The hidden costs of faking happiness

Have you ever noticed that you are happy even when you are not?

I’ve done that more times than I’d like to admit.

We are often told to fake it until we make it, or to tell ourselves out loud how happy we are in front of the mirror every morning and that one day, not long from now, we will start believing our own lies .

The truth is, we rarely do that. And even if we did, would this really be happiness?

I do not think so. Ace Mark Manson puts it in his hugely popular, The subtle art of not giving AF*ck:

“No truly happy person has the need to stand in front of the mirror and declare that she is happy. That’s just what she is.”

Worse still, I’ve come to realize that following this tempting trick comes with its own hidden costs.

And they are not small. Let’s get into it.

1) Fear and discomfort

In my mid-20s, I transitioned from a career in finance to a career in ESL teaching. One of the first questions beginning students learn is: “How are you?”. Any idea what answer was taught in most schools?

“All good, thank you. How are you?”

I’m not here to criticize ESl teaching materials, but this raises a question: how often do we, competent English speakers, most of us who have a wide vocabulary to choose from, simply tell people, or worse, ourselves , that we are “good” or “doing well” – when the reality is that it couldn’t be further from the truth?

It’s inauthentic at best, and it has consequences.

As a professor and author Brene Brown as so poignantly emphasized in her work, vulnerability and authenticity are at the core of true connection and happiness.

The famous psychologist Carl Rogers has also pointed this out. He emphasized that incongruence (the gap between our actual self and the ideal self) can lead to significant problems psychological discomfort and anxiety.

In other words, feigning happiness can lead to an internal conflict that affects our well-being over time. Hardly a recipe for happiness.

For me, recognizing these costs has been a crucial step in embracing authenticity and nurturing real relationships. It’s not just about being faithful to others; it’s about being true to ourselves.

This insight may not seem groundbreaking. In fact, it could be considered plain old common sense. But realizing its impact on my mental health was profound.

However, if you are still not convinced, I will give you a quote to help you think about this point.

“If you trade your authenticity for safety, you may experience: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, anger, guilt, resentment and unexplained complaints.”

Brene Brown

The next one is a big one and touches on perhaps the best predictor of happiness that so many of us like to ignore.

2) A negative impact on relationships (and in turn on our happiness)

Faking happiness doesn’t just affect us individually; it also negatively affects our relationships with others.

And what is the best predictor of happiness?

According to Harvard researchers who continue to conduct the longest study of happiness ever, it’s our relationships. As recognized in The Harvard Gazette the study showed that “close relationships, more than money or fame, keep people happy throughout their lives.”

Does feigning contentment help us form close relationships? Of course not.

As a writer op Berkeley Executive Education“Authentic people are better able to build deeper, more rewarding relationships because they are built on truth and allow each person to express their true self.”

The point is that when we hide our true emotions, we deprive those close to us of the opportunity to truly understand and support us.

And here’s the real catch: it’s these close relationships that actually help us be truly happy.

This realization was a wake-up call for me.

In my personal journey, recognizing and stopping appearances wasn’t just about being more honest with others; it was about showing myself, warts and all.

This shift did not come without challenges. It made some interactions more complicated. But ultimately it led to deeper, more meaningful connections with the people in my life.

The costs of feigning happiness in our relationships may often go unnoticed, but its impact is significant.

3) The barrier to personal growth

Have you ever thought about how faking happiness could actually hinder your personal growth?

That wasn’t the case until I found myself stuck in a cycle of pretending everything was fine, even when it wasn’t. This disappointment was not only exhausting, but also hindered my personal development.

And this is not just a personal observation. A 2016 study showed that expressing negative emotions is beneficial to our mental health. Not to mention many psychologists, like Susan Davidadvocates recognizing our true feelings.

Why?

When we fake happiness, we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn from our emotions. Instead of understanding the cause of our feelings and finding ways to address them, we push them aside.

This realization made me stop pretending and admit my feelings, no matter how unpleasant. It was challenging and uncomfortable at times, but it led to greater self-insight and personal growth.

4) Creating unrealistic expectations

Picture this: you are always seen as the happy, happy person, the one who is always cheerful and positive. This is the image you’ve created, and this is what people expect from you.

Yet there are days when you don’t feel so sunny. But because that’s not the expectation, you feel obligated to maintain the facade of happiness.

This was my reality. I was trapped in a constant cycle of feigning happiness to meet the unrealistic expectations I had created for myself and others.

Psychologist Dr. Barbara Held states that this ‘tyranny ofthe positive attitude’ can lead to feelings of inadequacy and failure if we cannot always meet this impossible standard.

For me it was liberating to break free from these unrealistic expectations.

It meant letting go of the need to always seem happy and embracing my emotional range. This shift allowed me to relate more authentically to others and reduced the pressure I felt to constantly maintain an image of unflappable positivity.

5) We make other people feel like they should always be happy

When we fake happiness, we contribute to the illusion that this is the norm.

By doing this, we not only put pressure on ourselves to always be cheerful and upbeat, but we unintentionally put others under it as well.

This realization struck a chord with me. I saw how my act of pretending was not only harmful to me, but could also negatively impact others.

To break this cycle, I must publicly embrace my full spectrum of emotions and encourage others to do the same. This shift promotes a more inclusive, empathetic society where all emotions are recognized and accepted.

it comes down to

There you have it, folks.

There’s nothing wrong with looking on the positive side, and I certainly don’t condone you being negative.

But as with anything, too much of anything is a bad thing. Authenticity prevails.

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