Have you ever heard of the fear of happiness? When I’ve come across this phenomenon for the first time, I was STUNNED. I couldn’t even suppose it was possible. I was so confused, wondering why someone could be afraid of the most desirable thing in the world – happiness- the thing that so many people chase after and the modern society is so obsessed about. Yet, I was the one who subconsciously was afraid of it.
Usually, an individual who suffers from the fear of happiness might, for instance, experience anxiety at the thought of going to a joyful social gathering or event, reject opportunities that may lead to positive life changes, and refuse to engage in activities that are considered fun. Even laughing and letting one’s own hair down occur rarely.
It’s common to have conscious or subconscious beliefs that tend to restrict one’s actions and emotional state, since they perceive happiness as something negative or a cause of negative consequences. Such beliefs may include:
• Being happy means something bad will happen to me.
• Happiness makes me a bad or worse person.
• Showing that I am happy is bad for me or for my friends and family.
• Trying to be happy is a waste of time and effort.
• I prefer not to be too joyful, because usually joy is followed by sadness.
• Disasters often follow good fortune.
• Excessive joy has some bad consequences.
I myself used to think that after every joyful moment, the sadness would follow in order to restore the balance. Thus, at times, I used to choose not to laugh and not to celebrate my accomplishments. I used to expect bad things to happen.
The causes behind the fear itself lie in our childhood, where it’s likely that a child version of ourselves has learnt that it wasn’t either good or safe to be joyful and happy. An example of such can be a parent, a sibling or a relative that had serious health problems, so the entire household was focused on that person’s sufferings and medical treatment. This may have led the healthy habitats to the feeling of guilt every time they feel joyful. The possible thoughts they may have are: ”I am such a bad person! How can I be happy right now, when _____ is sick/suffering?’.
It does not necessarily have to be health issues. In fact, it could be anything a parent or a caregiver was unhappy about – problems with money, unhappy marriage, divorce: anything. Seeing someone around us unhappy in the long term, as a child, may result in us identifying with them and becoming more cautious about the contentment.
The root of this fear can be different for everyone, those are the restrictions which have been imposed on us by ourselves or someone we know. The core of the issue is that we are convinced it’s not GOOD or SAFE to be happy.
Since we know the core of the issue, we can convince ourselves of the opposite. How? The most effective way is to close eyes, imagine the younger version of ourselves (at the age of 6, for example), and to talk to that little inner child we have. We can have a dialogue between our grown-up self and our childhood self, in which we can kindly explain that it is okay and safe now to be joyful, enjoy life and express our contentment. Let the conversation be supportive, loving and liberating. You can say to your inner child anything you’ve ever wanted and needed to hear. Once it’s done, little by little, a part of ourselves will be becoming less fearful, more playful and light.
Given that we are now aware of the fear of happiness, I’d like to draw your attention to everyday life, to the news we absorb and how it affects our mental health. I believe that if there is a great amount of unpleasant news about the virus, climate change, deaths and violence; our minds become so pre-occupied with the problems of the world that, eventually, there might be no space for our own inner world. How can I be happy right now, when there are people dying? How can I be happy when there is so much violence? How can I be happy when the climate is changing drastically? Those issues are indeed important, yet we shouldn’t restrict ourselves in experiencing joy and happiness on a daily basis. Neither should we feel guilty of relaxing and having fun. It is not selfish to take care of ourselves. It is necessary, so that we can be more resilient and energetic, and continue changing the world for the better.
3. ‘The child in you: The breakthrough method for bringing out your authentic self’ by Stefanie Stahl