The pursuit of happiness has been one of our vital goals since time immemorial. It is one of the most desirable values in many cultures and has transcended different eras. Modern Western culture, in particular, emphasizes the pursuit of personal happiness (understood as a sense of life satisfaction and the preponderance of positive emotions over negative ones), so that feeling miserable is practically equivalent to existential failure. However, although it may seem strange, there are people who not only do not pursue that goal but are afraid of being happy: they suffer from cherophobia.
What is cherophobia?
Cherophobia is a term that comes from the Greek word chero (χαιρω), which means to have fun or rejoice, so it implies an irrational fear of being happy. In fact, it is a mental disorder that generates a deep rejection of fun, joy or bliss.
This phobia encompasses a series of symptoms and attitudes that make the person avoid, whether consciously or unconsciously, those positive situations and experiences that give pleasure, well-being or fun and that others would strive to seek and enjoy.
Those who suffer from this disorder usually believe that “being happy is bad” or that “trying to be happy is a waste of time and energy.” The recurrence of these thoughts ends up generating an intense rejection of happiness.
The 4 beliefs that support the fear of happiness
After analyzing the cultural differences between people who suffer from cherophobia, psychologist Mohsen Joshanloo and philosopher Dan Weijers identified four causes underlying this aversion to happiness:
1. Belief that happiness will trigger negative events, as if being happy generated a kind of negative counterpart. In fact, this idea is particularly rooted in Taoist cultures in which it is thought that, since everything must be in balance, excess pleasure and joy will end up producing deep sadness and great misfortunes.
2. Thinking that someone who is happy will become a bad person, an idea that fundamentally comes from Judeo-Christian beliefs since in the past it was understood that excess of leisure and happiness distanced people from the faith. The cross-cultural myth that unlucky people are more creative, serious or profound has also contributed to spreading this belief.
3. Exhibiting happiness is bad, especially when it is linked to success since it can generate envy or resentment in others, so that in the long run it ends up fostering negative feelings and even giving rise to behaviors that can hinder others in an attempt to take them away what they have achieved.
4. Pursuing happiness is bad, both for those who seek it and for those around them, especially when it is obtained through immediate pleasure and the satisfaction of impulses. This idea is well established in Buddhist and collectivist cultures in which the active search for happiness is considered an individualistic or even selfish act.
On the other hand, Western societies are more likely to seek happiness and consider it an important value, trying to maximize joy and minimize sadness. In contrast, Eastern cultures tend to prioritize balance, which can make some people want to live in a neutral state of mind that leads them to avoid happiness.
In these cases, fear largely comes from the perception of happiness as an extremely fragile, unstable and fleeting state. As a result, the person will have the tendency to avoid situations that make them happy because they believe that in the end it will make them more miserable.
The psychological causes of cherophobia
Regardless of cultural and/or religious beliefs, at the base of cherophobia are often bad experiences and traumas related in some way to happiness, whether they occurred in childhood or during adulthood. It is likely that these people have established a connection between being happy and the adverse situations or negative moods they experienced, so they prefer to avoid it.
It has also been found that fear of happiness is more common in those who have developed an anxious and avoidant attachment style, according to a study conducted at Keimyung University. In these cases, reluctance to happiness may arise from personal insecurity and difficulties in establishing mature and satisfying relationships with others, which leads them to be convinced that they cannot be happy.
However, in a general sense the seed of cherophobia is planted when the feeling of guilt appears in the face of enjoyment, when you hear that inner voice that disapproves happiness because it is equated with a waste of time, considers that it is not serious or is not something that you are “allowed” to enjoy. In fact, there are people who refuse to be happy because they believe they don’t deserve it.
Feeling guilty for experiencing pleasure is usually a common reaction in extremely responsible, perfectionist and self-demanding people. They believe that leisure is a luxury, so they are often ashamed of enjoying themselves and deny themselves the possibility of being happy.
How to learn to enjoy life?
People with cherophobia live in a state of constant tension, monitoring reality so as not to “be too happy.” Their main objective is to live in a neutral way to avoid an “overdose of happiness” and all the bad things that it could entail.
The key to dealing with this phobia begins by taking note of the problem. It is important that you realize that you are preventing yourself from being happy and that you are putting up obstacles every step of the way to limit your ability to enjoy life.
It is also essential that you delve into possible traumas that may have triggered that fear or that you explore dysfunctional learning patterns and beliefs that are feeding that fear.
When you detect the thoughts that prevent you from being happy, you must put more objective, rational and adaptive beliefs in their place. For example, you can change the idea “I don’t deserve to be happy” to “I deserve to feel as good as everyone else.”
Of course, the pursuit of happiness cannot become an obsession, but you should also not deny yourself the possibility of feeling satisfied or expressing joy. After all, happiness brings many more benefits than sadness or apathy. The key is to find an adaptive balance that promotes well-being and protects your mental health, so that you can experience the entire emotional range depending on the circumstances, without shying away from anything and without getting stuck in anything.
Joshanloo, M. (2018) Fear and fragility of happiness as mediators of the relationship between insecure attachment and subjective well-being. Personality and Individual Differences; 115-118.
Joshanloo, M. & Weijers, D. (2014) Aversion to Happiness Across Cultures: A Review of Where and Why People are Averse to Happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies; 15: 717–735.