Do you ever feel a responsibility to act happier than you are?
Our attitudes affect the people around us. When we’re sad it makes the people who care about us sad too. And when we smile it makes others smile. All moods are shared moods. Even total strangers can pick up your vibes.
So, do you have an obligation to fake happiness if there is nothing to be gained by complaining? Suppose you have a bad day at work – nothing horrible, just a lot of little things going wrong. Sharing your woes might make you feel better, but it will be at the expense of a friend, loved one or coworker who has to listen to it. And dwelling on problems that can’t be fixed just gives the problems more power than they deserve.
It usually feels good to complain, which is why we do it. And of course the situation is reciprocal in the sense that you have to listen to the woes of others just as they listen to yours. So it’s a fair arrangement in that sense. But wouldn’t we all be better off if everyone just faked it and said they were having a terrific day even if they weren’t?
Scientists know that pretending to be happy – specifically by smiling – can make you happier in actuality. And when you have a bad day, what you really want is to feel good again. So for your own good, and for the sake of your loved ones, shouldn’t you be a huge phony and say your day went great? From a practical standpoint, that would seem to be your best strategy.
I practice a version of this type of self-hypnosis – and that’s what it is – every time someone asks “How are you?” I always answer “Great” or “Terrific” no matter how my day is really going. I do that partly because it helps manipulate me into a good mood and partly because I know it gives the person who asked a little boost. That’s how we terrific people roll.
In the course of a normal day, folks might ask how you are feeling several times. Imagine saying you are terrific a thousand times a year. That much reinforcement of a message has to have an impact on your brain over time. If instead you say you are merely “good” a thousand times a year, will that lock you into mediocrity? I think it might.
We humans leave a lot of happiness on the table by believing our moods are caused entirely by our luck on any given day plus our genetic makeup. But I think moods are 80% controllable by lifestyle. If you exercise, get enough sleep, eat well, and project a positive attitude you can generally have a good day even if the facts of the day argue otherwise.
Obviously no one can act happy in the face of genuine tragedy or bad news of the larger variety. And clinical depression probably isn’t much helped by fake smiling. But for the everyday ups and downs of mood, I think you control those if you want to. You just have to decide if you’re in charge of your own mood or you want to delegate that decision to chance. In my experience, at least half of the population delegates their moods to chance. That’s a lot of lost opportunity for happiness.