Myth: Happiness – 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 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. There is a big difference between projecting an image to fool someone, and manufacturing an emotion to mask what we ourselves are feeling. Core happiness is not a short term emotion and it can’t be so easily manipulated. 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:
(1) If we pretend to feel happy while feeling miserable we can end up feeling resentful and shortchanged. Worse,
(2) we can lose touch with the misery we really are feeling. How then can we deal with it? If we ignore our dark feelings, they will lead us!
(3) When we pretend to feel any emotion while feeling another, we lose track of what we really are feeling, and then we lose our sense of self. Anxiety results.

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. (Aa Dictionary.)

Here are some other happiness myths:
The power of positive thinking. We are often told that we need to look on the bright side if we want to be happy. We need to see the glass half full. But is that helpful advice?
Myth: we need money to be happy.  Surely we need money to be happy, don’t we? Without it we would be in dire straits. So, why is it a myth?
Myth: to be happy we need to be kind. Countless times we are told that becoming a kind person will make us happier. Why isn’t that true?
Myth: We are happier with only a few possessions. Will having fewer possessions make us feel happier? How does that work?
Myth: We need to suffer before we can be happy.  Helen Keller once said: ‘The hilltops would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.’ Is she right?
Myth: We need to reach our full potential. The life coaches offer to help us become better people, yet in another breath tell us to accept ourselves for who we are. What’s going on?
Myth: We need to love ourselves to be happy. We keep hearing that, but is it true? No, it’s not.
Myth: We need to be loved to be happy  This isn’t true either! At least, not after our teens.
Myth: We need close relationships to be happy. It’s the biggest, most common myth about happiness of them all. Nearly everyone says it. Yet, it’s not true.
Myth: We need good health to be happy. That seems obvious, doesn’t it? After all, we won’t be happy suffering the black plague. But does good health bring core happiness?
Myth: We can choose to be happy.  This is one of the most pernicious myths going around. Of course we can’t choose to be happy!
Myth: Happiness comes from having low expectations. Don’t expect much and you won’t be disappointed, goes the saying. But does that equal happiness? Of course not.
Myth: We need to foster compassion to be happy. The Buddhists are particularly keen on the idea of fostering compassion. So, should we foster it?
Myth: We can earn our self-worthHow many of us live our lives trying to earn our self-worth? Might you be trying to earn your self worth?
– Myth: We should aim to succeed. Life-coaches want to tell us how to succeed, but we shouldn’t even try.