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How Pavlov Messes With My Happiness

This article about “Happiness Hangovers” –about the letdown we often feel after good times– sparked a little discussion on my Facebook page about the tick-tick-tick of the clock on the TV show 60 Minutes. The sound is, several of us agreed, a Pavlovian stimulus that triggers the here-comes-Monday blues.

Do you think the producers know how bummed that sound makes us?

The damn happiness hangover.

I start worrying about happiness hangovers while I should still be happy. Even as I’m having a good time, I’m imagining the end of it. I can easily spoil a lovely time for myself just by thinking about how sad I’ll be when it’s over.

I remember this about Christmas when I was a little girl. (Yes, I’m Jewish. Long story.) Even as we were unwrapping presents and eating coffee cake, I felt loss. It was a day bathed in warmth and magic that I knew could never be recaptured once it was over. It was the saddest happiest day of the year. My birthday came a close second.

Now, when I’m laughing with friends or raking leaves or romping with the dog or sitting quietly with my husband, I sometimes think “These are the good old days,” and feel sad because I know that someday I’m going to miss these good old days.

This is anticipatory anxiety: Feeling anxious about something that is going to happen.

In the research, I found papers looking at anticipatory anxiety in regards to fear of flying and spiders, in social anxiety, among women undergoing chemotherapy. Happiness? Not so much.

But if the Happiness Hangover is common enough to get it’s own apt nickname, then I’m probably not alone in anticipating it with anxiety that spoils my good time.

Learning how to take pleasure in pleasure is a peculiar challenge some of us face. Many times, friends have said to me, “Things are going so well that I know something terrible is going to happen.”

I definitely know the feeling. But wouldn’t it be a lot more fun to just enjoy the presents and coffee cake?

Anticipatory anxiety is the opposite of living in the moment.

And for me, sadness has been linked to happiness, through some kind of complicated and perverse classical conditioning. Because happiness ends, it makes me sad. And because of that, I worry my happiness away.


To  extinguish the conditioning, I need ways  to soften the blow at the end of happy times.

On Sunday nights, I find a run to Dairy Queen helps alleviate the 60 Minutes blues. I can only hope DQ eventually makes Sundays less sad rather than the other way around.

How Pavlov Messes With My Happiness

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APA Reference
Dembling, S. (2011). How Pavlov Messes With My Happiness. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 12, 2019, from


Last updated: 8 Sep 2011
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