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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Happiness Is a Trap


I imagine this post will go over like a wet fart on a long run.


I recently watched an episode of Rick and Morty in which an individual described his perspective on happiness—one with which I partially agree. The season seven, episode ten (“Fear No Mort”) character stated:


Happiness is a trap. It can’t last forever. Let’s say you meet the love of your life, well, it’s still gonna end. It’s inevitable! Whether by the slow pull of a disease, or the shock of loose footing on a hiking trail. Whether it be the corrosion of two personalities that reshape each other until they’re incompatible, or maybe the old stranger in a bar who says the things that need to be said to that person, that night. The point is…happiness always ends. Best case scenario, think about this, best case is that you die at the same time. Yikes!


I suspect that learning of a psychotherapist who partially concurs with the notion that happiness is a trap isn’t appealing to the average reader. After all, there’s an absurd notion I’ve heard, far too often than I care to recall, which maintains that the end goal of mental health is happiness.


By “happiness,” I’m referring to the positive or pleasant state of intense joy or a pleasurable experience. This is different than contentment which is simply the experience of satisfaction with one’s possessions, status, or situation.


For instance, one may experience pleasure through sexual intercourse and joy when the product of sexual activity results in the birth of a newborn child. These pleasurable and joyous states are transient, though people tend to seek them as though these elements are destinations (e.g., the pursuit of happiness).


On the other hand, one may be content in life with not having too many or too few possessions, having attained a reasonable degree of success, or merely by not enduring unexpected and prolonged suffering (i.e., not being joyful, fearful, angry, sorrowful, or disgusted though pleased with neutrality).


Unlike the pursuit of happiness, contentment is more frequently occurring and is an experience that can last longer than happiness. Understandably, my interpretation of these terms is subjective and the reader is free to disagree.


Nonetheless, I think the words we use matter. This is why I’ve outlined the difference between happiness and contentment herein. It’s also why I partially concur with the character depicted in “Fear No Mort.”


In the character’s provided example of an intimate partner relationship, an obvious best case scenario is to die with one’s love interest and at the exact same time. I suspect that for many people this option is preferable to cancer, sudden death of a romantic partner, growing apart, or infidelity.


Still, I imagine it isn’t too often that newly-formed intimate relational partners consider that sudden expiration at the same time is perhaps the most desirable outcome to the relationship. Rather, I find that people trap themselves with the allure of perpetual happiness modern romance offers.


Going on lavish vacations, wining and dining at fancy restaurants, capturing moments of joy and pleasure for the sake of social media content creation, or having a topic about which one may boast to others is the road taken in pursuit of happiness. Here, happiness is the bait and irrational beliefs serve as snares.


Demandingness in the form of a should, must, or ought-type statement creates one type of trap. As an example, person 1 may believe, “I shouldn’t stay in a relationship if I’m unhappy, not having my desires fulfilled and needs met.”


Rather than using a good enough standard, person 1 will self-disturb with use of a demand for another person to create happiness for him. The irrational belief is the trap and happiness is merely the bait.


Another pitfall relates to awfulizing. For instance, person 2 may believe, “It would be awful to remain with someone who can’t make me happy; therefore, I’m leaving.”


Instead of admitting truth—that no one other than you is responsible for your emotions—person 2 will upset herself with irrationality. Here, the trap and bait interplay may lead to unpleasant emotional and behavioral consequences.


An additional entanglement occurs with use of low frustration tolerance (i.e., I-can’t-stand-it narratives). In this case, person 3 believes, “I can’t stand the thought of being unhappy with my partner, let alone actually staying with this person.”


Unwilling to use a practical perspective, person 3 disturbs himself by believing he’s literally unable to tolerate and accept his partner’s imperfect nature. This belief-consequence connection relates to the bait and trap correlation of self-induced misery.


Yet another trick the mind plays is through use of global evaluations. As an example, person 4 may believe, “Since I haven’t sustained happiness in any of my relationships so far, all romantic exploits are destined to fail!”


Overgeneralizing of this nature is how person 4 inaccurately convinces herself that every possible relationship she enters is destined to fail, possibly establishing a self-fulfilling prophecy. Her irrational belief creates metaphorical quicksand upon which the bait of happiness rests.


In “Fear No Mort,” an individual described his perspective on happiness—one with which I only partially agree—as he stated, “Happiness is a trap.” Rather than fully endorsing his framing of the matter, I argue that irrationality is the trap and the notion of happiness is merely the bait.


Although I’ve chosen to expand upon matters relating to intimate partner relationships herein, similar self-disturbing snares are used with other matters within life. Once you understand what bait is being used, and how the trap functions, you can bypass ensnarement altogether.


For the record, I don’t think there’s anything bad, wrong, or otherwise with the pursuit of happiness. It may be a worthwhile endeavor for some people to continuously chase the proverbial carrot dangling from a string at the end of a stick.


Quite often, I find that rather than actually capturing that carrot, people upset themselves with their beliefs about happiness. In these instances, they wind up beating themselves with the stick and creating an outright unpleasant situation. They have the right to abuse themselves in such a way.


However, for those people with whom I practice Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I introduce the achievable aim of contentment in life. If they go on to attain happiness thereafter, and that fleeting experience inevitably dissolves, they at least return to a baseline that isn’t within the realm of despair.


If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.


As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.


At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!



Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


Adult Swim screen capture, fair use




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