Cherophobia – Am I afraid of happiness?

The symptoms of cherophobia or fear of happiness can often be confused with depression. While depression is a persistent feeling of anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure), cherophobia is an active avoidance of things that might bring joy.

Cherophobia can be culturally prescribed. For example, I remember growing up with the Bengali (or was it a family saying?) proverb “Joto Hashi, toto kanna”… roughly translated, however much you laugh, you will cry. I was in my mid-thirties before I recognized this attitude to be a life sentence of suffering fueled by judgement and anger.

According to this article, here are the symptoms of Cherophobia:

  • Anxiety when you’re invited to a social gathering.
  • Passing on opportunities that could lead to positive life changes due to the fear something bad will happen.
  • Refusing to participate in “fun” activities.
  • Thinking being happy will mean something bad will happen.
  • Thinking happiness makes you a bad or worse person.
  • Believing that showing happiness is bad for you or your friends or family.
  • Thinking that trying to be happy is a waste of time and effort.

I’m still a bit averse to what others might consider fun but I don’t actively avoid or judge joy anymore. Allowing myself to feel joy without guilt, whether sleeping in, laughing uncontrollably, dancing or dressing up has ushered in a sense of deep gratitude, instead of a sense of false superiority based on sadness. I can enjoy a dazzling sunset knowing that night will follow.

It is a misconception to think sad events that happen to us give our lives meaning and depth. Rather, it is what we do and how we overcome sadness that gives our lives meaning. Meaning is always an active construction, never simply given.

You may be asking, how can I be happy if my loved one is suffering. Out of empathy and respect, shouldn’t I also be unhappy and suffering? In a healthy and loving relationship, one would never expect another to suffer on their behalf. If I were suffering, I would want my children, husband, friends to keep finding joy instead of reflect my pain. Would’nt you?

You may be saying, happiness is stupid. Refer to the symptoms.

You may be saying, why am I always sad? Maybe you are surrounded by sad people and out of emotional loyalty decided to be sad too .

You may be saying, I don’t believe in happiness. I believe in contentment. Maybe you are allowing yourself culturally permissible doses of happiness.

If you are sad and depressed, ask yourself:

Do I want to feel happy but don’t know how, or do I want to feel sad and holier-than-thou?

Either answer can be right. For you.

Self-awareness and self-acceptance can be so liberating and yes, even joyful. The choice to look inward and ask these difficult questions is yours alone.

Wishing you joy, happiness, peace, contentment, rejoicing “chero”


Happiness as Defiance in Bangladesh


According to the Happy Planet Index, Bangladesh ranks 8th among 140 countries. Just for comparison, the USA, where I live, ranks 108.  How is this possible that a place plagued by a high density of population, poverty, halting traffic, uncertainty and low life expectancy be so….happy? There seems to be no reason to be happy in the developing world. Afterall, most of my family chose to emigrate to the West. What did I miss?

Over my brief holiday stay in Dhaka, I caught glimpses from a fourth story veranda that might explain the high happiness factor.

Here’s my personal observation:

People seem to actively pursue small joys despite the inconvenience of crowds, traffic, workday, etc. No excuses. Morning walks by the lake, tea at the street corner with friends and strangers, wearing vibrant colors, music on the rooftops and streets and prayers on the street. Two things stand out:  socializing and eating. A lot. Everywhere. Based on the quantity and variety of food in the streets no one would believe hunger existed in Bangladesh.

New Year’s Eve there was a government ban on fireworks. Yet, I was woken up at midnight to the sound of fireworks shooting off the rooftops along with a steady stream of rising gentle glowing paper lanterns. Some caught on fire, some blew off to far away places to litter a different neighborhood the next day, there were explosive color and noise, alongside flickering floating lights, there was the sound of laughter, the smell of food cooking on the rooftops. People are willing to burn money for a good show of joy (fireworks are super expensive!) as a social service not mere personal luxury. It was the most private yet shared joy I experienced in any New Year’s Eve celebration ever,  as much a spectacle as a meditation. It was beautiful and unsafe. Whenever I need a moment of magic I’ll remember that dark night sky shot through with color, light, laughter and joyful defiance.  Thank you, Atiya for the photograph capturing the lanterns.

There is no reason to be happy. Like beauty, happiness is not efficient, clean, predictable, convenient or contained. In Bangladesh happiness doesn’t perch on your shoulder gently when you are not looking, as a side effect of ease. It is a  hard-fought battle against difficult circumstances and with considerable risk, along with others sharing tea and snacks.

Snack on and socialize everyone!

May you be happy,









Yoga Poem- Happy the Man by John Dryden

This past week, during yoga practice, I focused on “staying in the present moment” and asked myself and my students to notice what makes our mind stray from absorbing everything that is happening right at this moment. Is it when a pose becomes uncomfortable, maybe when we become bored, maybe because we feel guilty for taking the time out of our busy day when so much needs to be done, maybe because we begin to judge the music, the space, the people or ourselves. So many possibilities nestled in the actuality of the moment that we too often ignore.

