Are You Pretending to Be Happy? (The Avoidable Pain of Pretend Happy)

Jordan Brown

Are you guilty of this?

Are you pretending to be happy?

If you are, it could end up being disastrous.

When I was suffering from depression years ago, I thought I had to pretend to be happy to get through it. I thought I had to let everyone know that I was OK, that nothing was wrong with me.

But it ended up making everything much, much worse.

And I learned some very important lessons that saved me from future pain.

How Do You Know If You're Faking It?

"Fake it til' you make it!" This phrase gets tossed around like a worn-out Frisbee.

Usually it applies to the working world, to people who are trying to prove themselves in a new job or a new set of obligations. Normally, the phrase doesn't make you think of mental health and the myriad emotions and thoughts that come with it.

But faking it until you make it is terrible advice when it comes to mental health.

Here are some signs you might be pretending to be happy when you're really not.

Life is the greatest teacher, so I pulled these telltale signs from my own life.

  1. Plastering on a smile - When I was dealing with depression, I smiled more than I usually did. Except it wasn't a real smile. Real smiles show in your eyes as well as your mouth. My smiles were all mouth. Good observers can tell when smiles aren't real, and it can lead to suspicion and doubt, which can create even more anxiety for the person who's faking a smile to pretend to be happy.
  2. Giving very little information - "I'm fine. No seriously, I am." Why is it that when we're struggling, we think that giving the shortest, most information-depleted statements are going to assuage our inquisitors? When I've actually felt fine in my life, I don't give one or two-word statements. I tell stories. I crack jokes. Conversations feel effortless. I now know that terse remarks are big indicators that I'm not doing well.
  3. Feeling physically and emotionally drained all the time - The body knows when it's not living in an authentic way. Whenever I've "worn a mask," my energy levels fall dramatically. It may not happen right away, but it always happens. Living in the moment and being authentic feels effortless. Pretending to be happy, or simply pretending to be something I'm not, is like being forced to play a familiar song on an instrument I've never used before. Sure, with enough practice it can be done, but it's much better to approach the task with intention and diligence, not because I'm forced to do it.

Don't Pretend to Be Happy (Or Anything)

We live in a world that wants people to be "always on" and ready to go. Life is fast-paced, and if you're not moving forward, you're moving backwards.

That's great if you're a track and field athlete, but it's not so great if you're a regular human being going about regular old life.

Pretending to be happy is dangerous not only because of the reasons I mentioned above. Pretending to be happy is dangerous because you're denying your one and primary truth--who you are.

Only you can be who you are. Sometimes cliches are apt descriptors of life.

When you show up in life as your full self, your goal is not to control what people think about you. It's not to dupe others by pretending that you're something you're not. It's to live in an authentic way. In the long term, authenticity breeds trust. It lets people know that you're a real human being who responds in real ways to your environment.

Everyone knows that superheroes don't actually exist, at least not in the comic-book-character sense. The real heroes display a wide range of emotions. They're in tune with their emotions. They model healthy behavior, and that means being sad when they're sad, and seeking help when life gets way too difficult. There's absolutely no shame in that.

If you pretend to be happy, you're only hurting yourself. Because change doesn't happen when you will it to be so. Change happens because your current reality is fully acknowledged and fully integrated into your state of being.

Only then can you be happy with who you are and with your important, irreplaceable place in the world.