A yellow arrow painted on a paved walk pointing toward happiness.

Pretending To Be Happy? Here’s How You Can BE Happy Instead

Chin up! Get back in the saddle. Fake it ‘til you make it if you have to. Turn that frown upside down and get back into the game. So much advice that only keeps you pretending to be happy instead of helping you to be genuinely happy. People mean well, but they don’t always advise well.

In their defense, those well-intended happiness pushers aren’t completely wrong. There are times and reasons for donning a smile instead of wearing your emotions on your sleeve. 

And research shows that smiling can actually lift your mood. It triggers your brain to release neuropeptides and “happiness hormones” like dopamine (pain reliever) and serotonin (antidepressant).

Translate that to pragmatics like productivity in the workplace, and you can see how one person’s mood, good or bad, can affect the whole team.

And, whether you are on the giving or receiving end, smiles, like yawns, are contagious.

But what if every smile is disingenuous? What if the one you fake looks fake and people don’t buy it?

What if, despite your best shot at pretending to be happy, you aren’t convincing anyone, including yourself?

It’s one thing to have a situational source of unhappiness. A loved one dies. You receive some troubling news. You get a flat tire on the way to work. 

Everyone has and understands “those days.”

By the same token, we have all known, met, or read about someone who was almost miraculously happy. Their circumstances may not hold a glimmer of positivity within them, and yet, these people radiate hope, gratitude, and genuine happiness.

All you have to do is read a smidgeon of Anne Frank’s work to realize that you are in the presence of someone who knows genuine happiness. The Nazis were looking for her family, and she was in hiding in an attic. Yet, she was inherently happy.

How can someone living in such fear know such happiness?

In March 1944, she wrote, “…I can at least write down what I think and feel. Otherwise I would suffocate completely.”

And that honesty — that courage to reveal in writing what the mind could otherwise choose to sequester — is where we’ll start this discussion.

Topping the list of reasons for pretending to be happy is an unwillingness to confront uncomfortable feelings.

And that’s understandable. So understandable that our brains actually have strategies to keep us from hurting too much. 

But even our brains can’t hide the truth. And they can feign happiness only so long.

Why, then, is this “writing your thoughts and feelings” so important as a way to counter pretending to be happy?

Well, it turns out that the answer may be rooted in something known for two-and-a-half millennia. 

What do Buddhist monks and neuroscience have in common? Mindfulness. 

The practice of mindful meditation is the practice of being present to the present. And, in terms of thoughts and feelings, it’s an acknowledgment of what is there — without judgment. 

And therein lies the key. Judgment.

A fascinating study by UCLA psychologists shows why naming your emotions makes their impact less intense.

Of all the things that genuinely happy people know about happiness, acceptance of one’s feelings tops the list.

Your feelings “are.” They just “are.” They reveal, inform, and bear witness to life. 

It’s always when you choose to deny them that your happiness is diminished — or, at best, a performance of pretense.

Perhaps you choose a career path because “it’s what your family has always done.” But, in your heart-of-hearts, you dread the day you leave school and face a life of living someone else’s dream.

Perhaps you have all the trappings of someone who’s been wildly successful and “has it made.” And yet, you’re miserable inside. In the words of Queen, “Nothing really matters, nothing really matters….

If you don’t validate your own feelings by at least naming them (writing them down is incredibly powerful), you will live in your own dishonesty. And dishonesty puts you at risk of “being found out.”

How can that existence possibly be happy?

Another reason the monks have always had it right is that happiness is not a goal. It simply is. It is found in the here-and-now.

And, in that regard, it is a choice. No, not to continue pretending to be happy, but to “choose” happiness as a birthright state-of-being. 

People who master this principle don’t feign happiness with giddiness and pretension. They simply have an undercurrent of happiness in their lives. And it influences their choices and perspectives.

Valuing your own unique gifts is an essential part of being happy. We are all guilty of comparing ourselves to others. You want to be just like the person you admire — the person whose life is “all together” and whose talents are sought after.

You may even blind yourself to your own gifts and how they are being called upon as an essential role-player in your life. After all, it’s common and easy to perceive others as being “in the know,” “more this,” “more that.”

Being truly happy is about being truly yourself.

And a certain amount of achieving that comes down to giving yourself permission to be yourself, especially if that includes being happy.

It also requires the release of anything that doesn’t serve you and your highest good. 

Eliminating physical clutter from your life is just the beginning. It’s also a metaphor for eliminating clutter from your inner life.

That means having the good sense and courage to forgive others. Releasing them from the captivity of your anger, hatred, and/or disapproval simultaneously releases you from the weight of all that negativity.

Cleaning the clutter out of your life — literally and figuratively — makes room for the good things you seek.

You see, happiness, like all positivity, is light. Its weightlessness comes from being unburdened by the limiting responsibility of carrying, honoring, and remembering all that negativity.

When you’re ready to stop pretending to be happy and are ready to be happy instead, remember Michelangelo. One of the most notable things he ever said was in reference to his David masterpiece: “I saw the angel in the stone, and I carved to set him free.”

No matter what has happened in your life, there is always an angel inside, waiting to take flight.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn and I’m a life coach. Schedule a 30-minute private consultation for support in putting together the pieces so you can create a happy and healthy life for yourself.

Looking for more information about how to live a happy and healthy life? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Building A Happy Life.

Dr. Karen Finn

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