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Beware of the happiness trap: acceptance and mindfulness

Source | LinkedIn :By Mellissa Ferrier

I have spent most of my life caught in the happiness trap, wishing that I could be happy 100% all of the time. With my friends, colleagues and even my daughter, I generally try to keep a positive mindset and see the bright side of life. I prefer to avoid talking about negative topics, wish away painful memories and often distract myself in the face of sadness. Do you do this too? The flip side of this approach is that it doesn’t equip me or my daughter with the tools to deal with reality. Life is full of pain and suffering as well as joy and happiness. This is a reality that we can’t escape but there is hope.

According to the increasingly popular Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) which uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies to increase psychological flexibility, the secret to a happier life is to accept what is out of our control, while also committing to action that will improve your life. At the core of ACT is that is it psychologically healthy to have unpleasant thoughts and feelings as well as pleasant ones.

The first powerful step is not to eliminate or avoid difficult feelings but learn not to act on them or give them importance. What we feel or think can be powerful insights for us, yet they do not have to dictate our behaviour. For example, I may think that I can’t learn a language but that doesn’t mean I can’t attempt to learn one anyway. If you want to test this out, try keeping a list of all the things you tell yourself and how you act as a result. Like for me, I’m sure this will reveal powerful stories and assumptions that get in the way of any real change.

Core Principles of ACT

  1. Cognitive defusion: The first ACT approach involves learning methods to reduce the tendency to make thoughts and feelings a reality. This is about not identify with your thoughts or feelings. For example, instead of saying ‘I’m an anxious person’, you say ‘my thought is that I am anxious right now’. Also it is about seeing self as context (in the moment) which is fluid rather than content (what happened in the past) as fixed.

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