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Just recently I was sharing with my husband about a personal phobia that I discovered some time ago, called cherophobia: the fear of being happy, or hedonophobia: the fear of joy (Dodgson, 2018). I did not even know that there were names for it, but those results were there when I went internet searching for the possible reasons why I constantly avoided happy thoughts and events.
It was also discovered that this phobia is more common than you might think. It is believed to be an anxiety disorder and individuals who experience it have great fear in being surprised by something painful and unexpected happening. As such, they constantly anticipate things going wrong as a means of protecting themselves from any negative and sudden shock. This comes with the possibility of being perceived as unfriendly. Henry Longfellow states that ‘…every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not, and oftentimes we call a man cold when he is only sad…’
The symptoms of cherophobia or hedonophobia are, and not limited to:
- the feeling of anxiety when you’re invited to a social gathering
- saying no to opportunities which could positively change your life because of fear that something bad will happen
- avoiding fun activities
- thinking that the feeling of happiness is an indication that something bad will happen
- thinking that true happiness is not achievable and that trying to pursue it is a waste of effort and time
- believing that if you show happiness it can hurt others who are feeling sad.
In keeping with the symptoms of this phobia, the discoveries made me realize that I always expected something negative to happen in the future to replace that feeling of happiness, and I was not willing to risk coming down from the ‘mountain top’ feeling to be plunged in the ‘valley’ of darkness, sadness or pain; I might as well remain unhappy or neutral. There is truth in the saying ‘change starts with discovering that there is something that needs to be changed,’ because the moment I realized that I had this phobia, is the moment I started to search and found ways to change my way of thinking.
An individual may develop this phobia for several reasons. He or she may have experienced a series of hurt in childhood. An adult can develop this phobia because it is perceived that his or her hopeful expectations always seem to end in disappointments and/or hurts. The latter is often evident in relationships where the person with the phobia does not expect anything good to come out of the relationship, so he or she usually tolerate negative actions and behaviours from the significant other.
The discussion came up again recently when I saw traces of the phobia still lingering. I heard that a long-awaited teaching project (that was delayed by covid19) was coming up and I may be called to participate. I immediately started to reject the hopeful thoughts because I did not want to be disappointed. My husband gave me a scenario that I will paraphrase to share with you. Let’s suppose that you were able to see your life ten years down the line. You get to see that if you get married to a particular person (or anyone), after ten years the marriage will end. However, you also see that you will have several happy and memorable moments leading up to the dissolving of the marriage. Would you decide to not go ahead with the wedding and give up the opportunity of being happy for many years because at the end of those years you will experience sadness? If you decided to still go ahead with wedding plans, would you avoid being happy throughout the marriage and enjoy the moments because you already know how it will end? Food for thought, right?
I know it is not practical to know the outcome of any relationship (or career pursuit), but for me the analogy was solid. What we are certain of is that life is a series of up as well as down days, so why spend your days anticipating sadness, disappointments and hurts when you could be happy every day amid the expected ups and downs? Why not be happy to be better able to manage any disappointment or hurt that may come?
There was a burst of happiness at the reminder that I can, in fact, choose to be happy. However, right behind that thought came a feeling of guilt for being happy when so many people are sad and confused at this time. Some are struggling to survive on a daily basis, while others have lost loved ones and there is the added emotional difficulty of making funeral arrangements that are in keeping with the physical distancing rules in the current pandemic. In cases such as these, you should empathize with the individuals involved, but rather than remain sad because of the situations, you could help them to seek out grief counselling and also find practical ways to help those you can.
I was reminded that the book of all motivational speeches or mindset change themes and topics, the Bible, says in John 16 verse 33 “…these things I [Jesus] have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” If you realize that you are feeling happy at this time in spite of your hardships and setbacks, you do not have to push it away or feel guilty about it. Do not judge yourself for feeling this way. However, you are admonished to use your emotions in a healthy way. That is, do not look down on others who are experiencing difficulties during this time and are not finding anything to be happy about. Instead, seek out people who you can help in any way you can; in word or deed. Make every effort to spread your joy.
For those who may be still wondering if it is possible to be happy during this time and every day, here is what you could do:
- accept the situation, especially if you are not able to control it
- try to figure out which area of your life has been affected the most and do what you can to focus on how to change the situation
- get into the habit of trying to figure out the part you play in any stressful situation; look closely at your attitudes and habits
- talk to someone about what you are facing rather than keep it to yourself; if not, you will never know if there may be a way to help you by suggesting different ways that you could address the issue, for instance
- look at the positive side of any situation; the saying ‘while there is life, there is hope’ is still true today
- you may want to adjust your standards to allow yourself to ask for help and continue to seek help until you get it
- practice an attitude of gratitude; be grateful for what and who you have and for any help you receive.
The theme of a recently created educational and counseling business endeavour (https://www.facebook.com/changingmindsteam/) is ‘Changed minds change lives.’ This is because my team has come to learn that when thinking patterns are changed, feelings are also changed, and eventually lives will be changed. Ultimately, dealing with cherophobia or hedonophobia is reversing your way of thinking. If you believe you may be experiencing even ‘mild’ symptoms of this phobia, it is likely a defense strategy that was built due to past or current traumas or conflicts. It may take time and effort to work through the issues leading up to this phobia, but with treatment and commitment, you can get past it, make pleasant memories and start enjoying your days, one moment at a time. Start now by choosing to be happy.