Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fear of happiness

I'm always looking to explore new ideas and new concepts.  That's the beautiful thing about the internet; you can go online with only a vague topic of interest in mind and come away having identified a whole list of related ideas you've never been exposed to.  Recently I read an article that talked about the fear of happiness.  Initially, it seemed like an oxymoron to me.  "Aren't we all striving to be happy?" I thought.  The pursuit of happiness is the driving force behind almost everything we do.  We want to be successful because we equate success with happiness.  We want to have children because we equate family with happiness.  We want to help others because we want to live a good life; we want to  live a good life because doing good things makes us happy.

The more I thought about it though the more it made sense to me.  On the surface most of us desire and seek happiness.  The fear of happiness is rarely a conscious thing.  (There is an exception to this.  Apparently, there are people who suffer from cherophobia, an irrational fear of merriment, gaiety, or joyfulness).  People who fear happiness typically do so on a subconscious level.  Things never seem to go their way and they aren't happy but if you ask them they will tell you that they want to be happy.

It seems to me that a person who fears happiness does not actually fear the feeling of being happy (with the exception of a cherophobe).  Rather, that person fears what happiness will bring with it.  For some, happiness brings with it a fear of losing the things in life that have brought about that happiness (or a general fear of losing the feeling of happiness, for whatever reason).

For some, happiness comes with increased responsibility and expectations from others.  For example, suppose a person is unhappy doing a mundane job that requires no thought or skill and offers no challenge.  That person might hesitate to apply for a job that would be more challenging and more fulfilling.  The person lacks confidence and fears failure.  Yes, he would be happier in this new job, but he would always be worried about measuring up and would be fearful about making mistakes.  Perhaps his worries and fears would consume him so much that he would become more unhappy than he was at the boring job.

Others may fear that happiness will breed laziness.  They worry that if they allow themselves to be happy where they are then they will never live up to their full potential.  They will become complacent and will lose their drive to do all they can do and to be all they can be.  These people will tell you they want to be happy but they keep setting the bar for what will make them happy higher and higher; it will always be just beyond reach.

So what do you do if your subconscious fears sabotage your efforts at happiness?  What do you do if you have achieved the goals to which you aspired but are still not content?  Start by asking yourself what you are afraid of.  Of course your conscious desire is to be happy.  However, you should not assume that having the conscious desire to be happy means that you cannot have another, subconscious desire (or fear) that is in complete conflict with your conscious desire.  They can and frequently do coexist.  (For more on this, see Eva Pierrakos' lecture No. 45 at  Once you identify what it is that you fear you simply observe the fear and any other emotions or thoughts that accompany it.  Do not try to force the fear away; your attempts would be futile and would cause more harm than anything else.  It is simply not possible to force a feeling away at will.  You might believe you have forced it away because it seems to be gone but all you've really done is covered it up.  Now you are unaware of the fear, which means it is free to come and go as it pleases without scrutiny.  If instead you observe the fear (and all that comes with it) without judgment, over time you will find that it diminishes on its own.


  1. How wisely written, as always. I frequently experience the tugs-of-war of this duo when it comes to my own work; the minute a motion in one direction is attempted, there is an equally strong desire to pull back. Yet, these two parts may in the end desire the same outcome if one were to look deeply...

  2. My son loves his fiance, life, family, and job and has recently developed an overwhelming fear that when he dies, he will no longer have everyone in his life that he holds dear. This has overtaken his life so much that it could lead to losing the things that brought him this happiness before he dies. I don't know how to "snap" him out of this. He doesn't want to do things, he has always had trouble sleeping (even before this overtook his life), and has trouble concentrating at work. Any suggestions?

  3. The fear of losing loved ones results in a detachment of the present moment because in order to avoid death one must also be avoiding life since the one cannot exist without the other. Death is inevitable but often ignored.Once you accept death and embrace the fact that we all die eventually you begin to accept life too because you realize that any moment could be our last so you make the most of each second, refusing to be consumed by thought and appreciating what you have now. The irony is that by living a life of fear, constantly consumed by thoughts, detached from the present moment, you are not alive, rather you become so disconnected to those around you, that you become what you fear most... Death. Surely he does not want his family to be miserable without his presence being felt? Its only when you truly live in now that you are alive. To remain selfish is to remain dead. If this can be realized then his love for his family should make him want to live for now.


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