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Book Notes Life

Book Notes: ‘The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living,’ by Russ Harris

The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris

From time to time I share notes about the books I’ve been reading, or have revisited recently after many years.

These posts are meant to help me remember what I’ve learned, and to point out titles I think are worth consulting.

They’re neither formal book reviews nor comprehensive book summaries, but I hope you find them useful. For previous postings, see my Book Notes category.

This is a writeup I’ve been meaning to post for some time. I have consulted this book many times over the years and have drawn a lot from it.

It’s not a new book, having been published in 2008, but I find its lessons to be timeless.

Book Notes: ‘The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACT.’

Published: 2008
Publisher: Trumpeter
ISBN-10: 1590305841
Amazon link

Brief summary:

Don’t think of “happiness” as it’s commonly understood, which is “feeling good.”

Instead, think of being happy as living a rich, meaningful life in accordance with your values.

My 3 key takeaways:

  1. Homo Sapiens’ brains have not evolved to make us “happy,” or to produce a constant stream of pleasurable sensations. Our brains have evolved to keep us from getting killed. In the modern world, that threat is less a tiger lurking behind tall grass, waiting to pounce, but rather other perils: falling sick, encountering difficulties on the job, or suffering from declining social status.
  2. Don’t believe in fairy tales, such as the notion that things should end “happily ever after.” In truth, we have little control over our emotions and thoughts — but that’s okay. Thoughts are just words that run through our heads. Emotions are like the weather: they’re always changing. The mind (the neutral, “observing self”) is like the sky: it’s always there, regardless of thoughts or emotions.
  3. What is the “happiness trap” referred to in the title? It’s thinking that happiness means “feeling good.” Rather than making ourselves miserable chasing positive sensations — and trying to resist negative ones — we must understand that real happiness means living a meaningful life. And what is a meaningful life? It’s when our actions are in line with our most important values.

My notes and notable quotations:

  • The book is a blend of mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, and even what might be considered Buddhist philosophy. It is based on a form of therapy pioneered by psychologist Steven C. Hayes called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT (pronounced “Act”), which is designed to create “psychological flexibility.” (It strikes me that it’s a combination of Western-style focus on what we as individuals want out of the world, and an Buddhist-style focus on detachment.)
  • “If we live a full life, we will feel a full range of human emotions.” (P. 5)
  • There are six principles for dealing with thoughts and emotions:
    • Defusion: disconnecting from our thoughts, and not fusing with them. For example, if you are ruminating, try thinking: “I notice I’m having the thought that…” This will give you a sort of psychological distance from the thought, providing relief.
    • Expansion: making room for our emotions, not fighting them.
    • Connection: being present in the here and now.
    • The observing self: the part of us that is “pure awareness.”
    • Values: discovering and staying true to what’s important over our lifetimes. These aren’t goals, but ways of acting.
    • Committed action: taking steps to act in accordance with your values.
  • Hayes summarizes what ACT teaches us in this way: We must accept thoughts and feelings and be present, connect with our values, and take effective action. “So here is the happiness trap in a nutshell: to find happiness, we try to avoid or get rid of bad feelings, but the harder we try, the more bad feelings we create.” (P. 27)
  • “Success in life means living according to your values.” (P. 221). Values aren’t goals, which can accomplished and checked off a list. They’re “leading principles” for your life.” Or, “how we want to be, what we want to stand for.”
Categories
Life

Happy New Year!

Received via WhatsApp forward.

Onward and upward, friends!

Categories
Life

Val Kilmer: ‘God wants us to walk, but the devil sends a limo’

Val Kilmer gum

That is just one the many memorable lines from onetime Hollywood hunk Val Kilmer in this winding and revelatory profile by Taffy Brodesser-Akner in the New York Times Magazine. Highly recommended.

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Life

Merry Christmas from New Delhi

Best wishes from me, Anasuya, and Ginger*!

*Yes, Ginger is wearing a Christmas-themed sweater. Not only is it stylish, but it is functional, with temperatures dipping down into the low 40s Fahrenheit these days!

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India Life

Two Years with Our Adopted New Delhi Street Dog, Ginger

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Last week – November 4 – marked two years since we adopted Ginger.

She continues to be a delight. She is clever, loyal, playful, energetic, silly, and sometimes slightly devious. And she definitely loves her long walks.

