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.
If it works for the horse it is because the horse is feeling one particular short-term emotion at the time: annoyance (or something like it). If you tape its ears forward permanently the effect will wear off.
Don’t get me wrong: the ‘fake it until you make it’ strategy can help us deal with short term emotions such as anger, envy and nervousness . . . If we are in a scary situation like a job interview, or 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, ‘faking it’ can help us cope with Imposter Syndrome.*
But as a long term strategy, no. Core happiness is not a short term emotion. It’s our default emotion. It’s what we feel when nothing in particular is happening. It’s the lubricant to 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 while 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 and for ways to deal with it. Trying to act happy will only hinder that process.
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 talked about ‘the laughing Buddha’. That’s when we ‘radiate’ a happy, loving energy no matter what is happening. It worked for her husband. He ‘radiated’ loving energy to his workmates, and after a while he felt as though he really was radiating energy!’
When he ‘radiated happy, loving energy’ he was being nice to people. He wasn’t pretending to be happy himself. Problems arise when we try to fool ourselves.
Besides, there’s a difference between behaving affectionately towards others and manufacturing an emotion to mask what we ourselves are feeling.
I’d rather be myself than pretend to be a laughing Buddha anyway. ‘Radiating loving energy’ sounds like hard work!
Q. ‘I was told that if I didn’t think I could do something, I could pretend I could, and attempt it anyway.’
Good idea! In that instance you are faking a belief, or a thought, not an emotion. That’s handy when you’re suffering Imposter Syndrome.*
* Imposter Syndrome (U.S. Impostor Syndrome): the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills: people suffering from impostor syndrome may be at increased risk of anxiety.