Fearing happiness and positive events can be signs of a phobia known as “cherophobia.”

Q&A Ask a PsychologistShare on Pinterest
Illustration by Ruth Basagoitia

Q: I want to know more about feeling anxious about things I enjoy. For example, I’m anxious about an upcoming event where I’ll be with my friends and enjoying myself. Why is that?

Believe it or not, fearing happiness and positive events can be signs of a phobia known as “cherophobia,” which is the avoidance of joyful experiences, such as spending time with friends, due to irrational worries. 

Even though it may seem strange, people with cherophobia mistakenly pair happy events with the onset of bad news. Often, they’re consumed with worries like, “If I enjoy spending time with friends, something bad will happen to one of them,” or “If I celebrate my job promotion, I’ll get fired.”

They may even fear that embracing joy means they’re selfish or not compassionate enough to their less fortunate friends. 

Psychotherapists view cherophobia as an anxiety disorder, which means psychotherapy can be a useful way to alter this avoidance behavior.

One tactic might entail keeping a running list of happy events and taking note when enjoyment doesn’t result in catastrophe. These moments might be small, such as smiling at a coworker, opening the door for a stranger, or enjoying a brief conversation via text. The key is to gather facts that can challenge the belief that happiness and bad news go hand in hand. 

If these tools are unsuccessful, it might be a sign that there’s a deeper, underlying reason for your fear.

Perhaps happiness was viewed negatively in your family, and whenever you shared an accomplishment, you were shamed for feeling joyful. If that’s the case, insight-oriented psychotherapy can unearth what’s driving your fear.

Juli Fraga lives in San Francisco with her husband, daughter, and two cats. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Real Simple, the Washington Post, NPR, the Science of Us, the Lily, and Vice. As a psychologist, she loves writing about mental health and wellness. When she’s not working, she enjoys bargain shopping, reading, and listening to live music. You can find her on Twitter