What Do you Have Against Being Happy?

happiness anxiety
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The phrase everyone wants to be happy is one of the more unfortunate sayings people use.

Because it’s simply not true. At best, so many of us are conflicted about happiness. At worst, we run from it wholeheartedly.

The truth is, part of us wants to be happy.

That’s a safe assumption.

Other parts of us have a bone to pick with happiness and for good reason. Most people have had a plethora of bad experiences with happiness, most of which happened during childhood. And we learned how dangerous feeling good can be.

Dangerous, yep.

Logically you understand that feeling good – happiness – won’t hurt you. In fact, it’s a health and longevity-promotive state. Happier people live longer. Happiness has it all – a quality of life and quantity of life.

What’s to fear about happiness?

The statistics and logic aren’t the problems.

It’s the part of you that’s keeping a file of painful evidence that happiness leads to trouble. This file is full of memories that you probably haven’t thought about in a long time. Yet, they’re still affecting you.

Like the time you were overjoyed and your mother spanked your butt.

Or the time when you are so excited to do something fun and your parents canceled – over and over.

How about that relationship in which you were so satisfied – and then betrayed?

When pain and disappointment follow happiness, our child-brain tends to link one experience to another. In our naivete, we interpret that the happiness caused the pain. We (unconsciously) resolve to avoid happiness altogether, rather than live waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Nathaniel Branden called it happiness anxiety.

Often called the father of the self-esteem movement, the late Nathaniel Branden explained that happiness anxiety is a tendency to avoid – to mistrust – happiness, given our history of pain and disappointment.

The solution to happiness anxiety, according to Branden, is to learn to tolerate happiness. Tolerate happiness! Can you imagine? It sounds so bizarre. If it weren’t so obvious for so many people, we’d just have to dismiss this idea as rubbage.

It’s not rubbage. You can look at people’s lives as an observer and marvel at how they do the opposite of what would make them happy, productive, and well-adjusted. Indeed, it’s easy to accuse people of wanting to fail in these areas.

You just want to fail, don’t you? What you’re doing makes no sense!

It DOES make sense if you take into account that at some deep level happiness is not a safe place. So many of us find misery to be – sadly – more familiar and therefore more comfortable. This is why working through these psychological attachments can be so transformative.


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