When you ask someone what their greatest fear is, the responses usually range from the seemingly silly, like clowns, to the fairly common, like drowning. Some of our fears go even deeper . In 2018, Chapman University asked 1, 190 adults from the United States about their level of fear about “ninety-four different phenomena.”
The top fear was corrupt government officials, followed by pollution of oceans, rivers, and lakes, pollution of drinking water, and not having enough money for the future. While these very real fears are absolutely part of our lives, there is one fear we never really consider, one that makes us incredibly vulnerable: happiness.
When you truly allow yourself to feel joy, positivity, and anticipation of good things to come, you leave yourself open to disappointment, being let down, being left hurt, and broken.
Keeping Yourself From Happiness Will Not Prevent Grief
My mom used to watch Oprah every single day when I returned home from school; basically I was raised on Super Soul Sessions and “you get a car, you get a car, you get a car, everybody gets carrrrrrs!”
One episode in particular has always stuck out to me and I barely remember it, but the lesson is ingrained in my mind. A man whose wife died talked about never allowing himself to feel joy while she was alive in case something bad happened. However, when she died, he experienced grief anyways, and regretted not allowing himself to feel joy when he could. Keeping yourself from feeling true happiness will do nothing to take away the pain when bad things happen, as they inevitably do on the roller-coaster that is life.
Disappointing Life Experiences Can Make Us Fear Happiness
In the Psychology Today article, “Is Fear Of Happiness Real,” Peter Lambrou, Ph. D., writes about a client of his. He writes, “Some years ago, while working with a client named Sarah on anxiety related to her work, and exploring what brought her happiness, she remarked, ‘I’m afraid to really feel happy.’ I was surprised at her comment. I asked, ‘What are you afraid will happen if you feel happy?’ This competent and intelligent middle-aged woman said that throughout her life, whenever she became jubilant or joyful, “the other shoe fell,” and something unpleasant, disappointing, or painful seemed to follow in short order. I explored with her how she might be having selective perception and was noticing negative events out of negative expectation, rather than from a direct cause and effect in which feeling happy caused the subsequent bad events to occur.”
Our life experiences can condition us to expect bad things to happen when things seem to be going well. The “too good to be true” concept comes to mind.
An Irrational Fear Of Happiness
After my son was stillborn in March, I got pregnant again just a couple of months later. I was 18 weeks when we had the ultrasound and found out our boy didn’t have a heartbeat anymore. In my current pregnancy I’m now 17 weeks and 2 days, and it’s the most nervous I’ve been to date.
I’m 17 weeks pregnant, about to go on vacation to Italy with my kind, loving husband. I live in a beautiful country, all my needs are met. And yet, I’m terrified to allow myself to just relax into this feeling of pure joy and optimism about what the future holds.
Apparently, there is a word for people who have an irrational fear of being happy, it’s called “cherophobia.” People with this phobia are scared that if they allow themselves to be hopeful and happy, that something horrible will happen.
Healthline lists some of the symptoms of cherophobia as:
-Thinking that trying to be happy is a waste of time
-Thinking being happy means something bad will happen
-Refusing to participate in fun activities
While most of us do not fear happiness to this extent, a lot of people still feel a sense of anxiety when things seem to be going “too well.” We leave ourselves vulnerable to life itself when we feel peace and contentment; we leave ourselves open to what could possibly happen that is out of our control.
The Power Of Vulnerability
Brene Brown, one of the most popular experts on vulnerability, writes in her book “Daring Greatly,” “Scarcity and fear drive foreboding joy. We’re afraid that the feeling of joy won’t last, or that there won’t be enough, or that the transition to disappointment (or whatever is in store for us next) will be too difficult. We’ve learned that giving in to joy is, at best, setting ourselves up for disappointment and, at worst, inviting disaster.”
Biologically, we’re inclined to look for danger; this goes back to our cavemen days. Our natural state is to look for danger or in more modern times, to focus on negativity.
To allow ourselves to feel happy is to make ourselves completely vulnerable. We become vulnerable to heartbreak, negative events, disappointment, and sadness.
However, the only way to experience true happiness and joy is to leave ourselves open to the opposite. It’s impossible to go through life without bad things happening; none of us can escape this. Keeping yourself from the positive will not prevent the negative.
Allow yourself to feel happy because if and when something bad does happen, you’ll have those memories to lean on. You’ll be able to see that there is still beauty in the world, even when things seem dark.