Have you ever had a run of good luck that left you feeling unsettled? A fear that everything seems too good to be true, and disaster is just around the corner?
While most of us experience this feeling from time to time, some people simply cannot get over it. They actively avoid the good feelings to circumvent the bad.
This phobia is known as Cherophobia — the fear of happiness.
Cherophobia comes from the Greek word “Chairo,” which means “I rejoice.” With the suffix, the literal translation becomes a fear of rejoicing or happiness. Cherophobia isn’t listed in the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), but is classified by mental health professionals as a form of anxiety.
Symptoms include dreading social gatherings, rejecting promising work or life opportunities, believing that showing happiness makes you a bad person, and refusing to join your friends for fun activities.
The Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology surveyed 14 national groups on the cultural notions related to happiness. They found people across groups who “endorse the belief that happiness, particularly an immoderate degree of it, should be avoided.” One theory surrounding the cause of this condition can be traced back to early childhood.
This theory suggests that experiences in childhood can create a link between pleasure and pain, which then becomes intrinsically linked in the brain. People with Cherophobia may believe that something painful must always follow something pleasurable.
For example, having too much fun with friends perhaps resulted in a spell in the principal’s office. Or maybe revealing a first crush to a sibling was met with ridicule. The loop is formed at an early age and persists as the sufferer ages.
Cherophobia, like any irrational fear, is a habit of thought that can be re-progammed in the mind. With hard work and repetition, new neural pathways can be formed. One study suggests that retraining your brain could take as little as 12 weeks, though it varies from person to person.
When “don’t worry, be happy” doesn’t cut it, one must look for the root of the problem. If Cherophobia is holding you back, the good news is it doesn’t need to.
A good therapist will be familiar with this condition and can help you get back on track. Because everyone deserves to be happy — yes, even you.