Are you “fake happy"? Here’s how to find true joy

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated April 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

It can be easy to trick ourselves into thinking that we're satisfied with what we have sometimes—even if, in reality, we aren’t. 

Many might confuse the ideas of contentment and happiness to the point that they accept a quality of life that falls short of what they might want or can obtain. 

In other words, you might think that your happiness is something that only happens now and again, and that everything in between is insignificant to the bigger picture. The good news is that this isn’t necessarily true—and that you generally are capable of experiencing true, soul-level joy.

Read on to learn more about what fake happiness is, and possible solutions that can elevate your quality of life. 

Have you been pretending to be happy?

What does fake happiness look like?

Faking happiness can look different for everyone. Generally, this occurs when you work to make yourself appear to be happy to others, but don't truly feel this way internally. 

To everyone else, it might look like you're having the time of your life—but on the inside, you may feel as though something is missing. This behavior can lead to even more negative thoughts, as well as stress, tension and depression.

Does any of this sound familiar? 

If so, you might be displaying inauthentic happiness—but you're not alone. Many might experience pressure from outside sources to present a constantly happy face, whether or not it is authentic and true. 

However, commoditizing your social status with "likes" can be detrimental to your mental health. The truth for many is that no one is actually happy 24/7. Additionally, those who constantly upload pictures of themselves seeming this way might be the least happy, especially if they are feeling pressure to put on a certain display of behavior to satisfy external pressure. 

Do you feel as though you might experience fake happiness? Here are a few behaviors to watch for: 

You’re living someone else’s version of happy

One of the greatest things about true happiness is that no two people can generally define it in the same way. It can be subjective, making it one of the most nuanced and complex intangible things that we can experience. 

However, if you find yourself living or acting a certain way just to please other people without thought to your own goals, preferences, and behaviors, you might be faking your own happiness. A lot of the time, this can happen without you even noticing it. 

For example: Many people might experience pressure toward a certain degree in a stable job field, regardless of whether the passion is truly “there” for it. A spouse or partner might pressure you to make a career or financial decision that doesn't feel right to you. Your neighbors, friends, or the media might tell you that you need to look and act a certain way or buy certain things to achieve real happiness. 

If you’re looking to break free of this cycle, you may benefit from asking yourself a few questions. These can include asks like: “Are the things that you're working toward the same things that will make you happy?” “Does your path hold meaning for you?” “Are you on track and building toward your dream of having a happy and fulfilling life?” 

Questions like these can be helpful in drawing out the bigger picture, and can be important to ask yourself to prevent wasted time or money building a life that you don’t necessarily want or need—or that might mirror someone else’s definition of happiness.


There are also other benefits that you can gain by asking these questions. For example: If you're not working toward something that matters to you, it can feel more like an obligation than a means to better serve yourself. This can lead to feelings of burnout and general discontentment. 

 If you don't seem to find happiness in your current lifestyle and efforts, it might be time to make some changes and prioritize what you really want in life.

You tell yourself you cannot do any better (when you probably can) 

There is generally a difference between being happy with where you are, and thinking that you can't go any further in life. If you find yourself trying less and less to get the things you want, and feeling as though you can't progress beyond your current quality of life, then it's quite possible that you are displaying superficial (or fake) happiness.

If you do feel contentment in life, it should generally come from a place of peace rather than a sense of giving up or dissatisfaction. 

We do want to note: Faking happiness can make us believe that we should make the best of a situation we're not satisfied with. It can be helpful to remember that life might not be merely about keeping our boat afloat—it can also be about steering our ship to new and exciting places.

Your happiness might seem to come from things

When your happiness comes only from certain objects, it might be short-lived. Common sources of temporary happiness can include things like junk food, alcohol or anything else that you usually don't need. 

Additionally, our “vision” of false or temporary happiness can start in our own head, possibly informed by the goals we create for ourselves. It can include narratives and thoughts that encourage transient or superficial happiness, such as: "If I just lost 10 more pounds, I would be happy"—or anything along those lines.

