Happiness Anxiety: 8 Signs You May Have It And How To Overcome It

If you've ever experienced a sudden bout of anxiety or dread in an otherwise joyful moment — for example, after meeting a big goal at work or celebrating a big success — then you have at least some idea of what we mean when we talk about "happiness anxiety." Happiness anxiety, as its name suggests, often strikes when we least expect it — in moments of happiness. 

If you've ever experienced happiness anxiety, you know how discouraging it can be. You feel like you should be celebrating your goal or basking in the joy the moment has to offer, but for some reason, you just can't. Maybe you've always felt that such moments of joy are too good to be true, and you can't help but worry about when it's all going to be stripped away. Maybe you feel like you don't deserve to feel joyful — after all, the world is full of problems, and letting yourself be happy in the midst of them feels selfish. 

Sometimes big successes feel underserved (imposter syndrome, anyone?), and sometimes the feeling of joy is simply so foreign to you that it feels uncomfortable when you do experience it. If this sounds like something you've experienced, you're far from alone. Happiness anxiety plagues many of us, but fortunately, there are some solutions that can help you experience true, lasting joy.

You feel uncomfortable when things are generally going well

Have you ever felt an underlying sense of dread when everything in your life is actually going okay? You keep thinking there's something you should be worrying about, and constantly double-check every aspect of your life in your mind to make sure everything really is going well.

The feeling of things going okay is foreign to you, as you're used to worrying about bills and finances, the clients at your job, that one family member you have drama with, or any number of other things you typically find yourself worrying about. Soon enough, you find yourself unable to bask in the serenity of the calm moment you're in. It almost feels like part of yourself is missing as you start looking around for things to worry about.

This feeling of discomfort you experience when life is going well is a sign of happiness anxiety. When you're not used to experiencing a prolonged sense of stability, it makes sense that it would feel uncomfortable at first — after all, your brain feels most at home when it's preoccupied with worrying about one issue or another. Be gentle with yourself as you adjust to that feeling of being okay. Remind yourself that sometimes things do go well, and try to let yourself sit in those feelings of okay-ness for at least a few minutes at a time; this will help your brain adjust to feeling happy, calm, and at ease.

Your mood plummets after reaching a big goal

We all have goals in life that we're working toward, both big and small. Some of us are looking to take the next step forward in our careers, others are working hard to achieve fitness goals, and several of us are seeking to achieve financial goals like being able to buy a house. Working toward a goal tends to feel good, especially as you get closer to it, and you can almost taste the success you'll feel at the end. But what happens when you reach your goal and all of a sudden, your mood plummets? 

It seems strange that we can spend so much time working toward something only to feel depressed and worried when we finally achieve it. It's a bit easier to understand when we recognize this tendency as another form of happiness anxiety, and again, it's probably happening because your mind isn't used to basking in the goodness of something.

You've just spent a huge amount of time working to achieve your goal — now what? The goal has been reached, and you're probably already thinking about the next thing to strive toward. In more insidious moments, you may find your post-goal happiness anxiety is full of fear of your downfall; in your mind, this success can't last forever, and it feels like everything could be stripped away at any moment. 

You feel panic after a joyful experience

Sometimes, panic hits without warning and in the most unexpected situations — like right after you've had a joyful experience. Maybe you were at a family gathering over the holidays, and things actually went well for once, or you just celebrated a friend at their wedding ceremony, and upon returning home, the panic sets in. It can be hard to identify why you're feeling panicked in that particular moment, especially when you were happy just a few hours ago.

Again, your brain could be defaulting to anxiety mode because it's not used to taking in the amount of joy you've just experienced. When you're not used to prolonged feelings of happiness, sometimes your brain will try to balance out feelings of joy with feelings of anxiety. Maybe you held in all the anxiety you usually feel (or even forgot about it during the joyful experience), and it feels safe to let it out at home.

In harder moments, you may feel like you don't deserve to feel all the joy you just felt, and it's more comfortable to subconsciously revert to feelings of panic. Try to hold on to that feeling of joy from the experience for as long as you can, even if that's just until the end of the day. Don't expect the high to last, but let yourself come down from it slowly rather than plummeting into a pit of anxiety.

You feel guilty for being happy

Do you ever feel guilty for feeling happy? You aren't alone. In fact, a lot of people experience feelings of guilt in moments of happiness, especially today. After all, if you spend any amount of time scrolling social media or the internet in general, you're probably bombarded with a slew of things that should make you feel sad at best, enraged at worst. How could you possibly feel happy when injustice reigns across the globe and you're told countless stories of people suffering?

