The Happiness Trap

Now you may be thinking why on earth should Happiness – that incredible, fluffy state of mind that we all aspire to – be described as a trap?  

Well…it’s not actually the destination of Happiness that’s the problem. 

It is rather the pursuit of Happiness which can pose a serious threat; the constant search for something or someone (outside of our own selves) to ‘make us’ happy or ‘happier’. 

So, if you’re someone that thinks to yourself ‘I’ll be happy when…’ 

For example, ‘I’ll be happy when I lose the weight…I’ll be happy when I get the promotion…’I’ll be happy when I get the dream house’…’I’ll be happy when I meet my soul mate….’ then this blog is for you. 

Undoubtedly, the bombardment of ads selling us the dream of being better, having better or looking better fuels this ‘I’ll be happy when’ mindset. We are conditioned by society not only to fall into the ‘Happiness Trap’ of wanting and needing more, but to remain locked inside in the depths of consumerism and unhealthy aspiration, clawing at the walls for more…more…and more. The social pressure, especially amongst the younger generations, is scarily real. Social media represents an ugly window for what your life could and should be like; a vehicle for unhealthy comparison against the masses.

My word! do Perfectionists struggle in this landscape of temptation. Idealism leads many to believe that nothing is ever enough and that there is always more to be gained. A Perfectionist’s thought is likely to be something along the lines of ‘I’ll be happy when…I achieve that (often unrealistic) goal, when I win, when I look perfect.’ 

The problem is… even if they do achieve the goal set for themselves, a Perfectionist is rarely Happy since they are likely to move the goal posts at the speed of light, setting themselves a new challenge that – if achieved – would make them feel even better. There is no reward or appreciation for what they have already achieved. It’s as if the NOW doesn’t exist – the focus is on the future…always.

And so the relentless search for a greater achievement, better stuff and Happiness continues.

I’ll never forget Greg, a highly successful Commercial Manager and coachee of mine. He would compete in the most impressive of events … Iron Man, Ultra Marathons, extreme mountain climbs…yet on completion of these incredible achievements, Greg admitted to me that he never felt happy. Well I was shocked by this. Greg told me that at the finish line of his latest Ultra Marathon, his first thought was ‘ArgghhI should have completed that in a faster time. I’m so gutted


Greg had completely overlooked his ‘journey’ – the months of relentless training and progress he had made to get him to the point of competition. His obsession over the end result (needing to be – in his eyes – perfect), meant he dismissed a humongous opportunity to feel incredibly proud, accomplished and Happy. Greg admitted that in that moment at the finish line, he instead set himself a new target to repeat the race in a shorter time as this wasn’t good enough. 

See how the goal posts were moved immediately? 

Coaching taught Greg how to focus more heavily on the journey, rather than the end result, how to praise his own progress (including all past achievements and how his amazing body had developed in strength and ability). Greg is now far more reflective on what he has already achieved, what he already cherishes and is proud of in his life. He tells me he has never felt so ‘present’ and that this has led to him feeling truly content and Happy for the first time in his Life.

A great definition of true happiness I heard recently is that ‘True Happiness is a Life without the pursuit of Happiness’. Meaning real Happiness is linked to being present in the moment, being content with what one has already got with no desire to search for more. True gratitude for what one already has. We’re all likely to know of someone that is in bad health or with little wealth that gracefully accepts their lot and embraces the opportunity to make the most of it. These are the true ‘Thrivers’ of life.

Happiness is an ‘inside’ job. It’s not – and has never been – the temporary high of the hot partner on one’s arm, the glamourous job title, the blinging watch or the gleaming sports car on the drive. Happiness is a state of mind that we create from within ourselves based on our outlook and perspective on life. Specifically, it involves an ability to be truly present in the NOW, appreciative of what we already have. When this penny drops, we stop searching externally for these temporary – often materialistic – fixes. It’s not to say we shouldn’t still enjoy a new bag or celebrate the pay rise, of course we should..but…Happiness runs far deeper than these temporary ‘peaks’ of mood.

In my experience, the ability to be more present (which takes a lot of self-management in my busy life) has resulted in me embracing the ‘moment’ and noticing the smaller things – bird song, laughter, the breeze against my face, a hug with my child. A whole new level of appreciation and gratitude arises that really does lead to me feeling content and Happy.   

If you’ve resonated with this ‘Happiness Trap’ concept and are thinking…sh*t I think I’ve fallen into this pit big style… then a fantastic question to ask yourselves is this one:

Do you remember a time when all you wanted was what you have now?

Sit and reflect on this time in the past, consider what you have achieved and earned for yourself since then. Maybe you’ve started a family, come through a hard time, moved to a new area, made progress in your career, resolved a relationship, seen more of the world…whatever it is… sup it up. 

I found this to be one of the most powerful ‘wake up call’ exercises of all time. It is humbling, satisfying and – for me – often emotional. I find myself saying to myself…’Wow haven’t I come far? Look what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown…’

Give it a try and get ready for that warm fuzzy feeling to rise up…

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