Are you Experiencing “Happychondria”?
Happiness feels so natural and normal to us, yet we often relate to happiness as something special, odd, lucky, a bonus, or a win. Instead of greeting happiness with open arms, as we would a dear and intimate friend, we shy away from it . . . our thoughts full of suspicion, doubt, cynicism, and fear—“waiting for the fall.”
Clearly, we want happiness, but we don’t trust it. Certainly, we allow ourselves trickles of delight every now and then, but when the experience of happiness is more vivid, real, and long term, we’re often racked with self-doubt and thrown about by our fears.
We doubt happiness as much as we doubt ourselves. In short, we’re afraid of happiness.
The greatest irony is that we’re actually afraid of everything we like. For instance, according to fear, success will corrupt you, money is the root of all evil, fame will ruin you, love makes you blind, happiness is selfish, and retirement will be the death of you. Strangely, that which we most desire frightens us the most.
“Happychondria” is the term I use to describe the fear of happiness, and, in particular, the utterly morbid superstitions we’ve gathered and placed before happiness. Happiness is so natural to our unconditioned Self, yet our conditioning has somehow taught us to cloud our experience of happiness with endless misperceptions, fearful beliefs, false prerequisites, and unnecessary dogma.
The next time you experience genuine happiness, watch your thoughts awhile and see how unconditional you can be in your acceptance of it. Notice, for instance, how your unconditioned Self greets this happiness so wholeheartedly, full of love and deep gratitude.
Watch, also, though, how your conditioned self is tempted to question your happiness, to control it in some way, to hold it at arm’s length, or to tighten the grip for fear the happiness might fly away.
Have you ever noticed that when you’re happy, you think highly fearful conditioned thoughts such as “Watch out for the fall,” “What did I do to deserve this?” and “This is too good to be true”? Keep looking and you may also notice other fears such as “What have I forgotten?” “This can’t last,” “What’s the catch?” “Maybe I’ve left the stove on,” “I’ll have to pay for this,” “Unbelievable,” “Did I lock the back door?” “All good things must come to an end,” “There will be tears before bedtime,” and more. Take a moment, before reading on, and add to this list if you can. Awareness of these fearful, limiting thoughts (plus a big smile!) is an important step to undoing them and outgrowing them.
When happiness occurs, we experience a mix of great gratitude and nagging self-doubt.
Fear’s advice is: When happy, hide it. We’re afraid to show our happiness for fear of being thought of as conceited, selfish, juvenile, or an irresponsible airhead, perhaps. We especially fear that too much happiness will endanger our professional status. Many people work in highly fearful, uncreative cultures, in which appearing to be happy twice in one week is definitely not good for the career.
We somehow have it wired up in our conditioned thinking that happiness is blasphemy. We fear that if we’re too happy, then we’ll somehow upset others, draw envy, and invite rejection. We’ve come to believe that the moment we step out of “not-so badderitis” territory, we’ll be hated and persecuted for our happiness.
Not only have we learned to feel very afraid when we’re happy, but we’ve also learned to feel very guilty. Too much happiness— far from being seen as a gift for all—is targeted as an enemy that will lead to hedonism, a lack of moral restraint, a collapse of values, an absence of order or control, and the death of the world. It’s as if we’ve learned to believe that happiness reveals an innate “badness” rather than our natural, unconditioned goodness.
Furthermore, there’s an implied fear that, if there’s too little suffering, the world won’t be able to work as it is! We’ve also been taught to believe that while the gods will tolerate occasional happiness, anything over half an hour or so will evoke high payment at least and terrible wrath at worst! Fate is also a real killjoy, it seems. Hence, when happy, we keep our fingers crossed, hold our breath, avoid walking under ladders, and look out for black cats.
The fear of happiness has been passed down from generation to generation, each one carefully elaborating on the myths, superstitions, and trickery that went before. We too have played our part, so that now, according to “happychondria,” happiness no longer begets happiness; rather, it merely heralds the onset of further suffering. No wonder we’ve learned to be afraid of happiness.
Robert Holden Ph.D.’s innovative work on psychology and spirituality has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, a PBS show called Shift Happens! and a major BBC documentary called How to Be Happy, shown in 20 countries to over 30 million television viewers.