If this sounds like you, it might be time to take a break from all the media. It's the first time in history we've had access to such a constant barrage of information and news media, and our brains aren't used to taking all of it in (especially when the vast majority of it is negative). Even when much of the world is in shambles, know that you deserve to be happy, and others' misfortune shouldn't negate your happiness.

In fact, if you want to make the most of your joy, let it empower you to make a difference in the world. The guilt you typically feel when you experience happiness will probably be easier to overcome when your joy comes from making positive changes in the lives of others. 

When one area of your life gets better, another suddenly seems worse

Another way happiness anxiety can manifest itself is by constantly keeping us dissatisfied and giving us things to work on within ourselves. Now, there's nothing wrong with self-improvement, and we should all be working on ourselves to some extent. But when you've done a good amount of work and one area of your life starts to get better, only to leave you noticing another area progressively worsening, you may be experiencing happiness anxiety.

Picture this: You've been working hard and have finally gotten your finances under control. While you feel proud of yourself, that pride is suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling that you really need to start focusing on your health. You feel ashamed of how much you've let it slide, and suddenly, your sense of accomplishment at achieving financial stability has been replaced by intense anxiety about your health.

You become almost hyper-focused on it as you obsess over fixing and worrying about it, and everything you've just accomplished is swiftly forgotten. If this sounds like something you experience, don't shame yourself for constantly working on self-improvement — again, that's super admirable. Just make sure you're taking some time to appreciate your hard work and achievements before you move on to the next thing. You'll probably feel more motivated to keep working on yourself when you allow yourself to feel satisfied after, too.

You stay in situations you know make you unhappy

If you've ever been in a toxic relationship or had a toxic friend, you may already know where we're going with this one. Willingly remaining in situations you know make you unhappy is a form of self-sabotage that could be a symptom of happiness anxiety. When happiness anxiety manifests itself in this way, it's likely related to other underlying issues, such as a low sense of self-worth, possibly resulting from past trauma or abuse. 

Often, we stay in toxic situations because we feel like we don't deserve better — like this is the best life has to offer us, so we might as well make the most of it when we can. You may not think you deserve true happiness, or you're so used to feeling unhappy that the idea of happiness creates too much discomfort in you.

If this is the case for you, recognizing what's really happening is the first step to healing. Identifying and naming your specific reasons for staying in an unhappy or toxic situation (often, this is best done with a licensed therapist) can help you realize what self-concepts could be at play here. From there, it's essential to recognize that everyone (yes, including you) deserves to dwell in happy situations that build you up rather than ones that continually tear you down.

You avoid experiences you know will make you happy

On the flip side, maybe you're not stuck in a bad situation — perhaps you just avoid experiences you know would make you happy. You continually decline social invites, don't go outside, don't save up for that trip you want to take (despite having the funds to do so), find yourself isolating from friends and family, and no longer engage in hobbies you typically enjoy. We all go through periods of activity and inactivity, but when you notice you've been avoiding things that make you happy for a while, it could be a sign of happiness anxiety.

If you tend to get anxious when you experience joy, it makes sense that, eventually, you'd try to avoid the experience of joy altogether. It's easier for you to stay in a state of anxiety rather than experience the roller coaster of emotions that can come when you experience both joy and anxiety. You might also avoid joyful experiences because you don't feel like you deserve (or even want) to have them.

Soon enough, it can become a relentless cycle, where you avoid experiences of joy to avoid the guilt or anxiety that typically follows, only to leave you feeling more anxious as a result. To combat this, staying in the present moment as much as possible can be helpful. Let yourself dive into experiences of joy without worrying about what you might feel later, and deal with those feelings when they come up.

You're hyper-focused on others' happiness

Surprisingly, happiness anxiety can also manifest itself when you become preoccupied with the happiness of others. If you have chronic people-pleasing tendencies, this may particularly apply to you. Do you notice that you tend to be more concerned with making sure others are happy rather than yourself? You willingly forego your own happiness to ensure others' needs are met, to the eventual detriment of yourself. 

While taking care of others' happiness may seem like a good, selfless act on the surface, it can also easily masquerade as a form of self-sabotage. Sometimes focusing on making others happy can distract us from our own feelings of unhappiness and even give us momentary satisfaction in the knowledge that we're helping someone else. But when this comes at a significant cost to you, it turns into self-sabotage, sometimes brought on by happiness anxiety.

