Pretending to Be Happy Isn’t Making You Better

By: Samantha Dewitt

Updated November 23, 2020

The idea of happiness can vary for different people. Not everyone feels happiness the same way. For this article, let’s think about happiness, and what pretending to be happy can do. Ask yourself, when was the last time that you actually felt happy? We're not talking about the last time you told someone you were happy or the last time you smiled at someone or something.

Take some time to reflect on this question. When was the last time that you actually, truly felt happy? Has it been a while? Now, how about that last time that you pretended you were happy? This time we're not talking about the time you politely laughed at someone’s joke that wasn't really that funny. We're talking about the last time that you attempted to convince someone that you were happy when you weren't.


Pretending to Be Happy

You are not alone when it comes to pretending to be happy. It’s a fairly normal occurrence. Many of us pretend to be happy at some point in time or another. Maybe we're just having a bad day but don’t want to spread negative feelings to those close to us, so we put on a smile and pretend in order to keep those around us happy. We might sporadically feel upset but not want to bring the people around us down, and maybe that's okay in the short term. Pretending to be happy for the sake of those around you is not inherently wrong, and is even an indication of your moral regard for others’ wellbeing. But when you find yourself pretending more and more, you may find that this can become a self-destructive or debilitating habit.

The Problem with Pretending to Be Happy

Think about the last time that you pretended to be happy. Did it actually help anything? Sure, someone else felt pretty good, but how did you feel? You probably felt even worse pretending than you would have if you hadn't. It is unlikely that you’re helping anyone when you're pretending to feel something that you're not.

Understand that you're not helping the person that you're trying to convince because they want you to actually be happy. You may manage to convince them a few times, but they're likely to catch on to the fact that you're not actually happy. When that happens, they may feel even worse for not realizing it sooner. They may feel like they've failed you and that they aren't doing what you need them to do. Not only that, but they might feel like you don't trust them, and that's why you're not sharing what's actually going on.

Even though you may pretend to be happy out of care for others, pretending to be happy is likely to only sap  even more of your energy. This can make you feel even more upset. On some level, you're wondering why the people around you can't see through your façade and why they're not helping you. On another level you're wishing they would see through the façade or that you didn't have to pretend at all. You're likely tired of putting up that front and you wish you could just be yourself, whatever that might look like.

By pretending to be happy, you could be negatively affecting your own mental health as well as your relationships. It may appear that pretending to be happy is going to help your relationships and keep the people around you feeling better, but that's not actually the case. You're hiding your true feelings and your true experiences from them, and this is going to play a role in how you feel and how you interact with the people in your life.

What Are You Hiding?

Many people try to pretend that they are happy when they're actually experiencing symptoms of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Depression is serious but treatable mental health condition that can be addressed with professional. It’s also important that you talk with the people around you and that you are open and honest with them. You may benefit from telling people that are closest to you and most important to you. Whether that's your partner, your best friend, or your parents, it's crucial that you have people there, in your corner, to help you.


When you're able to truly express yourself and open yourself up to someone, you'll have a chance to actually work through your feelings. It's impossible to work through something that you don't acknowledge, after all. If you don't admit to anyone but yourself that you're feeling stuck, depressed, angry or anything else, you're not going to be able to push yourself past it. Mental health disorders just don't let you go that easily. They often hold on and can keep you from feeling like you can ever get on with your life again.

Hiding the feelings that you have just pushes them away and makes you ignore them. From there, they tend to get even worse. Think about it like the dishes at your house. You might look at them and think “I don't want to deal with that right now” and you let them sit. If you do this daily, more and more dishes pile up until you eventually have no choice but to deal with them. The feelings that you're hiding are the same way. Every day that you don't face them and don't acknowledge them, they're only going to build up even more.

Facing Up to Your Feelings

The most important thing that you can do is honestly address what you're feeling. A simple conversation is just the first step. It's may be a long and difficult process to work through whatever it is you're experiencing and start getting back to your own semblance of normalcy. But it is more than possible, and there are strategies and tools that can help you. Being open and honest is the first step.

When you talk to trusted individuals in your life that you feel close to about what you're experiencing, it might feel scary but also liberating. Know that you are not burdening others with the weight of your thoughts, but you’re simply sharing your experiences. You might have to make yourself very vulnerable to talk about the things that you're really experiencing and how you've been hiding those things for all this time. But when you're able to actually express yourself and feel like you're being heard and understood, you may feel that invisible weight lift off your shoulders simply by virtue of being addressed in the open.

The next step is making sure that you get the help that you need. You don’t have to push through this alone. Your trusted individuals and loved ones also may not be able to provide all the resources you may need. A trained, licensed, and experienced mental health professional can help you get started on your path. Care and attention from loved ones can motivate, inspire, and encourage you, but a licensed therapist or psychiatrist can give you practical and workable information to empower you forward.


Getting Professional Help

If you're looking for professional help, BetterHelp is an online platform that connects those seeking therapeutic aid to licensed and trained therapists. This service is actually completely online, and it can provide you with the support that you need in order to start moving forward. Online therapy has been shown to be effective in helping individuals address a multitude of issues such as depression, anxiety, feelings of unhappiness and unfulfillment, and more. In 2018, there was a study conducted on the effects of online cognitive behavioral pain management on the reduction of disability, anxiety, and depression. The study’s authors found that 76% of all participates finished the course with a course satisfaction of 85%, a 36% reduction in feelings of depression, and a 32% reduction in feelings of anxiety after eight weeks of coursework.

Online therapy is cost-effective and convenient. There's no more need for you to go to an office in order to have an appointment. You won't need to worry about anyone seeing you walk into a clinic or anywhere else. Rather, you're going to have the opportunity to talk with a therapist right from the comfort of your own home. Because all you need is an internet connection, there's not going to be any limit to where you can hold your sessions. Not to mention you're going to have the freedom to choose someone that's located absolutely anywhere, and not just those in your hometown. Online counseling can also be less expensive than traditional therapy, with online memberships costing around $60-80 weekly, compared to in-person costs of $50-150 per session.

You are not a bad person for pretending to be happy. It’s more than normal to want others around us to be happy. But you don’t have to hold back your true thoughts and feelings, especially when you feel overwhelmed, isolated, or lost. Happiness is variable for every person, and you may benefit from seeing a licensed therapist to find the best way to understand and pursue it.

“This is my first time in therapy, so I wasn't quite sure what I was going to get out of it or really what I needed. I went into this experience looking for an attentive ear to help me process my life. Coming out of quarantine, I was left really mentally and emotionally shaken and defeated. At the time, I didn't realize I could feel so supported through a computer screen. I have been so happy to have made the leap to doing online therapy. Maggie is nothing but attentive, patient, and helpful every session. I feel listened to, respected, and invested in no matter the topic of discussion. I respect her perspective and so appreciate what she's already done to help me. Thank you so much Maggie!”

“I have had chronic mild depression my whole 50 year life. Been to therapy, once long term, several other attempts where I did not connect, including a couple on Better Help, but made minimal progress. Laura is the first person who I felt has been able to zero in on the root problem and offer a path to recovery, and for the first time I am cautiously optimistic that with her help she can prod me and work with me to finally achieve happiness”

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