What Is Cherophobia and Could You Possibly Suffer From It?
If you find yourself avoiding happy situations, you may be suffering from cherophobia. The good news is you don’t have to be.
A phobia goes way beyond simply disliking something, or feeling uncomfortable in a given situation. According to mental health experts, a phobia is an overwhelming anxiety or fear surrounding a certain place, circumstance or thing.
Phobias can also center around a specific feeling, which makes those emotion-based fears a bit more intangible than others. For instance, cherophobia is the fear of being happy, and while it is not one of the most common phobias, these sorts of mental health conditions are highly relatable concepts nonetheless.
Some may not be able to fathom the idea of having an irrational aversion to happiness, but people can experience all types of phobias throughout their lives. They can be common ones like a fear of spiders (arachnophobia) or heights (acrophobia), or they can be more unusual aversions like a fear of cheese (turophobia) or belly buttons (omphalophobia). And yes, that last one totally is a real thing.
In fact, according to the American Psychiatric Association, eight to twelve percent of adults in the United States will experience specific phobias in a given year. Statistically, women are more likely than men to experience an anxiety disorder that leads to these fears, as well as other types of social anxiety.
Medical experts classify cherophobia as an anxiety disorder
How does a fear of being happy play out in real life? Someone with cherophobia will work to actively avoid joyful moments and situations. They won’t allow themselves to go to a so-called “happy place,” either mentally or literally.
If you or someone you know has a fear of being happy, you may want to know how to get rid of cherophobia, since this phobia can impact not only the relationships in your life but your overall well-being. Here’s what you should know about the fear of happiness, including who’s most likely to experience it, and how to ultimately overcome cherophobia.
Understanding the cherophobia definition
Although cherophobia has been documented as a legitimate phobia, it’s not yet officially recognized as a clinical disorder under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However, a number of studies have worked to define the fear of happiness and understand why it exists.
One aspect that makes cherophobia hard to define is the fact that the concept of happiness itself can be difficult to put into words, at least in a universal way. Happiness can also be hard to put a definition to medically and scientifically.
In fact, an entire branch of research—called positive psychology—is dedicated to understanding happiness. Happiness can mean different things to different people, after all.
The happiness scale
Some use what is called the “happiness scale” to measure what is, admittedly, a subjective perspective. Sonja Lyubormiski, a Distinguished Professor and Vice Chair in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside, came up with a self-evaluative measurement system.
It works by having respondents answer a simple four-question survey. Questions include:
One common way to describe happiness that most people can agree on is this: Happiness is the experience of having a feeling of contentment with one’s life, and the feeling of happiness is often linked to emotions like feeling fulfilled and experiencing gratitude.
A fear of happiness, then, can be associated with a belief that feeling joy or contentment is not possible, or even that pursuing happiness is a frivolous pursuit. The mentality of cherophobia puts sufferers in a tough spot: They end up judging themselves for feeling joy, and woes still, they sometimes end up transferring that judgement onto other people as well.
All in all that makes this phobia pretty darn isolating. It’s hard to be around someone who can’t tolerate personal happiness, or who can’t feel free expressing happiness in a normal way.
Signs you might have cherophobia
If you think you might have a happiness aversion, take stock of your actions and beliefs surrounding joy and personal satisfaction. In your day-to-day life, do you make choices that other people might not understand—and that are guaranteed to keep happiness at bay?
People with cherophobia typically avoid social gatherings like birthdays, weddings and other celebrations. They may also break off relationships that make them feel content, as the sensation of being happy in love or in friendship makes them feel uncomfortable. They could also turn down significant life opportunities, like a promotion at work or a chance to travel, if the experience will bring the possibility of joy.
While these behavioral symptoms of cherophobia are pretty straightforward, there are other signs of having a fear of happiness that are less obvious. These have to do with mental reasoning and subconscious beliefs.
To experience cherophobia is to be constantly living with the belief that being happy somehow makes you a bad person. If others are suffering, why should you experience joy? This thought process not only involves a lot of projected guilt—you’d feel badly if you were happy—but this way of thinking also upholds the belief that happy people are self-involved or self-serving.
Another belief is that being happy is only a precursor to being miserable. That if something wonderful happens in your life, then the universe will need to balance that out with some sort of tragedy. People with this attitude toward life are typically waiting for the other shoe to drop—not only do they fear happiness but they go through the day always imagining that something terrible is right around the corner waiting for them.
Finally, people with cherophobia may also believe that it’s rude to express happiness. They see happy people’s outlooks as an affront to others and don’t want to cause upset by showing or partaking in joy. Happiness could make other people jealous or suspicious of them, which is another reason they fear getting caught up in it.
