The 5 Major Mind Traps that Hinder Happiness

These roadblocks keep us stuck in the depression loop: caught up in negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as the brain anxiously rehashes past events and simultaneously rehearses a hopeless, catastrophic future. Here are some ways to avoid falling into these traps.

pogonici/Dollar Photo Club

These voices keep us stuck in the depression loop. One of the keys to cultivating an antidepressant brain is realizing you are not these thoughts or the stories they tell. Here are some ways to avoid falling into these traps.


Whenever you hear advice about how to work with challenges you have, you might notice the voice of doubt: “This might work for some people, but it’s probably not going to work for me.” The motive of this voice is to keep us safe from failure or disappointment, but ultimately it keeps us away from new experiences that can be supportive.


Longing to be elsewhere, our minds settle on the belief that the current moment is never enough, we’re not enough, or we can’t do enough, it’s all so empty. The problem with this kind of thinking: When the awaited event does occur, happiness may not come with it. This motive of trying to fix the current moment leaves you in a perpetual cycle of dissatisfaction.

By focusing on the idea that you’re not where you “should be,” your brain is constantly reinforcing the message that something is wrong with you, which then highlights a gap of deficiency that only grows wider as it tries harder. The root problem is not what you don’t have, but the fact that you really don’t feel whole or complete.


Someone might be walking down the hallway at work humming his favorite tune, and thoughts come up: “Does he think everyone wants to hear him? Uh, what is he so happy about anyway?”

Meanwhile, who’s suffering? We’re the ones in pain, but our brains think if we project our irritation onto another person, we’ll find relief from the pain. If these voices continue to come up in our relationships and aren’t discussed, the feelings turn into resentment that inevitably eats away at the relationship like a cancer. But voices of irritation can alert us that something isn’t right and, with awareness, we can use this information to be constructive.


Have you ever had the idea to do something that’s good for you—hang out with friends, exercise, meditate—but you hear this voice: “I want to do it, but I’m too tired. I’ll do it tomorrow.”

If we’re actually tired—maybe we haven’t slept enough or had an exceptionally taxing day—we need to listen to our bodies and rest. At other times, these sluggish voices are just another sign we’re avoiding being with ourselves because we fear that it will be uncomfortable. If we can recognize it, we can face it and when we can face it, we can work with it and break free.


These days our brains are being trained to be noisier, busier, and more distracted. You’re sitting alone waiting for a drink. Your eye catches your phone: “I wonder if I received any new messages. Nope, not one since a minute ago. What about Facebook, anything there? Some new updates, not that interesting. Twitter? Ah, that’s an interesting tweet. I wonder when the drink is going to come?”

When there’s a space empty of doing, restless voices rise up. We feel compelled to fill the spaces, but we don’t realize that in these empty spaces, we have a choice between doing and being; it’s where possibility and opportunity emerge, and where there is a chance to make changes for the better.

From Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion. Reprinted by arrangement with Atria Books, Copyright © 2015 Elisha Goldstein.
This sidebar is part of a larger article titled “Uncovering Happiness” that also appeared in the April 2015 issue of Mindful magazine.
Subscribe to support Mindful.