BOOK REVIEW: The Happiness Trap

Twelve years ago, when studying for my current career, I made a mistake. I picked up a copy of this book and read on the back-cover blurb: “This book is for everyone!”

 “Well,” said my judgmental undergraduate science brain, “that’s impossible rubbish.” So, I left it on the shelf.

And then ... I needed it. My story is not unique, but when my life came unstuck (yes, therapists are human too) I worked with someone who helped me recognise that assumptions I had about needing to be happy, and efforts to avoid negative thoughts or feelings, were bringing me undone.

Using acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) Russ Harris has crafted a gentle and often comical book rich with real-world stories about (1) noticing our unhelpful thoughts, (2) accepting them as just words rather than treating them as reality, (3) reducing our struggles using mindful engagement in our present moment, and (4) identifying our values – what’s really important to us – so we can take active steps towards a rich, full and meaningful life.

The book slowly builds your skills with strategies through short, doable exercises to which you can return again and again. If you like your reading as an audio book, comic book style, video clips or in app form, these are available too. And yes, the scientific evidence is there as well to show that accepting your internal experience, being present, choosing a valued direction, and, taking action for your life, really works.

It’s as if Malcolm Fraser (“life wasn’t meant to be easy … but take courage child for it can be delightful”), Mr Miyagi from The Karate Kid (“wax on, wax off”), and Gloria Steinem (‪"the art of life is not controlling what happens to us, but using what happens to us") worked together on a life philosophy. Imagine that dinner party.

At a time of pandemic when we are all rethinking our purpose, our certainties and examining many things we thought of as unquestionable “reality”, this classic from 2007 could be the perfect companion to finding your version of happy, in a rich, full and meaningful life.

Kate Sweeny is a psychologist at CatholicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning.

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