This poem read on the Writer’s Almanac this morning beautifully sums up the gratitude of living, owning and flowing in the moment. [replace the gendered language to suit you as you read].

Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own:
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.
Be fair or foul or rain or shine
The joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine.
Not Heaven itself upon the past has power,
But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.


Apple Crisp and Ice cream Happiness



Why, Dot asks, stuck in the back
seat of her sister’s two-door, her freckled hand
feeling the roof for the right spot
to pull her wide self up onto her left,
the unarthritic, ankle—why
does her sister, coaching outside on her cane,
have to make her laugh so, she flops
back just as she was, though now
looking wistfully out through the restaurant
reflected in her back window, she seems bigger,
and couldn’t possibly mean we should go
ahead in without her, she’ll be all right, and so
when you finally place the pillow behind her back
and lift her right out into the sunshine,
all four of us are happy, none more
than she, who straightens the blossoms
on her blouse, says how nice it is to get out
once in a while, and then goes in to eat
with the greatest delicacy ( oh
I could never finish all that) and aplomb
the complete roast beef dinner with apple crisp
and ice cream, just a small scoop.

“Happiness” by Wesley McNair from The Town of No and My Brother Running. © David R. Godine, 1998. Reprinted with permission.   (buy now)

from the

Food, Color and Happiness


Truck Image from:

A blogger from Tasmania, Australia, Harry wrote an entry entitled The Happiest City in the World that referred to Rajshahi, Bangladesh, voted the happiest city on earth by the World Happiness Survey in 2006. What accounts for the happiness in such a difficult social, political and economic context? He asked. His blog entry was again published in The Bangladesh Reader (Duke, 2013) for its vivid description of his dinner and travel experience in Bangladesh. For me, hungryphil, the association of dinner and colorful trucks with general happiness supports my suspicion regarding the inherent sociality and creativity of consumption, both food and design. Here is an excerpt from Harry’s blog:

Dinner last night, had at Aristocrat roadhouse halfway between Rajshahi and Dhaka, was a perfect illustration of this. After my favourite Bangladeshi meal, dhal makhani, was served I watched as each of my Bangladeshi colleagues served each other before serving themselves and, having noticed the plate of the person next to them emptying, stopped eating mid-mouthful to add yet more naan to their culinary neighbour’s plate. Such displays of caring and gentleness cycled around the table throughout the meal, naturally amongst the customary pleas of ‘No, no, that’s too much.’ But it would be rude to deny the friendship and, after approaching proficiency in eating with my hands (right hand puckered into the shape of a badminton shuttlecock as it gathers up the food and elephant trunks it into your mouth; left hand avoiding direct food contact but used to spoon yet more dhal onto your plate and the plates of those around you) we rolled down the ornate Aristocrat stairs and into the waiting minibus. It was time to see more of Bangladeshi’s colour, and the road was as good a place as any to observe it.

Bangladeshi trucks must be of the most colorful in the world. With a framing coat of canary yellow, each panel is painted with utopian scenes of snow-capped mountains, meandering rivers, enchanted forests and fairytale palaces; verdant greens, royal blues, crimson reds and burnt oranges. No pastel shades for vibrant Bangladesh. Even the central hub of the rear differential is painted, usually mimicking that of half a large soccer ball. Whereas the trucks are simply glaringly colourful, the passenger rickshaws are both colorful and ornate. Gold, silver and bronze are added, as is the standard shocking pink. The flat-tray rickshaws don’t escape colour either: the slatted sides are painted in alternating blocks of yellow, red, blue, green and orange. Even the twin-light Victorian-style Rajshahi lampposts get the colour treatment with one bulb shining pink, the adjacent one green.

I wonder how I might conduct a study that attempts to find correlations between food sharing, use of color and happiness. In a land of poverty, sharing transforms into a self-negating and revolutionary act. The performance of serving and attending to fellow diners is both an obligation and right of the host. One always offers to fill up another’s plate. If only this sentiment translated into all our actions. Similarly, the brightly decorated trucks attempt to ameliorate the confusion of Bangladeshi roads and aggressive driving. As if the well dressed deserves the right of way. Hmmm. Color masks and highlights the threat of the Bangladeshi roads, just as dinner gestures of sharing masks and highlights scarcity. Is this another expression of what Dan Gilbert names synthetic happiness? The willful construction of joy. Synthetic happiness, Glibert argues is as potent as the natural happiness we experience when we get what we want.

Could it be that food and design are both activities of synthetic happiness through which we fabricate shared joy despite our human condition? Is that the lesson of the World Happiness Survey?