Why Pretending To Be Happy Isn’t Making You Better

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated May 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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It can be common to pretend to be happy at times, but those who put on a façade of happiness when they’re feeling sad, hopeless, or empty inside can harm their mental health by continually repressing their true emotions. If you experience symptoms of depression but can keep up with daily responsibilities and appear happy, you may be living with a form of atypical depression sometimes referred to as “smiling depression” or dysthymia. It can be helpful to reach out to a licensed therapist online or in person to get the professional help you deserve.

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Are you masking symptoms of depression?

Are you pretending to be happy?

Pretending to be happy can come as second nature to some. You might be someone who wakes up, goes to work, and takes care of your responsibilities on a day-to-day basis, all while harboring persistent feelings of sadness, disinterest, or hopelessness. It may not be outwardly apparent to others, or even yourself, that you could be experiencing depression

A person who can maintain a certain quality of life or a generally pleasant demeanor while experiencing symptoms of depression may be living with atypical symptoms of major depressive disorder. This can include dysthymia, or smiling depression.

Symptoms of dysthymia may include:

  • Avoidance of social interaction, including phone calls, gatherings, or celebrations
  • Increased irritability
  • Excessive fatigue or constant tiredness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substances, overeating, or intentionally isolating
  • Anxiety about the past and future
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that were previously enjoyed, such as art or fitness.
  • Insomnia

Although these symptoms frequently affect a person’s life quality, someone with smiling depression typically goes to great lengths to mask or hide what they are experiencing from others. 

What is smiling depression? 

While “smiling depression” is generally not considered an official diagnosis, the DSM-5 would likely classify its related symptoms as “major depressive disorder with atypical symptoms”. Smiling depression can be difficult to identify, as someone experiencing symptoms may appear generally happy and optimistic on the outside.

Typical depression tends to cause disruptions in a person’s day-to-day life. For example, where typical depression may interfere with a person’s ability to cook, clean, or perform at work as they normally would, smiling depression may not.

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Someone with smiling depression typically appears to have no trouble maintaining a job, relationship, or career. They may keep up with an active lifestyle and fulfilling hobbies. Still, they may be experiencing the symptoms of dysthymia internally, or when they are alone. 

Because of this, smiling depression is often considered more dangerous than typical depression due to the wearing and exhaustive nature of masking symptoms every day. Prolonged internalization of sadness or depression can potentially lead to greater risks in both mental and physical health

Living with smiling depression

Someone living with smiling depression may not open up to their loved ones about their symptoms due to either not being aware of the symptoms themselves, or because of the potential shame and stigma that can surround mental illness. It may be a matter of not wanting to “ruin” the facade of seeming to be perfectly fine, so as not to worry or burden others. 

This detrimental act of bottling up feelings tends to be the most notable reason that pretending to be happy might work in reverse. Keeping feelings of sadness or hopelessness to yourself tends to cause them to weigh even more heavily on the mind as time goes on. In severe cases, this type of hidden depression can lead to suicidal ideation. 

If you have been living with mild yet pervasive symptoms of depression over an extended period of time, it may be helpful to open up to a trusted friend or relative. Oftentimes, you will find you are not alone in how you are feeling. 

If feelings of shame or guilt are keeping you from opening up about symptoms of depression, it may be helpful to speak with a therapist or another licensed mental health professional. 

The benefits of online therapy

If you are having trouble opening up about long-term symptoms of depression, it may be helpful to speak with an online therapist. The nature of dysthymia or smiling depression may cause an individual to feel shame or guilt around opening up. Online therapy can offer the option to express difficult thoughts or feelings to a professional within the comfort of your own home at a time that fits into your schedule.

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Are you masking symptoms of depression?

Effectiveness of online therapy

According to research, online cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is normally equally as effective as in-person therapy at reducing the symptoms of certain mental illnesses, including depression. If you’re considering seeking professional help for depression or another mental health challenge, please know that both in-person and online therapy can be valid and effective options.

Takeaway

While pretending to be happy may provide a short-term solution to a depressive mood, the long-term effects can be highly damaging to both mental and physical health. If you feel you are consistently forcing yourself to appear productive and content, it can be important to remember you are not alone. Opening up about your feelings to a friend or therapist, whether in person or online, can serve as a vital first step toward long-term relief and genuine happiness.
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