Life isn't going the way you want it to? Are you sure you don't fear happiness?
The fear of happiness is the underlying reason for unhappy relationships and a discontent life.
Fear of height, closed spaces, spiders, even germs. But a fear of happiness? Yup. This is real, and it is more common than you think.
Some people, well a lot of people, according to psychologists, have come to fear happiness. It's not that they don't enjoy being happy or that they don't know how to be happy. They believe happiness comes at a heavy price. Their mind associates a happy event with an impending gloom—to the point that they feel nervous by the very idea of joy.
In some cases, these fears are reiterated by superstitious beliefs that anything good is followed by something bad or that the positive and negative energies need to balance out in life. Looking at happiness as a warning sign of doom can definitely make joy a terrifying emotion. Here's why you could be afraid of happiness.
1. You experience a life-altering day that turned happy to tragic
Some people are aware of the day or exact moment their mind decides to never feel inhibited joy again. For example, it might be on a day when a teenager felt incredibly happy and a great sense of belonging at a family reunion only to realize later that night that his parents are getting a divorce. Or, it could be when a sophomore had so much fun on a wild night that ended up in a disaster or a fatal loss of someone close.
2. You were told so
Many of us will recollect words from our early childhood that goes along these lines:
"Don't be too happy, you might cry tomorrow."
"Don't let this get to you, anything can happen tomorrow."
"Don't jump around too much, you might end up hurt."
"If you waste your time on the pleasures of life, you will regret later in life."
"No pain, no gain." (Which the mind correctly reinterprets as "Yes gain, yes pain.")
These statements can get so hardwired in a young child's brain that going against it causes unconscious angst, guilt, and fear. While these might seem like harmless statements, after hours of therapy, experts often find clients recollect the exact words that lie beneath their discomfort around being relaxed and content with life, which doesn't allow them to feel joy in the present moment.
3. You believe you aren't worth it
A more delibating reason involves people with a deep-seated belief that they simply aren't worth happiness. Again, this is very likely to be an unconscious belief, but a powerful one, nonetheless. Because they believe they aren't worth happiness, anytime they come across it, they begin to fear that something will happen that will snatch the joy away from them. Or worse, that because they felt a moment's pleasure, now life will punish them with something to feel horrible about.
These individuals are likely to unintentionally sabotage opportunities for better jobs, good relationships, the ideal partner, material success, and simple pleasures of life. They might complain or whine that nothing good happens to them, but they don't realize it is their own beliefs that deflects the right situations and people. When this pathological belief turns extreme, they are likely to unconsciously attract unhealthy or abusive relationships, toxic people, and untoward situations that reiterate their core belief "I don't deserve happiness."
4. You have no permission to be happy
If they grew up with authoritarian parents who emphasized performance over happiness, or with extremely unhappy or anxious parents, the underlying message they interpret from their parents' reactions are likely to be, "You cannot be happy because you didn't meet our expectations" (authoritarian parents) and "You cannot be happy when I am so unhappy" (depressed or unhappy parent/parents).
This message may never be verbalized in most cases, but children are extremely intuitive in picking the vibe around them in the house. So if a little girl is aware that her mother is always anxious to keep things in order and never allows herself to feel good or take a break when she needs it, the daughter might feel guilty to relax and have a good time. Or, if the father, who lost his business and money, turns chronically unhappy and feels miserable about what happened, his child might pick that up and feel ungrateful whenever he feels happy or content with his life. He might even feel guilty to do better professionally than his dad did and unconsciously settle for less.
How the brain works
When an individual has any of these core beliefs, the brain is likely to draw associations with parallel emotions. For example, when a person who felt happy and part of a family hears the news about his parents' divorce the same day, his brain might associate feelings of happiness and a sense of belonging with loss and loneliness. Please note that none of this is a conscious process. It's how the mind copes with loss and pain, by putting up defenses that can guard it against more such pain.
Similarly, folks with strict or abusive parents who were punished for being their carefree, happy child-selves might associate joy with guilt. This is a very common combination found in neurotic behavior and pathologies.
What can you do about it?
1. Associate joy with healthy beliefs
If the brain learns through association, it can unlearn and relearn through the same process. You can replace the link between joy and fear/guilt with healthier associations. Next time you find yourself happy, find a good thing that happened out of that joy. Maybe you got a raise; it's a sign that your work is recognized. Maybe you just woke up feeling awesome and your child or dog caught onto that and felt happy with their day. Maybe you just deserve happiness simply because you are worth it and when you feel it, you radiate joy to all those around you. Isn't that awesome? Also, remember that only those who are truly content/happy within can allow others to be happy.
2. Schedule time for pleasure
Every day, schedule a little bit of time (start with just ten minutes) to do something that makes you happy. By allowing yourself to feel simple pleasures—like enjoying a succulent fruit, or watching a funny video, or asking your loved one for a backrub—your mind begins to accept happiness as an agent for life. Not as an enemy to be feared. Also, when you treat yourself little moments of cheerfulness, you release deep-seated beliefs of poor self-worth. You deserve happiness. Period. There are no disclaimers, clauses, or reasons required.
3. Share your joy
When you feel happy, spread the joy by making someone else feel good. Joy is contagious. See something or someone beautiful? Acknowledge it with a compliment. Feeling happy for no reason? Give a stranger a warm smile. Got a raise? Buy someone (that you wouldn't normally gift) a little something that'll make their day. Maybe, you could give your neighbor some cookies. Or a generous tip for the delivery person. A hug is perfect for all occasions. Had a good day at work? Celebrate it by pouring yourself some wine or giving yourself the luxury of a bubble bath.
4. Watch out for negative self-talk
Whenever you feel lousy, nervous, or afraid of something that should be making you feel good, take a few minutes and listen to what the voice within your head. After a few minutes, the uneasy emotions will give way to the underlying thoughts to surface. It could be: "I don't feel good about this promotion." Or, "I don't think I can do a good job. What if I fail? What if I make a fool of myself?" At the end of almost every trail of thought is likely to be a self-doubting belief: "I don't deserve this or I am not worth it."
Become aware of these self-berating thoughts and understand that it is a repetitive, unconscious pattern of thinking that has no validity. Use affirmations to replace self-criticism with positive, self-talk.
5. Keep negative/toxic people away
You have the right to protect your inner and outer space from people who are unhealthy for you. Set clear boundaries that can filter out negative people, remarks, energies, and emotions from entering your personal space and psyche. It's good to be empathetic, but it is not good to be drained by others' constant need for whining or learned helplessness. If you had to grow up with parents who believe in suffering to have a good afterlife or if you believe feeling pain is a prerequisite for happiness, be firm within your head that this is NOT true for you. You are the only way through which Life can experience itself in all its delicious flavors. Give yourself and life a chance for joy.
6. Believe in abundance
Abundant health, abundant wealth, abundant friends, abundant love, abundant freedom, abundant creativity, abundant joy. There is no end to growing deeper and feeling better. A favorite analogy of mine is that the Universe is like the ocean. You might take just a glass full of water, a pitcher, or a tank full. Or, you might return with just a palmful of water that drops or dries on the way back.
The ocean is impartial and limitless. But the container you take (your capacity to receive and self-belief) determines how much you can take from the universe. If you believe you don't deserve abundance, you are right. You might have little or no space to receive and all you get is a few drops. If you believe you deserve all the good in the world, you are right, again. Once you heal and expand your inner space to receive, you can take as much as you want—whether that be joy, success, love, excitement, adventure, romance, life! It's limitless.
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