Key 9. Don’t ‘fake it until you make it’.

When a horse pins its ears back it’s displaying anger, so some horse trainers tape the horse’s ears forward to create a ‘feedback loop’, to trick the horse into calming itself.

Some happiness experts have the same idea. They say, ‘fake it until you make it’. The idea is that if we act happy, after a while we will become happy. If we keep smiling, for example, we will trick the brain into becoming happy.

Bad idea.

If it works for the horse it is because the horse is feeling one particular short-term emotion: annoyance (or something like it).

That ‘fake it until you make it’ strategy can work on our short term emotions too. For example, if we are in a scary situation like a job interview, or we are meeting someone special, or competing in a contest, then it can be a good idea to fake confidence. We can change our body language, vocal tone and manner, and feel more confident.

But when it’s a long term strategy, no. Don’t aim to create a permanent facade.

Core happiness is not a short term emotion, it’s our long-term day-to-day default emotion. It’s what we feel when nothing in particular is happening. It’s the lubricant to the life. If we have low core happiness – if we are feeling miserable in day-to-day life – something is wrong, and masking that misery by acting happy won’t work in the long-term. It can even cause problems: if we pretend to feel happy when feeling miserable we can end up feeling resentful and shortchanged. Worse, we can lose touch with the misery we really are feeling. How then can we deal with it?

We need to label the glumness and search for the reasons why we are feeling it. Trying to act happy will hinder that process.

Even with our short-term emotions I suggest that we don’t ‘fake it until we make it’. I can understand that there are times when it might be advantageous to pretend to be confident, but if we pretend to be cool when we feel jealous, or pretend to be calm when we are angry, we won’t get to express those emotions in a healthy, constructive manner. For example, how can we deal with our anger effectively if we pretend it’s not there?

And, how do we get to truly know ourselves if we are lying to ourselves?

In short, if we do choose the ‘fake it until we make it’ strategy let’s use it sparingly. Let’s first consciously acknowledge what we really are feeling, accept it, and then consciously adopt the pretence for the short time we need it.

Q. ‘In her book, Embracing Uncertainty, Susan Jeffers talks about pretending to be ‘the laughing Buddha’. That’s when we ‘radiate a happy, loving energy no matter what is happening.. It worked for her husband: his relationships with his co-workers improved. What’s wrong with that?’

When he ‘radiated happy, loving energy’ he was being nice to people. He wasn’t pretending to be happy himself.
‘But he was faking it. He was ‘faking’ loving energy for his co-workers, and found himself feeling it for real.’

There’s a difference between behaving affectionately towards others and manufacturing an emotion to mask what we ourselves are feeling. Hey, I might be wrong. If it works, go for it. But I’d rather be myself than pretend to be a laughing Buddha. Besides, ’radiating loving energy’ sounds like hard work.

Q. ‘I was told that if I didn’t think I could do something, I could pretend that I could, and attempt it anyway.’

Sounds like a good idea. In that instance you are faking a belief, or a thought, not an emotion.

Pretending doesn’t seem to help this person: ‘I’m polite and friendly and smile and laugh and while I’m doing it I’m thinking about how much I hate you.

 And by “you” I mean “everyone”. . . . . deep down, without irony or humour or melodrama or sarcasm, I’m filled with hate and just want the world to burn itself to a soulless cinder.’
An anonymous person on the ‘True Confessions‘ site.


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