Did you know some people suffer from a clinical phobia of joy?
Unlikely as it sounds, it’s true—some people actually FEAR joy. It’s called hedonophobia, derived from the Greek “hedone” (pleasure, delight) and “phobias” (fear).
But you do not have to suffer from this phobia to have a complicated relationship with joy or pleasure.
There are a whole host of factors that influence how you prioritize joy and whether you actively pursue it or not. Your childhood family system and culture will provide the most information about your current relationship to joy (as it does for love and romantic relationships).
My husband, Victor, is a good example. He is a first generation, eldest son of two immigrant World War II survivors. He is also a “recovering” Catholic as he likes to say. He has spent a lifetime negotiating his very complicated relationship to joy and pleasure developed by his upbringing and parents’ traumas.
The Catholicism that Vic was first exposed to was of the old-school, pre-Vatican II kind—emphasizing sin, suffering, hell, damnation, and taking a dim view of joy and pleasure. Some sort of punishment was always waiting around the corner if you had some fun. Institutionalized and ingrained guilt was also ever present. Vic’s mother, Francis, was a German who, along with members of her family, survived the post-WWII Soviet concentration camp system. The secondary trauma Victor experienced as a child—listening to her reliving her horrific camp experiences—factored significantly in his conflict around embracing joy and pursuing pleasure.
Your unique life story is the foundation for how you experience the world. Your own downloaded blueprint from childhood holds many of the answers to how you regard joy today.
If you want to be a fearless joy seeker and allow contentment to be the rule rather than exception, answering these questions is a good place to start.
- How did your family regard the pursuit of joy or pleasure?
- Was there value placed on what you enjoyed?
- Was joy or pleasure seeking encouraged or discouraged?
- Did your family often laugh together?
- What events or experiences were celebrated with joy?
- Did your parents or caregivers enjoy their lives?
- What was the emotional atmosphere in your home?
- Was your home an open system, where friends were welcome?
- Was your home a closed system, only for immediate family?
Your answers should provide you with a snap shot of how your pleasure paradigm was partially formed. This information will not magically bring more joy into your life, but all information is power. Now that you have connected some of the dots backward to the original joy set point, you can choose to change your mind if you are not satisfied with the level of joy in your life.
4 Ideas to Fearlessly Increase Joy
1. List It
Make a comprehensive list of everything that brings you joy. Include big and small pleasures (e.g. swing on a swing, eat an ice cream cone, read something silly and lighthearted) and a few you have yet to experience but would like to try (sky diving, anyone?). Leave this list where you can see it daily as a reminder to prioritize being joyful!