How to Fake Happiness, Followed by the Three Types of Fun

Controlling your expression is the first step towards faking happiness.
Every morning when I sign into this blog, I look at my readership stats, including the most common search terms that send people to this space. Today I noticed that some poor soul came here looking to find out how to fake happiness. Wow, I thought, that’s one of those crucial skills that no one teaches you explicitly. I’ll have to try to fill that gap. So here goes.

For us gloomy folk with minimal spare energy, it’s worth going over the benefits of faking positive emotions of all types.

1. You may fool yourself into a better mood, since, to a surprising degree, emotion follows behavior rather than vice versa. If you fake a smile or a laugh, you will cheer up measurably, while adopting a severe expression can help you to focus.

2. It’s a brutal fact that people are drawn to people who are self-confident and cheerful. If you can fool others, they will respond more positively to you than if you simply expressed all of your misery.

3. Even if people aren’t fooled, they will appreciate the effort. Mood is contagious, and it’s wearing to spend time with someone who is consistently crabby.

4. Discipline is rarely wasted effort.

So, what are the mechanics of deliberate cheer?

1. Control your demeanor. Fake a smile. Don’t just grimace — involve your cheeks and eyes.

2. Control your conversation. Replace complaints and criticisms with positive remarks. If you start conversation on a negative note, others will follow your lead, and a downward spiral may result. Along the same lines, notice and follow others’ attempts to keep things positive. Don’t be that person who counters every upbeat remark with a “Yes, but….”

4. Control your movements. Move briskly like a happy person would, and choose activities that you would do if you were in a good mood.

5. Control your thoughts. Resolve to focus on the good and turn away from the bad. During this last hospital stint, I noticed that when mental patients suffer a slight or things don’t go their way, they tend to magnify the effect of the setback by talking about it endlessly and insisting that no one understands their pain. When you’re tempted to fume or ruminate, change the subject before you’re fully ready to let go. The good news is, if you smile and talk about other things, your thoughts will almost certainly follow.

How do you fake happiness? I’d love to hear about your efforts in the comments.

Moving along, there’s a good deal of wisdom in this post from The Happiness Project on the three types of happiness. In her tripartite division, Rubin identifies challenging fun, accommodating fun and relaxing fun. It’s worth reviewing all three briefly.

The first and best sort encompasses ongoing efforts to master a skill. In her book, Rubin tells of taking a drawing class when she hadn’t tried to draw a figure since childhood. She’s often self-conscious and anxious during the class, but it proves to be a source of pride and the skills she gains provide long-term pleasure. This is challenging fun: It entails difficult emotions, but provides long-term rewards.

Accommodating fun happens when you make the effort to enjoy yourself around other people. For example, when you take your kids to a movie that you’d rather not see or go to a good deal of trouble to plan a birthday celebration for a coworker. In the moment, you might prefer to be reading a good book, but by enhancing social bonds you’re providing for future fun.

The easiest and most common sort of enjoyment is pure relaxation, which comes from engaging in activities that require little effort or planning. Watching television is the obvious example here: It doesn’t require a huge investment of skill or effort, but the benefits end the minute you switch of the TV or finish that novel.

At the end of a rough day at work, we tend to gravitate towards relaxing fun exclusively. Rubin argues that one secret of lasting happiness is to push yourself towards the first two types instead. If you’re like me, you’ll cry. “But how can I do that when I’m tired all the time?” She ends her post with perhaps the best point of all: To improve your general level of happiness, you need to increase your energy levels by ensuring that you’re exercising, getting enough sleep, and eating healthfully. I found myself nodding along with that one — I’ve been shorting myself on sleep since I got back to work, and the results aren’t pretty.


6 thoughts on “How to Fake Happiness, Followed by the Three Types of Fun

  1. Thank you so much for this article 🙂 I have depression, and at first my friends sympathized and tried to make me feel better, but now they are just accusing me of being attention seeking. I decided the only way to fix it was to fake happiness, and this article helped me loads 🙂

  2. Thanks for this post !!! I am just practising my faking it happy!!!! and its great… been jobless for 4 years…. i try not to show my ‘sadness’ even to those who are dear to me, I will fake it till i make it.

  3. I fake happiness by joking and being loud with my friends. It always works. I also do it by making stupid, perverted, or racist jokes to ease the self criticism I feel inside. The only time I am truly happy is with my girlfriend. But I’m currently deployed making true happiness impossible.

  4. Not being a happy person by nature it is fatiguing and demoralizing that I have to be happy for OTHERS to be comfortable with me. I am efficient and good at what I do and that should be good enough. I should not have to be a damn cheerleader with a plastic smile and a polyester personality for others to feel at ease.

  5. My wife and I are having extremely difficult times. We married blissfully, ten, almost eleven years ago. We have recently adopted three older children from Colombia. With the combination of bad timing, bad economy and bad luck in Colombia, we have been on the brink of bankruptcy. Thankfully we both have fantastic jobs with a top ten company and we can work opposite schedules so someone is always home with the kids, but our life together is coming apart beyond the hopes of salvation. I know I need help, I tried to tell my wife during the adoption process that I needed help. I have a tremendous amount of guilt and inner turmoil. It is now spilling into my relationship with our kids. I can no longer fake being happy, please help. I am begging for help. I really need someone to help me so I don’t say things to my kids that I will regret. Help.

  6. I think rituals are important – I woke up in a bad mood this morning, with the usual befuddlement and the usual pain in my hip area announcing that I’m a good ways over the hill. Then I took care of my several cats’ greet-papa-and-eat-breakfast wants and made myself the one cup of coffee I allow myself every day. That was Ritual 1. Now I feel somewhat better.

    Ritual 2: go for a bike ride at the local bay. It’s beautiful there, and even though the beginning of the trip is always a bit difficult (muscle pain, regrets that I’m not still in bed reading, and the simple fact that I am by nature somewhat indolent), the ride will be punctuated by moments that make me glad I decided to go – seagulls, egret-sightings, the sensation of speed and wind, jumping fish, the boats in the harbor, and so forth. Once I’m done, I never regret having dragged myself out of the house, and of course I’ve put in some fairly serious exercise time. Physical exercise is no panacea, but it’s a good way to keep yourself going from one day to the next – lethargy is bound to make things worse, while staying active provides structure and opens a person up to positive experiences.

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