In a world where we are so interconnected by the internet and social media, the way we interpret our own self-worth can be heavily influenced by what we see from those we scroll past on our newsfeeds. It is hard to separate the seemingly perfect lives we see on our phone screens from the reality that no one is as perfect as they make themselves out to be when they are broadcasting their lives to an audience. Still, in the back of our minds, we often rationalize our own experience as being less than, thus increasing feelings of unworthiness, sadness, loneliness, and depression. But, do we express those negative feelings to our own support system or social network? Not usually, because that would only confirm how far away we are from “perfect”. Thus, people will often put on a brave face and fake happiness with others, only to push down feelings that cause them pain and suffering. A person can only push down those feelings for so long, though, and as negative feelings bottle up, they can lead to serious consequences, including severe clinical depressive episodes or other mental health concerns.
People will often go out of their way to put on a happy or positive attitude when in social situations or with others, even when they don’t feel that way. Because of the stigma of mental health concerns, many people find it hard to express their thoughts and feelings when the feelings are negative or self-defeating. People can be afraid of the judgment or response from others, assuming that they will say that they need to “suck it up” or “think happy thoughts” when often depressive symptoms or other mental health concerns make it hard for people to do so automatically. Many forget that these symptoms are often outside of a person’s control and while they would love to just “snap out of it”, there are chemical and emotional reasons why their negative state persists. It may often feel easier for someone to portray themselves as happy and full of positivity to avoid feeling shame or judgment from people in their lives when feeling down.
Here are some ways to determine if you have been faking happiness in your life, but deep down may be feeling sadness, frustration, and overall stress:
- Comparing Self to Others
- A good way to tell if you’ve been faking your happiness is if you find yourself consistently thinking about and comparing yourself to others when you are alone. Finding flaws in yourself or your current life path can cause you to feel less-than, but may be something you keep to yourself and only use to be self-critical, increasing decreased feelings of worthiness.
- It’s important to recognize that no one is on the same life path or trajectory and that we cannot compare where we are in our journey to others, as we will never feel fulfilled or happy with the process. Focusing on your own goals and how to get there can help you to get out of the spiral of jealousy that often comes with comparison.
- Hyper-Focused on Future
- Spending too much time scrutinizing over what a person thinks is going to happen in the future can cause them to feel increased worry of stress, and decreases their ability to feel happiness in the moment. Often people will fake happiness through difficult times and say things like, “this will all get better soon”, but if you aren’t able to accept where you are in life currently, the stress will decrease your ability to find the motivation to put in the work to achieve success in the future.
- Stuck in the Past
- Spending too much time thinking about negative things that have happened can also decrease the ability for someone to feel happy and confident with their future. People often make self-deprecating statements about difficulties in their past to make light of them and minimize their impact, but continuing to ruminate on what has happened in the past can decrease a person’s ability to use these experiences as learning experiences to grow from. It’s important for people to be able to feel the disappointment that comes from negative experiences in the past, but to reframe them in their mind to help them learn from them and move away from the pain that comes with them to focus on present successes.
- Avoiding Honest Communication
- Often people who are faking happiness will avoid sharing their deep feelings with those around them that they trust, fearing that being vulnerable with others will make people uncomfortable or that they may see this as a weakness. It is important to open up honest communication channels with trusted loved ones so that you can receive empathy and support from others. This can also help people perspective take about how they’re feeling and to gain some insight outside of a person’s feelings to help them prioritize what could help them to feel better and what is keeping them stuck in negative thought spirals.
- Taking Out Stress on Loved Ones
- Often when we fake happiness, we push through the day trying to be fun, charming, and engaging, only to get home and let out all the stress and frustration we’ve been holding back. This can lead to people lashing out at loved ones or causing them to feel responsible for a person’s mood or behavior, and could lead to more problems with their relationships, which can only increase the negative thoughts and feelings they are experiencing about themselves.
There are many people that will say that you can “fake it ‘till you make it”, or you can put on a happy face until you actually begin to feel it. The research shows that if you are feeling minimal stress and discomfort, this can actually be effective in improving your mood! But, long patterns of negative stress and deep subconscious feelings of low self-worth are harder to fake. If you’re experiencing long patterns of negative behavior, you may need the help of a mental health professional to teach you coping skills to improve your overall functioning.
Dr. Shannon McHugh is a Licensed Clinical and Forensic Psychologist in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults who have developmental and social delays, behavioral difficulties, and those who have experienced traumatic events