The Fear of Happiness

The Fear of Happiness2

‘Chero-’ originates from the Greek word ‘chairo,’ or ‘to rejoice.’ Therefore, we can understand cherophobia as a ‘fear of rejoicing.’ Researchers have dug into the “why” behind cheropobia, and found that 1. It is very dependent on culture and where you live, as different cultures have very different views of happiness, and 2. It is impacted by our core personality traits. However, they outlined four leading thought processes that lead to cherophobia across all participants:

  1. “Waiting for the other shoe to drop,” or that because you’re happy, something bad is bound to happen to bring you back down to Earth. Don’t play the happiness game, and you can’t lose, right? It also feels terrifying to think of going from such a high to a low—never feeling the high can feel more appealing than the thought of losing it.

  2. Happiness makes you a bad person: seen across a wide spectrum of cultures, especially where happiness is associated with laziness, greed, gluttony. If you’re happy, you must not be working hard enough.

  3. The expression of happiness is bad for you and other people: it’s boastful, greedy, can make others feel worse in comparison.

  4. The pursuit of happiness is selfish: harming others through neglect, focusing on the self.

Honestly, I’m already bummed just writing this all down on paper. (But that’s in part because I’ve spent years rewiring my brain to fully understand that happiness is my birthright and when I’m happy I have more to give to others and my job and my family.)

These feelings manifest in several cognitive and behavioral ways. Perhaps you’re experiencing cherophobia lately, and you avoid opportunities or relationships that you suspect will make you happy because you fear the feelings that will come up for that. Or maybe you’ve recently reduced your alcohol intake and are suddenly feeling your feelings very intensely, so this fear of happiness feels even more pertinent.

When we find ourselves fearing the good—happiness, success, connection— we can return to two skills we’ve detailed at length: mindfulness and affirmation work. Mindfulness is a beautiful way to integrate happiness into our physical body, especially when it feels overwhelming or scary to do so. And through affirmation work, we can teach our brains that happiness is safe, unselfish, a worthy goal, helpful for others, and so on. Consider taking one of my favorite mantras with you, today: “Happiness is my birthright.”

Agbo, A. A., & Ngwu, C. N. (2017). Aversion to happiness and the experience of happiness: The moderating roles of personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 111, 227–231.

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Publishing.

Blanck, P., Perleth, S., Heidenreich, T., Kröger, P., Ditzen, B., Bents, H., & Mander, J. (2018). Effects of mindfulness exercises as stand-alone intervention on symptoms of anxiety and depression: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 102, 25–35.