How to Express Yourself Better: The Happiness Trap

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Untamed" by Glennon Doyle. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you struggle to express your emotions? How can expressing yourself better improve your life?

Author Glennon Doyle asserts that you are taught by society not to feel anything, to avoid emotion and pain at all costs. Numbing yourself keeps you in captivity, but you can evolve and challenge the status quo when you break free of this conditioning.

Read on to learn more about society’s impact on emotions and how to express yourself better in daily life.

Embracing Emotion and Growing

Doyle’s determination to feel it all without fear was crucial for her recovery. As she became sober, she felt all of her emotions without anything to numb the pain, but she realized that feeling these emotions did not destroy her. (Shortform note: In giving up her coping mechanisms, Doyle was able to clearly see her resilience—a common, and uplifting, experience for people in addiction recovery. In We Are The Luckiest, Laura McKowen writes that she feels lucky to have struggled with addiction because recovery allowed her to know what she was capable of.)

A woman Doyle met at her AA group encouraged her and helped her realize that it’s not wrong to experience painful emotions; happiness is not the goal of life. Rather, embracing all of your emotions should be your objective when learning how to express yourself better. The realization that she should feel negative emotions was a revelation for Doyle: It contradicted long-held beliefs that she was always supposed to feel happy and that feeling negative emotions meant something was wrong with her. 

Falling Into the Happiness Trap

Like Doyle, you may feel weighed down by the expectation that you are always supposed to feel happy. Research suggests that there’s a reason that you feel burdened by this expectation—you’re not wired to feel happy all the time

In The Happiness Trap, Russ Harris explains that humans are actually wired for survival—detecting and avoiding threats, prioritizing group acceptance, and constantly seeking to improve their circumstances. Happiness is not our natural state. When you try to be happy all the time, you engage in a constant fight against your evolutionary inclinations. The futility of this endeavor creates a “happiness trap”: Your quest for happiness makes you more unhappy in the long term.

By avoiding pain, Doyle had stopped progressing and had limited her potential. She became stronger when she faced these painful emotions and didn’t look away. She realized that she could use painful emotions to grow and evolve—to become truly alive. Doyle defines being “alive” as constantly evolving into a more authentic and fully-formed version of yourself. She believes your emotions will provide all the instructions you need when learning how to express yourself betterand the most challenging emotions are often the most instructive. 

(Shortform note: Doyle’s post-rehab growth is a common experience—many people experience positive psychological change, which experts call Post-Traumatic Growth, after a hardship or trauma. This phenomenon occurs because enduring a life-altering event can suddenly force you to consider your relationships, who you are, and your place in the world.) 

Expressing Yourself Better: Difficult Emotions

  • Anger can reveal your core beliefs. When you get angry, it is a sign that someone has challenged your deeply held beliefs about yourself or the world.
  • Heartbreak can guide you toward purpose and activism. The issues that break your heart are the causes you should become more involved in. (We will explore this further in the next section.)
  • Grief requires you to let go of a previous way of life you can’t return to. Grief becomes an opportunity for rebirth. 
How Positive Emotions Can Be Instructive

Doyle says that negative emotions can be the most instructive, but in Positivity, author Barbara Fredrickson argues that good emotions do a much better job at broadening your mind and teaching you important truths.
Fredrickson says that positive emotions don’t just make you feel good. They can widen your sense of possibility, change your perspectives, and lead to new thoughts and actions. She explains that even small experiences with positive emotions can prompt these effects by increasing dopamine levels in your brain. This increase leads to creativity and openness to new experiences. On the other hand, negative emotions lower your dopamine levels. While negative emotions might be useful for assessing your purpose, letting go of your old habits, and identifying core beliefs, Fredrickson says that they limit the ways you can engage in new thoughts and actions

Fredrickson suggests that learning how to express yourself better involves adhering to the 3-1 ratio: For every one negative emotion you feel, engage with three positive emotions. This ratio will allow you to focus more intentionally on dopamine-boosting positive emotions and what they have to teach you. 
How to Express Yourself Better: The Happiness Trap

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Glennon Doyle's "Untamed" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Untamed summary :

  • Glennon Doyle's story of freeing herself from society's rules and expectations
  • Why you should rebuild your life using emotion, intuition, and imagination
  • A look at how young women are taught to repress their emotions and desires

Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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