When you begin to engage with this type of thinking, you might create a cycle that can be hard to stop. This cycle generally begins when you believe that you need certain things to feel contentment. You might then begin working on your pre-set goal rooted in a drive toward temporary happiness to eventually experience satisfaction—but all too often, this sense of accomplishment might not last very long. 

Wanting to recapture that sense of achievement or satisfaction again, you might then immediately start thinking about the next thing that might make you happy. And, as a result, the cycle continues.

While difficult to break for some, it can be possible to step out of this cycle of thinking and into a place of fulfillment with supportive strategies (such as online therapy). 

You might only feel happy in certain situations

It can be normal to expect your levels of happiness to rise and fall depending on what is going on in your life. However, if you're only happy at work when others are giving you recognition, or if you are only happy with your hobby when you win an award, you may want to ask yourself if your happiness in these things is truly genuine. 

People experiencing authentic feelings of happiness or joy might view situations where everything is going well as unexpected blessings, not requirements for satisfaction. Real happiness can then instead lie in the understanding that there can still be value in what you do, even if no one is watching or no sense of accomplishment is gained.

It can also be helpful to remember that when your happiness relies on certain conditions to be a certain way, you may set yourself up for sadness when things fall apart. While that temporary happiness can feel good when things do go your way, it might feel “small” compared to what genuine happiness feels like when it comes from a place that cannot be diminished at the first sign of trouble.

Solutions: Finding and appreciating true joy in your life

If you can relate to any of the behaviors above, then you might be experiencing fake happiness. Therapy is something that can be helpful to many as they work to pursue joy— but if you're not ready to speak to a counselor, there are several alternative solutions that can also provide support to you as you undergo this journey to joy. 

Take a break from social media

As previously stated, it can be common for many to find posts on their social media feed that might depict everyone seeming happy all of the time. 

As a result, you might find yourself feeling depressed or feeling as if there is something “wrong” with you if you don’t feel the same way. This can be especially common if you happen to spend a lot of time scrolling through your social feed and uploading your own images that make you seem happier than you really are. 

One of the best and most effective solutions for many? Simply take a break.

Getty/10'000 Hours
Have you been pretending to be happy?

Consider meditation and yoga

When you have a clear mindset, it can be easier to identify your values and what really makes you authentically happy. Meditation and yoga are two exercises that can be helpful as you work to achieve this.

Try new hobbies

If you feel like your hobbies are more of a chore than a fun activity, it can benefit you to explore new hobbies that you might enjoy. For instance, you may discover that you've had a hidden passion for activities that you wouldn’t have otherwise tried. In this process, you may also find yourself setting goals that can result in true happiness.

Seek help through online therapy

As mentioned above, if you are dealing with complicated emotions related to happiness in your life, online therapy can help. Unlike traditional therapy, counseling through BetterHelp can be done remotely, via voice call, video conference, text, or live chat. This can be especially effective if you find it hard to leave home due to the level of nervousness or depression that you might be experiencing from false happiness. 

Many studies suggest that online therapy can be beneficial for people who may be experiencing feelings of sadness that can be related to fake happiness.

For example: In one comprehensive review, researchers brought together the results of 28 studies examining depression in people in early-to-mid adulthood, conducting a comprehensive meta-analysis. The study concluded that online therapy can be a powerful method of treating depression in general, as well as feelings of sadness that can be influenced by the pursuit of false happiness. These findings can be added to a large body of evidence that references online cognitive-behavioral therapy as an effective form of counseling, which can also eliminate some barriers to treatment for some people, such as geographical constraints, high costs, and perceived stigma.


While fake happiness may be easier to obtain, it’s not necessarily the healthiest emotion. Unfortunately, it can be common among many and can cause you to feel that sense of "emptiness" inside. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing this, online therapy can offer you convenient support. Connect with us for more information.

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