People who could be more susceptible to cherophobia
Having certain personality traits may also make a person more likely than others to have a fear of happiness. In particular there are a few key qualities identified by research that could make cherophobia thrive. Here’s how each one can increase a person’s vulnerability to this phobia:
It should go without saying that introverts are in no way predisposed to cherophobia. However, if someone experiences some kind of traumatic event that sparks cherophobia and they happen to be introverted, their lifestyle tendencies to shy away from social gatherings and spend time by themselves can sometimes encourage the fear of happiness to grow.
People who are more extroverted, on the flip side, are less likely to have a fear of being happy. This is because they are more prone to spending time gathering with others and being social inherently brings extroverts joy.
Someone who is always striving to be a better version of themselves may equate happiness as complacency. If you’re not constantly working toward something, then you’re basically settling—and this applies to everything in life, not just joy. For a perfectionist, if they’re happy then they don’t need to micromanage their existence anymore, which would take away their sense of self.
In psychology, withdrawal is defined as having a tendency toward depression and anxiety. In a 2013 study about the different connections of fear and happiness, researchers found that people who are depressed often avoid social events or activities that could bring them joy. This leads to a spiral, the study suggests, where withdrawing socially supports the idea in someone’s mind that being social will only lead to disappointment or loneliness in the end, causing more isolation or a fear of happiness during activities that are meant to be fun.
Another psychology term, agreeableness, is defined as a person’s ability to put other people’s needs above their own. While thinking of others can bring joy in its own way, there is a line between serving others and forgetting oneself. When it comes to cherophobia, someone who is very agreeable has a hard time being happy in their own life because so much of their self worth is wrapped up in making sure the people around them are happy.
Why a fear of happiness can be a big deal
Cherophobia isn’t just tough on your relationships and on your mental state, it can be detrimental for your physical health as well. Happiness hormones, especially endorphins such as serotonin and dopamine, are important for our well-being. When you don’t produce enough of these endorphins, you may develop depression, which, as mentioned above, can put you in a mental cycle that’s tough to break.
But serotonin and dopamine are also critical for maintaining proper body function beyond the brain. Research also shows that happiness may have an effect on various systems within the body such as blood pressure, cardiovascular health and the immune system. There’s even the potential that a positive outlook and general sense of well-being may allow for a longer lifespan.
When someone lives in fear that every positive experience will undoubtedly bring a negative one, this can cause the body to activate stress hormones, particularly cortisol. Too much cortisol in the body paves the way for chronic stress to take hold. Long-term chronic stress can lead to all sorts of physical issues, including headaches, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep issues, weight gain and lack of concentration. This is because cortisol activates your flight-or-flight response system, taking nonessential body functions offline so you can respond to a perceived threat. When that threat is happiness, you get all of the issues that come with too much cortisol running through your system and none of the perks that happiness can bring.
How to treat cherophobia? The answer is to first turn within and try to identify the root cause of your fear of happiness. Cherophobia usually comes about after a significant trauma or conflict. Keeping happiness at arm’s length can be a protective measure to avoid future hurt. Understanding what happened in the past to trigger a fear of being happy can be an important first step toward overcoming this phobia and making positive life changes.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Help
Working with a trusted therapist, particularly someone skilled in cognitive behavioral therapy, can also be helpful for healing. Cognitive behavioral therapy centers on helping people recognize detrimental or illogical thought patterns and looking for behavioral changes to counterbalance them. Identifying the scripts running through your brain about happiness that lead to an irrational or heightened sense of fear of happiness is key. Changing the mental conversation around happiness beliefs with a professional can help you overcome your fear.
Relaxation strategies like yoga, deep breathing, journaling and exercising can also be useful for combating cherophobia. These activities can help regulate cortisol by alleviating stress, as well as manage symptoms of anxiety and depression, both of which can further fuel cherophobia. Having a calmer mental state may allow for you to break free from the intrusive thoughts about happiness that cherophobia can bring
Finally, it’s important to take the leap and embrace the discomfort of happiness in order to overcome this phobia. Make time in your day for small moments of happiness that can challenge your beliefs about joy without overwhelming you. Use your daily routine to find these moments. They can be simple things like smelling your morning coffee before you take the first sip or feeling the warm water on your skin when you take a shower. A mindful gratitude practice can connect you with your body, the current moment and a tangible thing you are thankful for in your life.
Start small and start Steady
Build toward experiencing happiness in a manageable setting. Maybe it’s an activity like grabbing dinner with a friend or visiting an art gallery. Seizing moments of joy and realizing that nothing bad will happen will eventually add up. As you train your brain to feel comfortable with experiencing joy again, you’ll be able to free yourself from the grip of cherophobia. You can overcome this, and make yourself a much happier person!