Are Depressed People Afraid of Happiness?

Are Depressed People Afraid of Happiness?

via Psychology Today by Arash Emamzadeh


  • Both a fear of happiness and negative affect interference predict increased depression, a new study found.
  • The distress depressed patients experience in response to positive stimuli should be a primary goal of treatment, the results suggest.
  • Therapies for depression should try to address biases related to the avoidance of positivity.

Source: Greyerbaby/Pixabay

Jordan and colleagues, in a paper published in the March issue of Journal of Clinical Psychology, suggest that depressive symptoms are associated with two phenomena: Negative affect interference and fear of happiness. Before discussing the study, let me explain the meaning of negative affect interference and fear of happiness.

Negative Affect Interference in Depression, Anxiety, and Trauma

Research on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) suggests many individuals who have experienced trauma often react to pleasurable stimuli and positive events with negative affect (e.g., anxiety, guiltshame). This is called negative affect interference.

These intrusive negative emotions can discourage traumatized individuals from engaging in pleasurable activities in the future. Not engaging in enjoyable activities reduces the likelihood of experiencing joy and happiness, and increases the likelihood of depression.

Patients with anxiety and particularly depression may show similar tendencies. Why? According to the reward devaluation theoryanxious and depressed patients actively avoid and devalue positivity and rewarding activities because of past associations between enjoyable activities and negative emotions, like guilt, shame, frustration, and disappointment.

Depression and Fear of Happiness

A related phenomenon is called fear of happiness. (You can find the Fear of Happiness Scale here.)

Happiness and joy are not always experienced as pleasurable. Sometimes they are experienced as frightening. Such fears of happiness (and other positive emotions) might have a number of potential causes, including:

  • the belief that one does not deserve to be happy
  • fear of loss (i.e. loss of happy feelings or causes of happy feelings, such as money or friends)
  • happiness often being experienced as less intense and thus more aversive than the more familiar feelings of unhappiness
  • associations between happiness and distressing events that occurred at the same time or soon after experiencing feelings of happiness

Furthermore, some individuals with depression “inhibit any form of gratification because of strongly held taboos… instilled by their families and culture” (p. 1362).

To give an example, Gilbert et al. recount the case of a patient whose mother had agoraphobia, and who recalled “often getting excited about going out to the beach or to watch a film only for her mother to break down at the last moment in a panic attack, triggering arguments with her father.” As a result, the patient learned “it was better not to look forward to things.”

… keep reading the full & original article HERE