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When Things Are Just a Little Too Good…

…do you start to get that feeling that something has to go wrong?  Why do we tend to sabotage our own happiness by fearing the worst?Lately, I’ve been noticing this tendency in a lot of people: clients, friends, even myself.  We spend out time lamenting our problems, and then when things get really good, we think it can’t last; this must be the calm before the storm.  Which, of course, makes it harder to enjoy and appreciate our happiness.

I have a few theories about this.  One is that anxiety can form at least part of the basis for success.  Often, we motivate ourselves to work harder through our anxiety.  The fear of failure makes us try our best to succeed.

But once we seem to be succeeding, the anxiety can reassert itself.  It says, Sure, you seem to be doing well, but what’s REALLY going on?  Anxiety is telling us not to get complacent.

In small doses, anxiety can be somewhat useful.  But after a point, it loses its utility.  It’s helpful to recognize where that point is, and to remind yourself that while your anxiety had a hand in getting you to a certain place of success, it might not be functional anymore.  It’s time to see it for what it is, and let go.

Another theory is that on some level, we believe that we’re not deserving of success or happiness.  And so we diminish it.

Look deeply to figure out if this is the case, and if so, where the feeling originates.  Is it in childhood?  Or is it something that’s presently going on, which reinforces some feelings of inadequacy?  By delving deeper, you have more options as to how to respond.

A third theory is that success and/or happiness might feel unearned.  In that case, we’re worried that it will be taken away, because it shouldn’t necessarily have been ours to begin with.  That is somewhat related to the theory above, about whether we deserve it, but might not involve core feelings of inadequacy.

There’s also a tendency for people to feel like anxiety is somehow protective, or preventive: If we’re worried, then it means we’re not taking things for granted; it means we’re prepared in case we lose the bounty we have.  The problem with this is, it’s rarely true.  People tend to suffer just as much when they lose, even if they’ve spent their time fearing loss.  It might even be worse, because if they do lose, they’re beating themselves up for not enjoying what they had while they had it.

Recognizing these tendencies in yourself can help you counteract them, so you can fully embrace the good in your life.




When Things Are Just a Little Too Good…

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2013). When Things Are Just a Little Too Good…. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Dec 2013
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