My friends and I had lively conversation a while back about how to fake being happy. We joked about it, but all kidding aside, it made me think: Is it OK to pretend to be happy? Can you get happier by faking it (i.e., follow the old advice to “fake it till you make it)?
The concept made me want to learn more about the pros and cons of faking happiness. So, I started to do some proper research to find out what science and professionals in the positive psychology had to say about the matter. What I learned was fascinating.
Should you pretend to be happy? Why, or why not?
When the joyful facade you put on for others doesn’t match your internal emotional state, you may be faking happiness. But is pretending to be happy in front of others, or for others, ever a good idea? There’s been a lot of studies on this subject and a lot of debate among psychologists.
The act of faking happiness almost feels like it has become a societal norm. More than just smiling on the outside, people are acting like they’re having fun on dates when they’re not or pretending that everything’s fine in front of the boss because telling the truth seems like it would make things so much worse.
We don’t bother our aging parents with our unhappiness because we don’t want them to worry. We put our best foot forward for others because the last thing we want to do is stress them out. We rationalize that keeping our unhappiness to ourselves is the right thing to do; we have so many blessings after all. What right do we have to be unhappy?
So we fake happiness. Is that such a bad thing?
Is It Okay to Fake Being Happy?
You’ve probably heard the saying, “fake it til you make it.” But is faking happiness ever wise? Sometimes no, but sometimes yes.
When You Should Never Fake Happiness
Your needs matter, and your health matters. If faking happiness puts your needs or health at risk, then you should not pretend to be happy. When you’re feeling really low or find yourself experiencing chronic unhappiness, faking happiness could make things worse. Does this describe you? Then you need an appropriate outlet for addressing what’s going on in your life.
If you’re feeling depressed, speak with a qualified medical professional. If you’re unhappy in your relationship, devise a plan for working through your relationship troubles, which may include couples counseling.
If you’re unhappy at work, determine what’s making you so unhappy and create a strategy for dealing with it. (Suggested Reading on the B&C blog: Unhappy at Work but Feel Like You Can’t Quit? Here’s a Simple Solution)
You are responsible for your happiness, and you deserve to live a happy life. So, don’t wallow in misery and don’t pretend it’s not that bad if you’re having a tough time; be proactive about addressing whatever’s making you unhappy.
When Pretending to Be Happy Might Be Worth a Try
There are times when faking happiness can help you feel better and help you interact more effectively in social or work situations where your state of mind is no one else’s business.
In an article in Psychology Today, Dr. Harriet Lerner says, “Sometimes I encourage my clients to engage in creative acts of pretending, not to run from the truth, but rather to discover new truths. Pretending joy or happiness can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, helping us discover or enhance our capacity for these positive feelings.”
How to Pretend to Be Happy: 7 Tips for When You Need to Fake it
I’m a person who used always to wear my heart on my shoulder; if I was unhappy, the world could read me like a book. That hurt me, especially in the workplace. That’s why I feel there are times when I prefer not to share my emotional state with those around me.
Here are seven tips that can help you come across more positive and self-assured and positive, even if your mood isn’t quite there at the moment.
- Stand or sit “tall” with shoulders back; no slouching!
- Smile even if you don’t feel like it. To make your smile more convincing, think of a kind thought.
- If you encounter a conversation you’d rather not have, change the subject.
- Perform a random act of kindness for someone you don’t know.
- Engage in positive self-talk.
- Practice reframing. Johns Hopkins suggests you “reframe the situation,” which simply means find another way to look at it, i.e., find the proverbial silver lining in the cloud.
- Find one truth that you can share that is honest yet kind.
- De-escalate an intense situation with a light-hearted response.
Fake Happiness on Social Media
If you’ve spent any time on social media, you’ve undoubtedly come across posts where people were faking happiness. Sometimes that false happiness is apparent, and we wonder what they were thinking. Other times we “buy’ what people post and wonder why our lives can’t be that happy. Comparing yourself to others on social media is a trap. Actually, in general, comparing yourself to others is usually a bad idea.
According to the EndNow Foundation, which is dedicated to advocating digital safety, people fake being happy on social media for several reasons. Some do it because they struggle with self-acceptance, so they look for approval and validation from others. Some people fake happiness because they think it helps them come across as confident and successful; they don’t want others to know what’s actually going on in their lives.
Everything is awesome on social media. That’s real, right?
Finally, there’s the ‘everything is fabulous” social media culture where looking good, feeling good, and being happy all the time is seen as the way to fit in. And, we can all remember our school days when fitting in was what we wanted most in the world.
The pressure to be like others so we can “fit in” wasn’t good in high school, and it’s not good on social media. Plus, a good amount of the fake happiness on social media is being stoked by celebrities who are in the business of making money with their social accounts; the truth is they fake happiness to perpetuate their fame and sell stuff.
When it comes to faking happiness on social media, my advice is this: DON’T DO IT. Don’t post content that isn’t authentic; don’t feel obligated to share thoughts about your emotional state, either.
Don’t paint a picture on social channels that make you out to be anything but who you truly are. The upside of accepting yourself is that your life just works better, so accept yourself and share the real you. Yet, never feel obligated to share at all because not everything belongs on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter!
Signs You Are Pretending to Be Happy, But Aren’t
Many people pretend to be happy when they’re not because they think that’s what’s expected of them. There is such a thing as toxic positivity. According to Anne Silva, CEO of Tanglaw Mental Health, toxic positivity is “the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy and optimistic state at the expense of negative emotions and states that are part of our genuine human emotional experience.”
If you’re genuinely not happy, then stop pretending. Feeling miserable to make others happy is a price that’s far too steep for anyone to pay.
If you’re not happy, then it’s time to take action to generate more happiness in your life. Happiness is a choice, but you’ll need to arm yourself with some great tools to make that happen for you. Below are some wonderful books that can get you started on a happier path.