and believe it as much as you can, for about ten seconds. Notice how it affects you. *** Now imagine taking that thought and singing it to the tune of ‘Jingle Bells’. Sing it silently inside your head. Notice what happens.

Identify your mind’s favourite stories, then give them names, such as the ‘loser!’ story, or the ‘my life sucks!’ story, or the ‘I can’t do it!’ story.

The more pragmatic approach is to ask, ‘Is this thought helpful?

For now, suffice to say, thoughts that criticise you, insult you, judge you, put you down or blame you are likely to lower your motivation rather than increase it.

So when troublesome thoughts pop into your head, it may be useful to ask yourself one or more of the following questions: •  Is this thought in any way useful or helpful? •  Is this an old thought? Have I heard this one before? Do I gain anything useful from listening to it again? •  Does this thought help me take effective action to improve my life? •  What would I get for believing this thought?

This is a simple and effective defusion technique. When your mind starts coming up with those same old stories, simply thank it.

You could acknowledge, ‘Aha! Here’s the “imminent death” story’ or ‘I’m having the thought that I’ll be dead soon’ or you could simply say, ‘Thanks, Mind!’

The aim of defusion is not to get rid of unpleasant thoughts, but rather to see them for what they are —just words—and to let go of struggling with them.

Suppose you are walking across ice. In order to safely take the next step, you first need to find a firm foothold. If you try moving forward without doing that, then you’re likely to fall flat on your face. Acceptance is like finding that firm foothold. It’s a realistic appraisal of where your feet are and what condition the ground is in. It doesn’t mean that you like being in that spot, or that you intend to stay there.

So should you believe any of your thoughts? Yes, but only if they’re helpful—and hold those beliefs lightly. And even while you’re holding them, know that they are nothing more than language.