The essential trick of happiness traps is that they seem to offer the solution to happiness, even as they destroy any chance of ever achieving it. They seem to fight fear, but they donít: itís an illusion.
One of the cruelest paradoxes of life is that the things we so often seek to soothe our souls are the very things that ultimately feed our fears and cause happiness to forever recede ahead of us, just out of our reach!
Here are the first three of the five happiness traps:
1. Trying to buy happiness
At Canyon Ranch, the author often heard people talk about hunting–for diamonds, planes, houses, paintings, and boats–but what he really heard, beneath the surface of their conversation, is people talking about hunting down the one big prize that will finally free them from the two basic, survivalist fears that have haunted people since the Stone Age: the fears of not having enough and of not being enough.
Many of the people the author counsels become fixated upon their hunts. In the heat of the hunt, they often feel a keyed-up, hyperalert sense of excitement–which they generally mistake for happiness–but once the hunt is done, theyíre almost never satisfied.
The most important message that the science of happiness tells us about money is, almost nobody thinks they have enough. In the dark recesses of our brains, free-floating fear tells us that we need more, more, more–or our very survival will be threatened.
Face facts: Scarcity is burned into your brain. Youíll probably never feel as if you have enough money. Itís time you accept this. And rise above it.
2. Trying to find happiness through pleasure
One of the new theories of the science of happiness. Itís called adaptation level theory, and it says that once we became accustomed to any pleasure, it no longer has the power to makes us happy.
The principle is one of the biggest obstacles to happiness that many people now face, because as a prosperous society weíre awash in a sea of pleasures that were once out of reach.
Happy people, however, know that itís wise to regularly back away from lifeís banquet, so that pleasure will stay novel and refreshing.
3. Trying to be happy by resolving the past
About 100 years ago, Freud noted that people often stored traumatic memories beneath the surface of their day-to-day consciousness. Lacking the knowledge we now have of brain anatomy, he dubbed this black box of memory the subconscious, and theorized that if the box were to be cathartically emptied by means of psychoanalysis, people would no longer be haunted by traumatic events.
These days, the strongest new trend in medicine is to help patients achieve vigorous health, and the strongest new trend in psychology is to help people feel happy. Similarly, as the same approach has gained steam in psychology, psychologists have discovered that helping people be happy–without fixating on their anguish–usually solves mental problems even better than trying to somehow “purge” or excise the problems.
One of the main reasons that this approach is working so well in psychology is because Freudís basic premise was faulty. The subconscious cannot be emptied of its dark and dreadful contents merely by bringing them to the light of the day. The subconscious, instead, is a living, functioning part of the brain–the amygdala–which cannot be drained.
Adapted from What Happy People Know, by Dan Baker, Ph.D. and Cameron Stauth (Rodale Books, 2003).