The importance of looking after our own well-being has been a prominent topic of late. And so it should be. I believe that taking care of ourselves should be a necessity and not a luxury. Those of you who have read my book, Suddenly Single, will know that the most important relationship we have in life with ourselves.
Over the past few years, I have seen women (and men) taking better care of themselves. They have exercised more, eaten bitter and found themselves able to say “no” when they have needed to. But something else I have noticed is that with this happiness comes a new kind of anxiety. These women feel guilty for looking after themselves, as if they are doing something wrong and even feel a little afraid of being happy.
However, as silly as it may sound, fearing happiness is not unusual. In fact, it’s relatively common. In 2012, the psychiatrist Paul Gilbert found that it correlates strongly with depression. There are three different ways in which people fear happiness. Let’s see which one you are …
If you are a perfectionist, you will have high standards and work hard to achieve success. You will also tie your self-worth with your ability to be perfect and if you don’t achieve perfection, you are constantly left thinking that you aren’t good enough.
These people often experience happiness when they are quietly relaxing or lazing about, but because they are so used to striving for perfection, they feel unsure how to handle this state and retreat to worry and work because that is what they know.
If you are a non-believer, you think that there is always something bad around the corner. Every time you have a happy experience, you expect something bad to happen too. This is often tied to people’s beliefs about karma.
You can test this by thinking about these questions
- Are you frightened to let yourself feel too happy?
- Do you believe you don’t deserve to be happy?
If you are a worry addict, you feel uncomfortable if you are not worrying all the time. The problem is, worrying is a habit so if you do it often enough it becomes second nature to you. Worry addicts believe that worrying makes them more prepared but in actual fact, it just means you start looking for things to worry about.
So how can you break these worry cycles? Here are a few suggestions:
- Create a new cycle
I mentioned above that some people believe that moments of happiness are followed by unhappiness. This is the joy-fear cycle but you can create a new cycle for yourself called joy-calm. To do this, you schedule times for simple pleasures followed by time for quiet reflection. In other words, do something you enjoy and then allow yourself some space for calmness afterwards. In time, this will teach your mind that bad does not automatically follow good.
- Experiment with contentment
In cognitive behavioural therapy, practitioners use exposure therapy to treat phobias. This involves helping a patient to confront their fears but in a safe place.
This technique is similar in that you are going to confront your fears surrounding happiness by spending time feeling content. Using mindfulness techniques, you can notice moments when you feel happy and enjoy them without any self-judgement.
In time, you will be able to celebrate every moment of happiness instead of feeling like you’re doing something wrong – because you’re not!
- Spend time with people that make you happy
Sometimes too much time alone means we get lost in our own thoughts and overanalyse everything around us. Spending time with people who make us happy can help us to regain some work-life balance. Doing the things you enjoy regularly also helps to increase your motivation and creativity.
- Make others happy
Spreading joy frees us from our own guilt about being happy. We feel a small sense of victory when we can make somebody else smile or laugh. Perhaps you don’t feel like you deserve to be a happy person but what about the other people in your life?
- Schedule happy time
We all write to-do lists from time to time but they are usually full of tasks we have to do. My advice would be to add “happy time” to your to-do list. Happiness is a skill and it requires practice so it shouldn’t be put second. Schedule time for the activities you enjoy. For instance, a twenty-minute walk with your dog (and leave your phone at home!)