How To Find Happiness: Fake It First

How To Find Happiness

Can You Really “Fake It ‘Til You Make It” When It Comes To Being Happy?

What Are We Talking About When We Talk About “Fake Happiness”?

There’s a difference between having “rose-colored glasses” (pretending that a situation is better than it truly is) and the kind of “fake happiness” we’re talking about in this post.
We’re talking about training your brain to be happy by disrupting negative limiting patterns in your mindset, thought processes, and behaviors. This is a beneficial kind of fake happiness, which involves learning how to navigate challenging situations (cognitively and behaviorally) so that you can feel positive emotions even when your circumstances or environment aren’t eliciting them (yet). This practice primes your brain to react better to negative situations and staves off the self-perpetuating cycle of unhappiness and negative mindsets [1].


[READ MORE: Hacking The Connection Between Mental Health And Behavior]


Authentic Happiness & Fake Happiness Aren’t New Concepts

Though Aristotle started the conversation about authentic happiness around 340BC, his theories and definitions about fake happiness vs. true happiness were largely unexplored until the 1950s. That’s when questions like “what is true happiness” and related discussions about how to find happiness gave rise to the entire field of positive psychology [2].

Even more recently, there has been a lot of debate — even within the field of positive psychology — about where authentic happiness comes from and if there even is a universal method for becoming truly happy [3].


Real Happiness Has Real Results…

Research suggests that authentic happiness — called “subjective well-being” — is a complex and individualized experience [4]. That is, what makes one person happy will not guarantee another person’s true happiness. Nevertheless, broadly speaking, people tend to define true happiness similarly: it’s a feeling of general life satisfaction and a sense of confidence that your relationships (no matter how tangential or minor) to be mutually beneficial [5].

Aristotle called this feeling “eudaimonia.” Today, we consider it in terms of spiritual richness [6].

This type of happiness has been linked to leading a longer, healthier, and more socially-, professionally-, and economically-successful life [7]. As a result, learning how to be happy in this way is now widely considered a critical life skill, and many people (ranging from health professionals and behaviorists to educators and economists) have developed a keen interest in identifying what it is that enables people to find happiness.


… But Fake Happiness Plays A Role, Too

The least-understood element of learning how to find happiness in your life is what causes those feelings of satisfaction and assurance about your environment/community to develop.

There is a growing body of evidence that it’s not about what you have or can afford to have in your life; money can’t buy authentic happiness [8]. Nor is authentic happiness simply the absence of suffering or other obstacles.

Instead, experts in the science of happiness largely find that true happiness is, to some degree, a matter of choice. People who choose to adopt certain positive behaviors and mindsets, even in challenging situations, may find happiness more often, regret fewer choices, and have less difficulty navigating challenging circumstances than others [9]. This suggests that the core components of authentic happiness — life satisfaction and assurance — can much more easily develop and are more likely to flourish in certain positive mental states.


How Fake Happiness Can Help You Find Happiness For Real

Taken together, this all suggests that the components of true happiness aren’t “out there” waiting to be gathered; they are within you waiting to be nurtured. To that end, “fake happiness” (done the right way) can empower you to create the ideal emotional environment for growing true happiness exactly as you are and where you are in your life right now.

That is what makes choosing to fake happiness even (and especially) in stressful and discouraging situations a form of “emotional self-leadership.” That is, it’s a proven strategy an individual person can use to influence their own emotional state.

Why Leading With Positive Feelings Works Better Than Waiting For Positive Change

There are other methods of emotional self-leadership that can also help you feel authentic happiness even in negative conditions — like having a goals-mindset that seeks to change situations and environments that cause negative feelings [10]. Yet, for most people, it is easier to make an internal change than it is to implement meaningful and long-lasting environmental changes. What’s more, seeking to be happy internally first can make enacting those environmental changes towards less challenging circumstances a much easier process [11].

That makes fake happiness an essential early strategy for learning how to be happy.


The Most Effective Way To Turn Fake Happiness Into The Real Deal

One critical note is that there is a right and wrong way to fake happiness when you’re trying to cultivate the real thing. Doing it right isn’t as simple as just pretending everything is perfect; it requires adopting a specific mindset and making specific behavior changes, as well as understanding the appropriate time for fake happiness.

That makes knowing how and when to fake happiness for the best results a key part of learning how to be happy even when everything in life isn’t perfect.


Stop Unhelpful Fake Happiness Before It Hurts You

Most of the behaviors people associate with inauthentic happiness — pretending nothing is bothering or upsetting you, avoiding thinking about or addressing problems, or ignoring negative feelings — are harmful. In fact, when fake happiness takes the form of suppressing negative emotions, people face significant emotional and physical health consequences [12].

If you want to be happy, for real and for the rest of your life, you have to learn how to fake happiness for the better. Specifically, it is essential to amplify positive emotions (not suppress negative emotions) ahead of, during, and in response to challenging situations.

Amplifying positive emotions requires making behavioral and cognitive changes so you feel more positive emotional responses. This includes, for example:

  • Searching for areas of agreement during conflicts (and seeking mutually positive solutions);
  • Recognizing when and how things are going well (and celebrating and learning from success);
  • Challenging dysfunctional beliefs and negative self-talk;
  • Prioritizing positive mental imagery and practicing positive mental reframing (redefining “problems” as “challenges”; trusting that hardship is part of a transformative, rather than limiting, process) [10].


The Only Way Fake Happiness Can Make Things Better

There is only one context in which fake happiness creates the ideal conditions for cultivating authentic happiness: That is when you also actively address your negative feelings in healthy ways.

Choosing to fake happiness when you could otherwise seek support tends to make things worse [13]. For one thing, it prevents people from getting the support (emotional and otherwise) that they need. For another, studies show that even otherwise “good” fake happiness behaviors (like smiling and laughing) have the opposite of their intended effect when we’re communicating with people who care about us. Hiding negative feelings during conversations about upsetting situations actually elevates the stress levels of everyone involved and makes it even harder to find happiness [14].


Authentic Happiness Can Be Closer Than You Think

The overall idea behind “faking” happiness by maintaining a positive mindset is that even in the absence of outside causes for positive feelings, you can influence your own emotional state to feel positivity. Unhappiness tends to be a self-perpetuating cycle full of self-fulfilling negative prophecies; self-lead positivity provides a way out [15].

If you’re ready to change how you feel, and you’re tired of waiting for “things to get better”, we would love to help you break out of the limiting negative patterns in your life. That is the long-sought-after key to learning how to be happy.


[READ MORE: The Self-Perpetuating Cycle Of Happiness]





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