will a greater sincerity make you less happy?



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IF YOU'VE BEEN AROUND for fifty years or so, and if you interact with people 15 to 30 years old, you have probably noticed a marked trend away from the phony "putting on a happy face" you saw so much as a child. It is becoming more and more common for people to avoid trying to fool others into thinking they're happy when they're not.

I think this is a good trend. It is a trend away from fake smiles and insincere bubbliness and toward authenticity and honesty. It is a trend away from worrying about what others may think and toward relying on what you think. Emerson called this Self-Reliance.

There is a drawback to this trend, however. I will explain the drawback in a minute, but first read this experiment from an article on humor:

"The actual expression on your face might make it easier or harder to see what's funny. This idea comes from an experiment by Fritz Strack, a psychologist at Mannheim University in Germany. He took a bunch of people and told them he was going to test their physical skills. Then he showed them a series of cartoons and told them to rate the cartoons' funniness. But he told them to hold a pen in their mouth while they did it. Half of them were told to hold it between their lips; the other half, between their teeth.

"The ones with the pen between their teeth rated the cartoons as funnier.

"Apparently, when they held the pen between their lips, they couldn't smile, but when it was between their teeth, they were forced to smile the whole time, and that physical change in their facial expression changed how funny something was. Interesting. And it might have some usefulness to you in your quest to see things as funny."

In another article — this one about developing an attitude that will help you accomplish goals — you find out about two more experiments along the same lines:

"The researcher Patricia Ruselli did an experiment that went like this: The subject was brought in and told to watch a slide presentation designed to produce sadness. Half the subjects were told to frown while they watched it. The other half were told not to frown.

"For several hours afterwards, the people who frowned felt more depressed than the people who didn't frown...

"Another bit of evidence comes from a pilot study that found when people were injected with Botox to get rid of furrowed brows, it improved their mood, showing in particular, decreases in symptoms of depression. Even when your facial expression is changed with a paralyzing toxin, it can alter your emotional state.

"The point of all this is for you to realize that when you change your facial expression, you change your feelings."

The drawback I see from the trend toward authenticity is more time spent in bad moods. Here's how it works: Something makes you feel less than happy. You honestly frown or purse your lips or whatever. And then that outward and honest expression of your negative state makes you more likely to be in a bad mood longer, to find things less humorous, to act in ways more likely to offend or hurt people close to you, etc.

Does this mean you have to make a choice between being genuine and natural (but grumpy) or being artificial, back-slapping, glad-handing, and insincere (but happier)?

I don't think so. Like many other things, this issue is not a black-and-white, all-or-nothing problem. Thinking of your choices in those terms is itself another significant cause of bad moods, oddly enough, but that's another story (read more about that here).

The distinction missing here is your intention. The reason you do something has a big effect on your mood. For example, you can smile at someone in order to fool them into thinking you're happy when you're not. That's one reason to smile. But that's obviously not the only reason possible. You can smile at someone as a gift to them. You can smile simply to experiment with the effect of smiling on your mood.

The first smile will probably give you a bad feeling. Being fake for self-serving reasons feels bad, even if the physical act of turning up your lips (into a smile) might improve your mood in the longer run. But the second two reasons for smiling improve your mood just as well — but without the sour taste in your mouth from being phony. Your intention matters.

Being authentic can improve your mood if it's done right. It can contribute to a genuine and heartfelt enthusiasm for living. (Read more about that here.) Pay attention to the look on your face, the way you move your body, even the way you breathe. All these can have an impact on your mood. Do it for the right reasons, and you can have your integrity and feel good too.

Read more: A Simple Way To Change How You Feel.

Author: Adam Khan
author of the books, Self-Help Stuff That Works and Antivirus For Your Mind
and creator of the blog:
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