Does our desire to be happy get in the way of being happy?

Want to be happy? Surely that means no difficult emotions or no unpleasant experiences right? Well, as radical as it may seem – that may not be the case. I’m going to explain a little about how our best efforts to be happy may actually be getting in the way.


There is a book called The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris and what he has to say about this is so important. In this article, I’m going to tell you a few of my takeaways from it in the hope to allow some food for thought about all our efforts to be happy.

Russ Harris writes from an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) standpoint. In a bid to “be happy” we have developed some ways of coping with our thoughts and emotions which may actually be keeping us stuck in a trap and preventing this sense of happiness.

1. Thoughts are just thoughts

Thoughts are simply stories our mind generates. We really don’t have to engage with them by asking if they are true or false, where is the evidence etc. We don’t have to disprove them. We can start to question if they are helpful or not in taking us closer to the life we want/how we want to be. If they are not helpful then we can learn ways to help us not get so tangled up in them.

2. Both pain and joy will always exist

If we want to live a full and meaningful life then we will experience both joy and pain. We hurt where we love. Now, this doesn’t make the pain go away (in fact that would be the opposite of this point) it simply helps normalise pain and can take away the whole “ahh this hurts and I need to get rid of it” which further places pressure and can intensify the pain.

Think of one of the things you’re most proud of in life… it probably consists of some struggle, some pain right? Joy and pain are linked. We can’t get rid of one without getting rid of the other.

3. Doing what’s important to us is the way forward

By exploring, uncovering and connecting to what is important to us (our values) we can begin to choose behaviours that reflect this (even if anxiety/fear shows up) and we may just experience a more meaningful life.

This can all feel a bit radical. After all, we are brought up in a society that teaches and praises us for “getting rid” of emotions and for “not letting things get to us”. I know that when I started practising this way of being it felt super uncomfortable and counterintuitive, going against everything I had learned about “how to cope”. It may feel similar to you.

There is so much more to Russ Harris’ book so grab a copy if it’s interesting to you.

If you’re intrigued by this and think this way of being may be helpful for you, you can book a session with myself and we can explore things further.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
Orpington BR5 & London SW19
Written by Lisa Ume, BABCP (Accredited), CBT, PGDip (Accredited), B.Sc (Hons)
Orpington BR5 & London SW19

Lisa is a qualified, fully accredited and experienced Psychotherapist (CBT and other therapies) and can support you with anxiety, depression, trauma, stress, low self esteem and other difficulties. Please check our her profile if you're interested in sessions.

Show comments

Find a therapist dealing with Feeling sad

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals