How to embrace happiness

All of a sudden you feel intensely happy, but at that exact same moment of bliss you think: What if I lose all this? Journalist Nina Siegal wonders why we find it so hard to embrace happiness, and especially: How can we learn to do so? 

I remember when I first had the thought: I was about sixteen years old and I had a jacket that I really loved. It was red, comfortable, it fit me perfectly and felt like an expression of my personal style. I thought: This jacket makes me happy. I’m so glad I have it. Well, within a week it was gone. Who knows how I lost it. I wasn’t someone who often misplaced things—I’m still not—and so it was very weird that it just disappeared. Somehow, I came to the conclusion that it was precisely because I had become so attached to it, because owning it had made me so happy: that must have been why I had lost it.


This silly little incident, and the philosophy I developed as a result of it over the years, transmuted it into a personal superstition: I taught myself not to get too attached to things, because the likelihood was that I would lose them. And then, somehow, over time, this crept into a larger kind of anxiety about any form of attachment. If things went well in my life, I’d get nervous. “Watch out!” I’d think, “If you get too happy right now, something bad is going to happen next.”

Lately, this line of thinking has manifested in a more nefarious form. Sometimes, when I’m playing with my daughter and thinking how wonderful it is be the mother of such a bright, beautiful and charming child—that superstitious negative thought crashes in. “Don’t get too happy, because some horrible thing is going to happen that’s going to destroy this bliss.”

Terrible, isn’t it, that I can’t just allow myself to be happy even for a little moment, before launching into the negative predictions? Since I’ve become aware of this tendency in my thoughts (via meditation), I’ve also learned that I’m not alone in having a certain fear of enjoying happiness.

Text Nina Siegal Photography Getty Images