Book Review – The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris

This book was recommended (and purchased for me) by Mrs. 39 Months. Followers of the blog may have noticed a little manic/depressive streak in some of my writings. While I have often chosen to take the happy road in life and avoid unhappy/depressive thoughts, I can get into a “funk” at times. I also have quite a temper (inherited from my Dad’s side of the family) that was probably pushed further when my parents got divorced when I was very young. Now, any time that I (or both of my siblings apparently) feel things are not in their control, we tend to go bezerk and overreact. My younger brother has broken things, as have I (and I suspect my older brother has as well). This also leads to some very aggressive driving at times, which is not good for anyone.

Mrs. 39 Months has been tolerant at times, though she has often expressed either concern or anger at how I overreact. I assumed this was why the book was purchased.

The general thesis of the book, however, is that the desire to be happy all the time is not only impossible, but also fly’s in the face of our natural selection process. The humans that survived were the ones that were cautious, careful, and who assumed the worst (and were surprised when it worked out). Those who assumed things were good when they were eating the berries got an unpleasant surprise when the lion jumped out and ate them.

Thus, we have been bred to plan for the worst, to look out for potential pitfalls, to worry, and to make plans to overcome problems/issues in case they pop up. That is why it is impossible for us just be happy for any extended time. Strike any bells for those FI people who have retired?

The book has three parts:

  1. How you set the happiness trap: Goes through the reasons we can’t “just be happy” and how we smack ourselves around when our natural instincts get in the way of just being happy
  2. Transforming your Inner World: Detailed steps on how to deal with unhappy thoughts and feelings. Here the author uses Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to show how, instead of suppressing your unhappy feelings and worries, you can allow them to exist and to work with them, and continue to work towards your goals. There are over 23 methods discussed, and the author urges you to try them and go with the methods that work for you
  3. Creating a Life worth living: A series of exercises that will be very familiar to FIRE folks. The exercises help you identify your values, set long and short-term goals face fears and move on towards a meaningful life.

I have to say, after reading through it, I identified many of the issues that kept me from being happier and moving towards my goals. Following some of the methods in chapter 2, I have been able to come to terms with my anger and let a lot more “roll of my back.” It has been very helpful and Mrs. 39 Months has noticed the difference.

I am just starting to dig into the third part (I have read it, but have not done any of the nine exercises yet). Looking forward to seeing how matches up with some of the work I have already done.

I would rate it an A, and a good book for those interested in why they “can’t just be happy.”

Mr. 39 Months

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