Happiness is still a trap for many

Russ Harris is an author and workshop presenter in the area of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). His book The Happiness Trap is a fantastic read and a revelation for a number of clients and psychologists finding the delivery of traditional therapies while often effective, can also leave both therapist and client somewhat unsatisfied for a variety of reasons. I won’t go into those reasons here and now. The main focus of this blog is the simplification in marketing slogans thrown about in the media. The Happiness Trap in very broad terms gives its readers a relief from the pressures of this constant pursuit of happiness that is still popularised. That said, read up for yourselves and make up your own mind.

Over the last couple of days I’ve had an immediate reaction to two slogans that have hit me from spaces such as Twitter (yes, even psychologists use Twitter) and psychology-related magazines; “Happiness is a choice” and “Think well, be well”. I understand the benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (i.e. CBT, see the explanation at the top of the page), I use them every day. It is the simplification that these slogans perpetuate that I think has many clients sceptical about psychological therapy. I can engage many clients in the deeper reach of CBT which can disarm this scepticism. However, I feel I am now undoing a new layer of resistance to therapy because of how CBT is presented in the media. Many clients come armed with the idea that the practice of CBT techniques is at best common sense, and at worst superficial.

I also feel that slogans such as these alienate those that are in most need of help. Someone stuck in their unhappiness and intrusive thoughts, are told “all you have to do is think more happy, and you’ll get better”. All I hear in my head is hundreds of people saying in a heavily defeated and sarcastic tone “Well, why hadn’t I thought of that!”. I can understand how these slogans will assist engagement in so far as the reaction could be “Is it that easy? Maybe I could give it a try!”. However, research shows that when someone is feeling negative, immediate reactions to change are scepticism and more negativity. I suppose I will have to think of some slogans that are more inclusive and less open to scepticism. Ranting your opinion on a blog is easy, finding a solution is less so. Leave a comment with your own ideas!

I introduced this blog with a reference to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). I think that the synthesis of both CBT techniques and ACT holds the key to a very healthy and engaging practice of psychology in the future. That subject however is a can of worms best left to another post.