“Popular ideas about happiness will make you miserable if you hold on to them too tightly”. Dr. Russ Harris, a well-known proponent of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, has written a wonderful, relatable, easy-to-read book called The Happiness Trap, where he puts forward the argument that our expectations about what our lives “should” be like can be harmful for our psychological health.
He presents three “happiness myths” (also available in this this short YouTube video), namely:
- Happiness is the natural state for human beings.
- Happiness means feeling good.
- If you’re not happy, you’re defective.
Dr. Harris suggests that a rich, full and meaningful life involves making space for, and expecting, a range of emotions, and that “the reality is, if you’re not happy, you’re normal”. Life is often difficult, and even our most positive experiences (e.g., meaningful relationships), are associated with tension, anxiety, frustration, anger (etc, etc), in addition to the warm and joyful moments.
“Am I good enough?” “Smart enough”?” “Attractive enough?” “Do people like me?” Pressure to achieve and to be valued starts young, and youth often report striving for success and recognition at school, with peers and in other activities. Achieving success (however it is measured) can be a way of building our self-esteem. However, striving for perfection can become a goal unto itself, where we can lose track of what is important and become consumed with the pressure to excel, to be valued, to be perfect. This pressure can lead to anxiety, and interfere with our ability to engage in the present moment, to be spontaneous, to play, to just be. This thought-provoking article encourages parents to reflect on the pressures experienced by youth to excel, and suggests that we re-engage with what’s most meaningful to us, rather than mindlessly (and sometimes frantically) striving to achieve, to thrive, to excel. I would argue that this article is just as relevant for adults!
Many of us at Connecte are big fans of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or “ACT” (for more information on ACT, see Brent’s blog post, as well as a TED talk by the founder of ACT, Steven Hayes, previously posted by Lisa).
One of the most interesting and useful podcasts that I listened to this year was “ACT in Context”, which brings you through the main components of ACT in an informal and user-friendly approach. The podcast is appropriate both for professionals using ACT and individuals interested in ACT for their own personal purposes (I used it for both!). The hosts are clinical psychology PhD students, and they invite in different ACT specialists for each episode to present a different facet of the ACT approach.
Reshma Saujani’s wonderful TED talk explores the societal pressures that can be endured by girls to perform well, and argues instead that we should teach girls to be brave. She argues that being afraid to take risks or to fail inhibits girls’ willingness to learn or to seek opportunities, be they social (e.g., asking someone out on a date) or professional (e.g., asking a question when they don’t understand, applying for a job even though they might not have all the qualifications listed). Although this TED talk focuses on young women, I feel that the issue of being insecure about one’s own abilities or worth, and being afraid to take risks (that may ultimately lead to opportunities!) is relevant to a much wider audience.