Do you rush to fulfill a partner's needs even when your own aren't being met? They may walk away feeling better, but you'll likely suffer as a result. You're okay with it, though, because you care more about seeing them happy than yourself. When happiness anxiety manifests in this way, it's especially important to make sure your own needs are being met. Then, you'll be able to help others find happiness without becoming collateral damage in the process.

Try talk therapy

If you're trying to overcome happiness anxiety, it's important not to battle it in isolation. We recommend doing some talk therapy with a licensed therapist (if you have a history of abuse, trauma therapy may be necessary) to work on reframing any negative self-schemas you may have. Talk therapy can help you rewire your brain to view yourself in a more positive light and recognize your own self-worth, which can do wonders when working on cultivating long-lasting happiness. 

If your brain isn't used to resting in joy, feelings of such pleasant emotions will be uncomfortable at first. A therapist can help guide you into happiness gently by allowing your brain to adjust slowly. They'll probably start simply by asking you to recall a joyful moment and let your mind rest on it, focusing on what's happening in your body as you think about that positive memory. Teaching your brain to get used to experiencing joy can be a long process, but this type of brain rewiring can absolutely be done when you're working with a professional.

Work on any self-sabotaging tendencies

As you're working on your happiness anxiety, you'll likely become aware of areas in which you're in a self-sabotaging cycle. Fortunately, when it comes to happiness anxiety, a lot of forms of self-sabotage are easily sussed out, as typically, you'll notice that you tend to do things that make you unhappy or avoid the things that would make you happy. In terms of self-sabotage and happiness anxiety, awareness really is the first step to lasting change.

Once you become aware of your self-sabotaging tendencies, you're one step closer to combating them and realizing true happiness. It will probably be uncomfortable at first, just as any type of exercise is hard when doing it for the first time. If you're spending an excessive amount of time in bed even though you know getting up and going for a walk will make you happy, actually getting up and going may feel like a monumental task the first time you do it.

But as you continue to do it and your brain starts associating getting out of bed with feeling happy, it'll become easier over time. Maybe you're trying to stop late-night snacking because it always makes you feel guilty and sad the next day. Your first few nights of no snacking will probably be pretty difficult, but it will get easier as you recognize how refreshed you wake up feeling the next morning.

Try journaling when you're feeling anxious

When we're in moments of anxiety, it often feels like our thoughts are racing faster than we can catch up. The anxiety can feel overwhelming and unnamable until it eventually coagulates into a tight ball of dread in the pit of your stomach that you just can't seem to get rid of. When you're dealing with racing thoughts and an overstimulated body and mind, it's important to find tools that will help you slow down and look at things from a neutral perspective — this is where journaling can be a huge help. 

If you haven't journaled since middle school, don't turn your nose up at it just yet. Starting a journaling journey is incredibly helpful for adults, especially when dealing with anxiety. In a moment of anxiety, try writing down your thoughts and the accompanying feelings. You'll find that the act of writing helps slow down the stream of nameless thoughts running through your head (after all, you can only write so fast), and it turns them into something concrete and definable.

Write down everything you're thinking and feeling, using as much space as you need. This in itself will probably feel like a bit of a relief. Once the anxiety has passed, go back and read what you wrote from a more neutral perspective. You may find yourself eventually recognizing patterns in your thoughts and feelings during moments of anxiety; this can help make them easier to identify and combat the next time anxiety arises. 

Take small steps to cultivate happiness

Alas, combating happiness anxiety is not a one-and-done deal; it will take lots of work and practice cultivating happiness in order to notice a true, lasting change. As you start your journey toward realizing true joy, allow yourself to begin small. Training your brain to recognize small moments of joy will help prime it to soak in larger, lasting moments of joy as they arise.

Maybe a good first step for you is to spend a few minutes sitting outside on a nice day. Notice how the sun feels on your skin, tune into the sounds of nature or your neighbors, and maybe even smell a flower or two. Stay with the experience for about 10 to 20 seconds at a time, and let it feel good. Try going for a walk without headphones in. Listen to the conversations you hear as you walk past a group of friends or a parent and a child.

Use some extra spending money to buy coffee for the stranger behind you in line, knowing you'll probably never see them again. The next time you cook dinner, prepare it with intention — take time chopping the vegetables and don't skip any steps, and notice how good your meal tastes after you've spent time preparing it. There are plenty of small moments of joy present in our everyday lives. Practicing taking them in first, and we wouldn't be surprised if you find it easier to rest in joy as a result.