Aversion to happiness

Aversion to happiness, also called fear of happiness, is an attitude towards happiness in which individuals may deliberately avoid experiences that invoke positive emotions or happiness.[1][2][3] Aversion to happiness is not a recognized mental health disorder on its own, but it can contribute to and/or exacerbate existing mental health issues.

Aversion to happiness
Other namesFear of happiness

Mohsen Joshanloo and Dan Weijers identify four reasons for an aversion to happiness:

  • a belief that happiness will cause bad things to happen
  • that happiness will cause you to become a bad person
  • that expressing happiness is somehow bad for you and others
  • that pursuing happiness is bad for you and others.[4]

For example, "some people—in Western and Eastern cultures—are wary of happiness because they believe that bad things, such as unhappiness, suffering, and death, tend to happen to happy people."[5] Emperical studies show that fear of happiness is associated with fragility of happiness beliefs, suggesting that one of the causes of aversion to happiness may be the belief that happiness is unstable and fragile.[6] Research shows that fear of happiness is associated with avoidant and anxious attachment styles.[7] A study found that perfectionistic tendencies, loneliness, a childhood perceived as unhappy, belief in paranormal phenomena, and holding a collectivistic understanding of happiness are positively associated with aversion to happiness.[8]

Cultural factorsEdit

One of several reasons why fear of happiness may develop is the belief that when one becomes happy, a negative event will soon occur that will taint that happiness, as if punishing that individual for satisfaction. This belief is thought to be more prevalent in non-Western cultures. In Western cultures, such as American culture, "it is almost taken for granted that happiness is one of the most important values guiding people's lives". Western cultures are more driven by an urge to maximize happiness and to minimize sadness. Failing to appear happy often gives cause for concern. The value placed on happiness echoes through Western positive psychology and through research on subjective well-being.[9]

These findings "call into question the notion that happiness is the ultimate goal, a belief echoed in any number of articles and self-help publications about whether certain choices are likely to make you happy".[5] Also, "in cultures that believe worldly happiness to be associated with sin, shallowness, and moral decline will actually feel less satisfied when their lives are (by other standards) going well",[10] so measures of personal happiness cannot simply be considered a yardstick for satisfaction with one's life, and attitudes such as aversion to happiness have important implications for measuring happiness across cultures and ranking nations on happiness scores.

Aversion to happiness can be thought of as a specific example of ideal affect (described by affect valuation theory),[11][12] whereby cultures vary in the extent to which they value the experience of different emotions.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Joshanloo, M.; Lepshokova, Z. K.; Panyusheva, T.; Natalia, A.; Poon, W.-C.; Yeung, V. W.-l.; Sundaram, S.; Achoui, M.; Asano, R.; Igarashi, T.; Tsukamoto, S.; Rizwan, M.; Khilji, I. A.; Ferreira, M. C.; Pang, J. S.; Ho, L. S.; Han, G.; Bae, J.; Jiang, D.-Y. (3 October 2013). "Cross-Cultural Validation of Fear of Happiness Scale Across 14 National Groups". Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. 45 (2): 246–264. doi:10.1177/0022022113505357. S2CID 73617183.
  2. ^ Joshanloo, Mohsen; Weijers, Dan (15 December 2013). "Aversion to Happiness Across Cultures: A Review of Where and Why People are Averse to Happiness". Journal of Happiness Studies. 15 (3): 717–735. doi:10.1007/s10902-013-9489-9. S2CID 144425713.
  3. ^ Ellwood, Beth (2022-12-20). "People with unhappy childhoods are more likely to exhibit a fear of happiness, multi-national study finds". PsyPost. Retrieved 2022-12-26.
  4. ^ Joshanloo, Mohsen; Weijers, Dan, "It's time for Western psychology to recognise that many individuals, and even entire cultures, fear happiness", Journal of Happiness Studies, 15 (3): 717–735, doi:10.1007/s10902-013-9489-9, S2CID 144425713, retrieved October 4, 2014.
  5. ^ a b Stephanie Pappas (20 March 2014), Why Happiness Scares Us, LiveScience, retrieved 4 October 2014.
  6. ^ Joshanloo, Mohsen; Weijers, Dan; Jiang, Ding-Yu; Han, Gyuseog; Bae, Jaechang; Pang, Joyce S.; Ho, Lok Sang; Ferreira, Maria Cristina; Demir, Melikşah; Rizwan, Muhammad; Khilji, Imran Ahmed; Achoui, Mustapha; Asano, Ryosuke; Igarashi, Tasuku; Tsukamoto, Saori; Lamers, Sanne M. A.; Turan, Yücel; Sundaram, Suresh; Yeung, Victoria Wai Lan; Poon, Wai-Ching; Lepshokova, Zarina Kh; Panyusheva, Tatiana; Natalia, Amerkhanova (1 October 2015). "Fragility of Happiness Beliefs Across 15 National Groups". Journal of Happiness Studies. 16 (5): 1185–1210. CiteSeerX doi:10.1007/s10902-014-9553-0. S2CID 58909959.
  7. ^ Joshanloo, Mohsen (2018). "Fear and fragility of happiness as mediators of the relationship between insecure attachment and subjective well-being". Personality and Individual Differences. 123: 115–118. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2017.11.016.
  8. ^ Joshanloo, Mohsen (2022-05-28). "Predictors of aversion to happiness: New Insights from a multi-national study". Motivation and Emotion. doi:10.1007/s11031-022-09954-1. ISSN 1573-6644. S2CID 249166650.
  9. ^ Joan Robinson (17 March 2014), What's so bad about feeling happy?, Springer
  10. ^ Susan Krauss Whitbourne (6 April 2013), 13 of Psychology's Newest and Coolest Ideas, Psychology Today, retrieved 4 October 2014.
  11. ^ Tsai, Jeanne L.; Louie, Jennifer Y.; Chen, Eva E.; Uchida, Yukiko (2007). "Learning What Feelings to Desire: Socialization of Ideal Affect Through Children's Storybooks". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 33 (1): 17–30. doi:10.1177/0146167206292749. PMID 17178927. S2CID 3163885.
  12. ^ Tsai, Jeanne L (October 2017). "Ideal affect in daily life: implications for affective experience, health, and social behavior". Current Opinion in Psychology. 17: 118–128. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.07.004. PMC 5659332. PMID 28950957.