The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACT

Reviewed on , book by Russ Harris

The book preaches the methodology “ACT”: accept your emotions and feelings, connect with your values, and take action. The ‘happiness trap’ is that we typically define happiness by the intensity and quantity of positive emotion and only a little negative. Instead, he advocates we elicit a mindful practice and let our thoughts pass through, label them, and distinguish them from our own. He uses the analogy of quicksand: that fighting anxiety and fear will fuel it, making it worse. He describes an urge as a wave: a beginning, a crest (top), and the fall. In the second part of the book around ‘connecting with values,’ Harris describes the paramount difference between goals (objectives, checklists) and values (true forever). That ‘get rich’ (his example) is not a value, but an objective, and we’ll be able to get the value sooner rather than later if we figure out the value propelling the goal. Is it simply the desire to relax? Are you working your butt off to get to a dream-state of sandy beaches, instead of reaching a compromise today? Conflicting values, such as “successful career” and “successful parent,” can typically be balanced if you work hard enough at finding the compromises, such as calling your family every day on travel. Lastly, Harris centers the book around taking action. This is the standard advice of breaking down goals into simple milestones to make them more achievable. Don’t “learn Spanish,” but “order something in Spanish,” “have a five sentence exchange,” and “make someone laugh in Spanish.”

Overall, I found this an enjoyable introduction to the theories of happiness. However, I found it a little nail-and-hammer with the ACT-model and a little try-hard-spiritual. The number of exercises and checklists seemed a bit over the top, I feel that the number of exercises could’ve been curated more carefully. The stories to back it up seem exceedingly anecdotal from his own practice. This doesn’t make it any less practical but does leave me with the impression that the author may be a little overly dogmatic. That said, the advice is valuable and practical.