Do you suffer from a fear of happiness?
Now, that may seem like an odd question but it makes a lot of sense. Sometimes, we fear happiness because we don’t think we deserve it, or because we chalk it up to being something for those “other people”—the ones who “have it all” or so we think. A fear of happiness may also be a residual effect of systemic trauma and abuse, which subversively sends us messages to say we don’t deserve happiness. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for someone to feel unworthy of love, joy, serenity, wellness, and safety when they enter recovery. It takes a community of consistent support, via clinicians, peers, and family to be able to transform the attachment to misery.
It’s easy to get stuck in what is familiar and therefore comfortable. Conversely, it’s incredibly difficult to confront that perceived comfort to ask yourself if you deserve better. According to a recent article in Scientific American, Paul Gilbert, a psychiatrist at Kingsway Hospital in England, and his colleagues found that “a fear of happiness correlates highly with depression—but that the dread manifests in numerous ways.” Paul Gilbert goes on to say, “Some people experience happiness as being relaxed or even lazy, as if happiness is frivolous and one must always be striving; others feel uncomfortable if they are not always worrying. It is not uncommon for people to fear that if they are happy about something, it will be taken away.” Research is showing that there is a correlation between a fear of happiness and a decline in mental health. Avoiding happiness can lead to depression. Findings have shown individuals with a major depressive disorder are apt to repress any emotions associated with positive or negative stimulus more than a healthy subject would.
One of the interesting things I’m seeing in this research is the urging for clinicians and clients to work through the fear of happiness as they would any other fear. Much like anything else you are afraid of, overcoming that fear takes a process of taking consistent baby steps. In the case of happiness, learning how to experience glints of happiness and or moments of pleasant emotions is an essential component in finally discovering the ability to be happy.
I also want to acknowledge there are some who view happiness as a luxury—something for those who don’t have as much to suffer from. This is particularly the case when happiness is directly associated with “stuff,” ie., having a smart phone, a fancy car, that guy or that girl, the “right” clothes, or being part of the popular crowd. When we attach happiness to things, what we may find instead is disappointment. Here, happiness isn’t so much feared as it is resented. Working on that resentment is a different process and one that still requires unpeeling the resentment piece by piece to get to its core. The fact is, we all deserve to be happy.
How have you overcome a fear or resentment of happiness?