How To Avoid The Happiness Trap

By Stephanie Kirby

Updated February 19, 2020

Reviewer Laura Angers


On the surface, it does not seem like happiness is something too complex. We associate it with smiles, good feelings, and positivity. But, happiness is not as simple as we would like to believe. In fact, there is a good chance you might fall victim to a Happiness Trap from time to time. Here are tips on how to spot it and avoid it in the future.

What Is A Happiness Trap?

A Happiness Trap is a limiting belief someone thinks is true about happiness. Some beliefs (but not all) may include thoughts like:

  • I can only be happy if _____ happens.
  • I will only be happy if I get ______.
  • My happiness can't last forever.
  • If I am happy now, I should always be happy.
  • I have no reason to be upset, so that must mean I am happy.
  • It takes a lot of work to find happiness.
  • Happiness is easily taken
  • Happiness does not exist.
  • I should be happy all the time.
  • I do not deserve to be happy.
  • I do not know how to be happy.

As you can see, a Happiness Trap consists of many myths about happiness. We might find ourselves carrying around just one of these false beliefs or discover that many rings true. Everyone's Happiness Trap is different, but you can find your own by thinking about what happiness means to you.

If you have a very rigid idea of what happiness looks or feels like or very strict beliefs about when it can and cannot exist, you likely are already falling victim to the Trap. Happiness, as good as it is for our well-being, is easily influenced by others, as well as our negative self-talk.

Anytime we hold set underlying beliefs about our feelings; we open ourselves to a range of issues. Criticism of the feeling, fear of the feeling, and fake versions of the feeling are all possible outcomes of accepting our false beliefs as true. There are some ways to avoid falling victim to a Happiness Trap. Defining your version of happiness is just the place to start.

How To Avoid A Happiness Trap

Forming your ideas about happiness might seem like a vague thing to do, but the most stable kind of happiness is the one you create from within. Luckily, no one is more qualified than you to say what will make you happy. The more belief you have in your ideas, the less you will fall victim to the ideas found in your Happiness Trap. If you struggle with where to begin, try the following:


Learn Who You Are

A lot of how we think about ourselves comes from other people. Our parents, friends, teachers, and bosses shape our perception of what we think we should and should not be. Because of this, you might be surprised to learn that a lot of the beliefs you have about happiness come from those around you. One way to start drawing the line between your truth, and someone else's, is to spend some time learning about yourself.

There are many ways to discover who you are, such as:

  • Journaling
  • Completing a personal inventory
  • Creating art
  • Meditating
  • Finding/committing to your interests
  • Making a list of priorities
  • Setting aside time for something you love
  • Talking with a therapist (like those available through Betterhelp)

The goal in all these methods is to connect with who you are when no one else's voice interrupts your own. Once you get a firm idea of who you are, you can start to decide what happiness looks like to you. With a solid personal definition of happiness, the myths of your Happiness Trap won't speak as loudly.

Allow Yourself To Change

Everything changes and that includes you. Tomorrow you will be different than who you are today, in one year you will change even more. Just because you learn who you are now, it does not mean you are stuck being that person forever. If you change but keep trying to work your happiness around the person you were in the past, your Happiness Trap might rear its ugly head.

This means that the process of self-discovery is more than a one-time event. You should always be trying to find new and exciting things that make you, you. The less of a box you put yourself in, the less limiting your ideas of happiness will be.

Take Time For Yourself

Setting time aside often for yourself is key in avoiding your Happiness Trap. In the little moments we spend with ourselves we find peace and rejuvenation. Everyone recharges in their way, and while some people need long, quiet retreats, even just a few moments each day goes a long way. To find little moments with yourself try:


  • Reading a book
  • Listening to music
  • Meditating
  • Enjoying a meal alone
  • Listening to audiobooks/podcasts
  • Taking a short walk
  • Yoga
  • Sitting alone
  • Relaxing in the way that best fits you

The more time you spend with yourself, the easier it will be to follow your voice. As your inner voice gets stronger and more confident, your ideas about your happiness will be stronger and more confident too. This goes hand in hand with learning about who you are. Both are necessary to build your own beliefs successfully.

Create Your Environment

Because happiness is one of those things that are so easily influenced by other people and our surroundings, it is important to find an environment that genuinely complements who you are. When you find a social circle or physical space that speaks to you, you become free to express your definition of happiness.

Finding your place can be hard. It is easy to settle on a group of friends because they have been around for a long time, or because they are nearby. It is also easy to stay stuck in a particular physical space out of obligation, fear, or contentment. But, the more your space aligns with your individual beliefs, the easier it becomes to exist on a level that does not challenge your definition of happiness. This leaves you less likely to be tricked by your Happiness Trap and more likely to hold onto your happiness within.

Fight Negativity

Negativity comes in many forms. Sometimes it is from external sources like people around us who have poor attitudes or who hurt us. Other times, it might stem from our worries about personal situations we have little control over. Eliminating external sources of negativity requires setting boundaries and advocating for yourself. Think of boundaries like a firm brick wall between who you are, and the negative influences that affect you.

While external influences like these are a major source of negativity in our lives, we often do not realize just how much negativity comes from within too. We all have a voice that lives inside our head. It tells us what we can and can't do, who we are, and helps us understand our place in the world. This voice is often programmed for negativity. We are constantly scanning situations to find why we do not fit in, why we are not good enough, or why we will not succeed. These negative thoughts must be challenged too.


Setting boundaries with external influences and challenging your internal negative thoughts helps you replace triggers for unhappiness and negativity with opportunities for happiness. The less space you give the former, the more the latter is your truth. Happiness and unhappiness have a hard time co-existing in the same space. In fact, unhappiness often likes to inhabit the same emotional space as guilt, doubt, and obligation-all feelings which fuel ideas found in many peoples Happiness Trap. The negativity in your life should be kept in check to avoid the thoughts that stir your Happiness Trap.

WARNING: Your Happiness Trap Might Fight Back

Avoiding your Happiness Trap is not something that only happens one time. You should always be aware of signs that your Happiness Trap is trying to fight back. Changing beliefs is a difficult process, with lots of ups and downs. Just because it is hard to leave behind the thoughts you have long-associated with happiness; it does not mean it is impossible. If you find your false ideas about happiness creeping into your thoughts, stop and confront them in your mind. Challenge them, and do not forget about all the work you are doing to silence them forever.

Everyone's Happiness Trap is different, but you can find yours when you think about any rigid ideas you have about happiness. Replacing those beliefs with your definition and providing lots of opportunities for your definition of happiness to shine through, is key to avoiding the Trap in the first place. Creating your definition of happiness might be challenging, but if you can find yourself, spend time with yourself, discover your place, and shut the door on negativity, your ideas about happiness will be the ones that ring true.

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