The Happiness Trap
by Brenda Shoshanna, Ph.d.

Most of us base our lives around the desire for happiness. This is the ultimate craving that rules our days. Our actions are based upon the wish to feel good, not only about ourselves but everything connected our lives. The question we unconsciously ask before we undertake anything is will it bring me success, profit, connection, friends or a good name? Will I feel a thrill as a result of what I do? Will it fill me with joy and pleasure?

This is not to say there is anything wrong with any of those outcomes, but as a driving force for our lives, as a foundation upon which we stand, this kind of happiness crumbles easily. It is based upon outcomes and circumstances, which are always fleeting. So much of our upset, anger and discouragement comes when, to our dismay, the results of our actions do not bring happiness at all. A relationship we cater to turns sour, intense efforts bear no fruit, the physical regime we’ve been on for good health, brings illness instead. We lose weight only to gain twice as much soon after. Everything seems to be going wrong. The operative word here is “seems”.

It is not unwanted results that are to blame for our distress. If we look deeper we can easily see that we are simply caught in the happiness trap. Addicted to our idea of happiness, nothing else will do. Everything in our world must produce happiness for us, or we decide that we’ve failed. Or, others have failed us. But what has really failed is our idea of what happiness truly is, and how it is attained. 

The great poet Kabir tells us, “A feeling here one minute and gone the next cannot be called love.” In the same vein, a feeling here one minute and gone the next cannot be called happiness. True happiness arises as a byproduct of a life well lived. It comes unbidden as a result of a different motivation, doing deeds of worth, dedicating our lives to that which is most meaningful and uplifting for all. Many times happiness arises after struggle, persistence or taking actions that are hard for us. Deep happiness, which we cannot shake off, often comes naturally as well after facing that which we have run away from, seeking temporary pleasure instead.

When my focus is not only upon myself and what’s good for me, but instead when I focus upon ways of making others happy and living according to my highest standards, happiness arises relentlessly. Happiness comes in the form of self-respect, contentment and a sense that all is well. No matter what circumstances arise they are not bothersome as the main thrust of my life is to be a beacon for love and truth. In all circumstances. No deeper happiness than that.

This is the way to easily escape our obsession with feeling good every moment and mistaking that for true happiness.


ShoshannaBrenda Shoshanna, Ph.D. is a psychologist, speaker, workshop leader and longtime Zen practitioner. She offers talks and workshops which introduce A Different Way to satisfy our hearts and make our lives full. In this Different Way we learn how to release anxiety and sadness, transform problems into adventures and become able to live fully, appreciating all aspects of our lives. Her current workshop series, Steppingstones to Happiness presents the practice of Releasing, based both on the Sedona Method and the practice and principles of Zen. A long time practitioner of releasing, Brenda was an original student of Lester Levenson. Contact her at,

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