Some people are afraid to be happy. It isn’t that they don’t want to be happy or that they enjoy being unhappy. They have come to feel that being happy will come at a price or will be followed by calamity or at least ill fortune. In some cases, this dynamic can reflect superstitious thinking. For example, some might believe that an unknown karma-like force ensures that good luck produces misfortune or that happiness must be followed by sorrow to maintain a necessary balance of complementary energies.
Thinking of happiness as a harbinger of misfortune would surely make joy a frightening prospect. One might wonder why such a belief would not also expect that misfortune would lead to good fortune and sorrow yield joy.
But superstitious beliefs are not based on logical analysis or empirical evidence. Such asymmetry in reasoning can result from a marked discrepancy in salience between good luck and bad. We don’t worry that we might have success or win the lottery; we worry that the roof might leak or we might have a serious car accident.
Adverse events often demand our prompt attention and our action, whereas benefits do not. If your car won’t start, you need to do something to get where you need to go, whereas receiving a salary increase doesn’t demand an immediate response. Primed to notice and to be prepared for adverse events, we are more likely to develop beliefs about causes of misfortune and to entertain ideas of how to prevent or avoid misfortune.