In fear of happiness

Cherophobia is a little known condition which causes people to develop an aversion to being happy

Published - August 01, 2017 06:59 pm IST

Root cause  Cherophobia stems from associating happiness with an unpleasant experience

Root cause Cherophobia stems from associating happiness with an unpleasant experience

Have you ever caught people struggling with constant pangs of anxiety and anticipation about what the future is about to present them with? Do you ever find these individuals deliberately pushing themselves away from activities that provide them with potential happiness? In other instances, do you find them extremely dissatisfied even after going through a string of positive experiences, say after winning a prize, or getting a promotion at work?

Chances are high that these people are suffering from symptoms of cherophobia. According to Healthline, it is a condition in which a person has an irrational aversion to being happy, or participating in events that are characterised as joyous or fun. While disorders like depression and schizophrenia are frequently spoken about to reduce the level of stigma associated with them, cherophobia is still relatively unknown. An informal survey conducted by the author shows that very few respondents (including some participants who are students of psychology), knew about the existence of this disorder. A psychology student from Women's Christian College, Chennai says "Cherophobia is not something that is widely diagnosed".

This does not come as a surprise because cherophobia is still unheard of by many people in India. One of the main reasons for this could be because it is not classified as a separate disorder and it is possibly identified as another form of depression. Renowned psychiatrist and founder of Live Life Education, Dr. Kannan Gireesh says, "The cause of depression could either be biological due to the dysfunction of neurotransmitters in the body or could be traced down to any part of a traumatic event experienced by an individual such as death of a loved one, physical injury or sexual violence." However, Cherophobia is classified as a separate disorder in America. According to CTRN (Change That's Right Now), an organization in the United States that is based on helping people overcome their worst phobias and fears, one of the main causes of cherophobia occurs when a person refuses to acknowledge happiness as it is linked to an unpleasant experience of the past that the person is trying to avoid unconsciously.

Another study conducted in 2012 by Paul Gilbert, a psychiatrist at Kingsway Hospital in England, reveals that there is a certain section of the population, who might be of the opinion that being happy for too long is not good as it will fade away because excessive joy has bad consequences, or expressing happiness makes one a bad person. Thus, there is a correlation between depression and cherophobia. There is also another perspective to it. Sometimes, certain incomprehensible beliefs captivate the minds of people, such as, "Being happy reflects the behavior of lazy or shallow people." These patterns of thinking are seen in perfectionists, who might feel that if people are already satisfied with what they have achieved, then they will not strive to work harder or put in more meaning to their work. Thus, they conveniently label happy people as lazy, shallow or frivolous and might want to distance themselves from happiness. A "Fear of Happiness Scale" was published by Mohsen Joshanloo in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology to administer this lesser known fear of happiness across 14 cultures, in order to help people, understand if they experience any symptoms of cherophobia.

However, the advantage that comes with curing cherophobia is that it can be done without dwelling into the root cause or origin of the issue, which is often quite disturbing for a person to remember. CTRN states that cherophobia can be cured by following a useful procedure called anchoring. Anchoring is a process through which an individual links feeling attached to intense emotions (both good and bad) to any experience that they go through. For example, listening to a certain song might make a person happy or sad depending upon the past memories associated with it. If the song makes the person happy, then it makes them feel more optimistic, as opposed to when it makes them sad, which is when they avoid listening to it. The main objective of anchoring is to create a reservoir of heightened positive feelings associated to multiple experiences, so that every time the overwhelming fear encapsulates a person's mind, the individual has a stack of good feelings to draw his/her support from.

According to the world's happiest person, Matthieu Ricard, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, who participated in a twelve-year brain study on meditation and compassion by the University of Wisconsin, "When people devote a lot of time thinking about themselves and how to make their lives better, it gets extremely exhausting and stressful and eventually leads to unhappiness as they look at the world only as a means of pursuing their interests and nothing more". He feels that people should focus more on being selfless and benevolent as these qualities act as catalysts for creating a healthy and nurturing mind. This helps in creating a conducive environment that would help us in leading a balanced life and be in touch with our inner selves.

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