Acting The Way We Want to Feel
There are loads of self-help experts that advise us to smile and act happy, even when we’re feeling down. They recycle the same old information, telling us that Positive Thinking works! The logic behind this advice is that when we act happy, we become happy.
I used this technique for years (decades!) and thought it was working. When I was in a bad mood, I’d hide it. Instead of showing my sadness, I would fake a huge smile and act cheerful and happy. After a bit, I would truly feel cheerful and happy — at least for a few hours. How can this be a bad thing?
There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
In life, nothing is free. Recently I learned that suppressing our emotions (ie. faking it!) in the long-term seems to harm us more than it helps us. Studies show that faking it (also sometimes called “positive thinking”) actually makes us less happy, more stressed, and more likely to be sick.
According to a study by Butler et al, 2003, when people suppressed their emotions they had higher blood pressure and more difficulty forming relationships.
A different study bySchäfer et al, 2017, which looked at teens, showed that regularly suppressing emotions caused more symptoms of anxiety and depression. Ick!
Scientific America explains that “In fact, anger and sadness are an important part of life, and new research shows that experiencing and accepting such emotions are vital to our mental health. Attempting to suppress thoughts can backfire and even diminish our sense of contentment.”
When you push away your unwanted emotions, they’re still there. They’re just suppressed, which means they’ll reemerge later, possibly in an unhealthy way. And know this, when it comes out, it ain’t gonna look pretty. It may be directed towards our husband or children. It may also turn into depression or physical ailments.
Faking a Positive Attitude
For me, I was acting cheerful and happy when in public, but when I got home, I was depressed and anxious. The more I put on a happy face in public, the worse I felt in private.
How about you? Do you sometimes fake a happy mood? Perhaps when you’re at a job you don’t like? Visiting family members you don’t get along with? At a party you’re not enjoying? During the event, you may think you’re fine. You’re interacting with people, smiling, and acting upbeat.
However, once you get home it’s another story. After the event when you’re too exhausted to fake your happiness, your true emotions tend to come out. You may feel depressed or anxious. To make yourself feel better, you may do some unhealthy habits, such as over-eating, binge-watching TV, yelling at your family, etc.
When we pretend to be a good mood, it may last for the day, but our underlying issues are still there. Sweeping them under the carpet, according to research, may make it worse.
Only by feeling our true emotions and our pain can we start to heal. Don’t push away that bad mood behind a huge fake smile. Instead, try exploring why you’re in a bad mood and try to fix the underlying problem before it manifests itself in an unhealthy way.
Are you in a bad mood because you had a fight with your child? Talk to your child and make peace! Are you surly because you’re tired? Figure out a way to get to bed earlier on a regular basis. Whatever the issue is, try fixing the problem at its source rather than pretending it’s not there. Easier said than done, I know….
Let’s practice being authentic instead of fake. If we’re not in a good mood, let’s not pretend to be. This isn’t an excuse to snap at people or be rude or surly. Instead, it’s an invitation to be yourself, whatever that looks like today. We can be ourselves while also being pleasant and polite without faking a mood we’re not feeling.
What Would You Do?
Let’s imagine you’re feeling very sad early one morning. You are quietly working at your desk when Sally cheerfully stops by with a warm smile and wishes you a “Good Morning.” How should you respond?
- Glare at Sally, and grumble about how awful you feel, or
- Give Sally a huge fake smile, happily wish her “Good morning,” and ask her for all the details about her weekend, or
- Smile back at Sally and politely and nicely wish her a “Good morning.”
For me, I would now choose option C. I would be polite and sweet, without being overly effusive, negative, or fake.
There’s never an excuse to be rude (option A), but before I realized how much “faking it” was damaging me, I would regularly do option B. I would pretend to be cheerful, chatty, and the most upbeat person you’ve ever met. But it was killing me on the inside.
Fix the Problem
Only when we deal with a problem head-on with an attitude of “how can we fix this?” can we can begin to truly eradicate the problem.
Let’s live our lives with real enthusiasm and joy, rather than with a fake smile plastered on our face. Let’s solve our problems instead of pretending they don’t exist. True healing will only come when we’re open to our emotions and stop pretending we’re something we’re not.
Wishing you lots of love with your journey,
Butler E.A., Egloff B., Wilhelm F.H., Smith N.C., Erickson E.A., & Gross J.J. (2003). The social consequences of expressive suppression. Emotion. 3(1):48-67. PubMed. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12899316
Rodriguez, T. (2013). Negative Emotions are Key to Wellbeing. Scientific American. Retrieved from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/negative-emotions-key-well-being/
Schäfer J.Ö., Naumann E., Holmes E.A., Tuschen-Caffier B., & Samson A.C. (2017). Emotion Regulation Strategies in Depressive and Anxiety Symptoms in Youth: A Meta-Analytic Review. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 46(2), pp. 261-276. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27734198