The photo at the top is from a Lodhi Garden trip. She loves that place. Here’s another pic of her there:

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And here she is at rest in the sun at home:

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One of her most endearing traits is her love of pouncing. Here’s a video of her hopping on me when I called her recently! 🙂

Dogs: What would life be without them?

Previously:

  • One Year with our Adopted New Delhi Street Dog, Ginger
  • Introducing our Desi Dog, Ginger

  • Categories
    Life

    Ginger Snapshot: ‘I Got the Morning Papers for You!”

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    The latest shenanigans from Ginger.

    Do I detect a bit of a smile in that second photo?

    I believe I do.

    Categories
    Humor Life

    Starbucks Misspellings: New One for My Collection

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    Received this gem here in New Delhi yesterday and after consulting my collection…I’m happy to say: yes! It’s a new one!

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    Who knew having an uncoventional name, combined with a love for coffee, could be so much fun? 🙂

    Categories
    India Life

    Merry Christmas from New Delhi

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    I hope your holiday was full of food, friends, family, and festivities.

    Ginger got a candy cane dog toy, which, because she is a #PowerChewer, lasted all of ten minutes!

    Categories
    India Life

    One Year with our Adopted New Delhi Street Dog, Ginger

    November 4th marked one year since we adopted Ginger.

    In her favorite perch

    If you missed my post from March, here’s the backstory and some pics of her as a puppy. This was the day we got her:

    The big day

    To recap: She is a New Delhi street dog and displays many of the characteristics of desidogs (also known as Indogs or Indian pariah dogs.)

    Now almost a year and a half old, she is fully grown, weighing about 20 kg (45 pounds).

    She is an alert, cautious, playful, smart, athletic, and affectionate dog.

    She is also quite protective of our house, springing into action and barking if anyone unfamiliar rattles our gate.

    She also loves to play fetch.

    She is a powerful jumper.

    She doesn’t demand to be by our sides constantly, but does enjoy sleeping near (or sometimes directly on) us.

    Oh, and she definitely has a mischievous streak. She seems to enjoy nothing more than stealing a shoe or a sock as I sit down to put them on before leaving for the office in the morning, prompting me to chase after her (which is no doubt the point of the “game” for her).

    Fetching the newspaper

    Beckoning us to come outside to play

    Shake on it?

    Encountering a goat during a walk in a New Delhi park.

    With a blanket stuck on her ear

    “Oh, did you *not* want your favorite pillow liberated of its stuffing?”

    “Helping” me write a story.

    She eats a healthy diet of chicken, rice and high-grade kibble — but occasionally gets her own pancake on Saturdays. 🙂

    On an outing at Lodhi Garden.

    If you’re interested in adopting a desi dog here in New Delhi (or just want to donate to a good cause) check out the Indian Canine Uplipftment Centre, or ICUC, where we got Ginger.

    They do great work rescuing pups and providing medical services to the city’s huge population of strays.

    We’ve also had some very informative training sessions with Namratha Rao of Pawsitive Tales. She really knows the breed well and is highly skilled. Get in touch with her if you have any dog training needs.

    Here’s to 2019 and beyond with Ginger!

    Categories
    Life

    A Psychedelic Temple for the Ages

    I’m not quite sure how I missed this story by Drew Zeiba in The Architect’s Newspaper in June. It begins:

    Tucked away on a tree-studded, 40-acre plot just a quarter mile from the Hudson River, one of New York’s most unusual construction projects is underway. The Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (CoSM)—a transdenominational church and registered nonprofit—has been constructing the Entheon: “A place to discover god within.”

    The piece, which has many images of the construction, such as the one above, continues:

    As with the foundation of the Greys’ relationship and their church, psychedelics and entactogens play a central role in the eccentric design of the Entheon. It was, in fact, a (then legal) shared MDMA experience that showed the Greys they should not sell their work, but rather build a chapel to share it with a “worldwide love tribe.”

    But by far the most amazing sentence is this:

    Selecting a point on their 40-acre plot that aligns with the solar plexus of a projected goddess, “the kabbalistic sephirot of justice,” CoSM has begun converting a former carriage house into a three-level, 12,000-square-foot concrete structure replete with modern amenities, including an ADA-compliant elevator.

    Remarkable. Here’s more on the CoSM church and the Entheon itself.

    Reading the story, I couldn’t help but think: It seems like this would an extraordinarily frightening place to visit while under the influence of psychoactive substances.