Do you ever feel a responsibility to act happier than you are?

Our attitudes affect the people around us. When we're sad it makes the people who care about us sad too. And when we smile it makes others smile. All moods are shared moods. Even total strangers can pick up your vibes.

So, do you have an obligation to fake happiness if there is nothing to be gained by complaining? Suppose you have a bad day at work - nothing horrible, just a lot of little things going wrong. Sharing your woes might make you feel better, but it will be at the expense of a friend, loved one or coworker who has to listen to it. And dwelling on problems that can't be fixed just gives the problems more power than they deserve.

It usually feels good to complain, which is why we do it.  And of course the situation is reciprocal in the sense that you have to listen to the woes of others just as they listen to yours. So it's a fair arrangement in that sense. But wouldn't we all be better off if everyone just faked it and said they were having a terrific day even if they weren't?

Scientists know that pretending to be happy - specifically by smiling - can make you happier in actuality. And when you have a bad day, what you really want is to feel good again. So for your own good, and for the sake of your loved ones, shouldn't you be a huge phony and say your day went great? From a practical standpoint, that would seem to be your best strategy.

I practice a version of this type of self-hypnosis - and that's what it is - every time someone asks "How are you?" I always answer "Great" or "Terrific" no matter how my day is really going. I do that partly because it helps manipulate me into a good mood and partly because I know it gives the person who asked a little boost. That's how we terrific people roll.

In the course of a normal day, folks might ask how you are feeling several times. Imagine saying you are terrific a thousand times a year. That much reinforcement of a message has to have an impact on your brain over time. If instead you say you are merely "good" a thousand times a year, will that lock you into mediocrity? I think it might.

We humans leave a lot of happiness on the table by believing our moods are caused entirely by our luck on any given day plus our genetic makeup. But I think moods are 80% controllable by lifestyle. If you exercise, get enough sleep, eat well, and project a positive attitude you can generally have a good day even if the facts of the day argue otherwise.

Obviously no one can act happy in the face of genuine tragedy or bad news of the larger variety. And clinical depression probably isn't much helped by fake smiling. But for the everyday ups and downs of mood, I think you control those if you want to. You just have to decide if you're in charge of your own mood or you want to delegate that decision to chance. In my experience, at least half of the population delegates their moods to chance. That's a lot of lost opportunity for happiness.

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-4 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 25, 2013
I always like to respond how I am doing according to the day of the week. I am Marvelous on Mondays & Terrific on Tuesdays, Wonderful on Wednesdays... you get the point. I don't want to spread the gloom if for some reason I am not exactly chipper that day. Often my response catches the other person off guard & brightens their day. At least I'd like to think that it does.....Cheers!
Feb 25, 2013
Actually, I find complaining to mostly beneficial. When I complain I naturally feel better. However, many times when others complain, as long as it isn't my gf, I also feel better. I enjoy knowing others are feeling poorly, it makes me feel better about myself. When someone complains that you dislike, I always get a karmatic feeling of joy about the experience.
+23 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 25, 2013
Unless I'm actually feeling lousy, I usually answer "super-duper! And you?" I think rhyming makes me happier, too. One time, just to mix things up when a co-worker gave me the typical , "How are you?" I answered "Super...but not quite super-duper!" She laughed so hard it gave me a duper.

Just last week, I was driving home late at night. I stopped at an In-N-Out burger for a quick drive-thru dinner. It's important to know that In-N-Out has by far the friendliest, most chipper behavior of any fast food establishment--I'm sure it's trained into them. I like it so much when they ask, "How are you today?" I actually respond, "Super-duper, and you?" and then actually wait for their response before launching into my order. Well, this night the guy answered, "I'm In-N-Outstanding!" I enjoyed it so much I got some animal fries to go along with my triple triple.

The question of whether all this (semi-faked?) cheerfulness is leading me to make horrible health choices is another matter. I'm quite possibly killing myself with happiness.
Feb 25, 2013
'How are you?' at least in the UK is not a real question. We should be horrified to learn (for example) of someone's grievous piles in response to such a question, and probably run away fast. 'Fine and you?' is about the only acceptable response or type of response - 'Been better' perhaps if you have been really ill or are recently bereaved, allowing follow up questions at the questioner's discretion. It's a social acknowledgement.

Round my way the greeting might be 'Alright?' to which the correct response is 'Alright?'. Further elaboration may be invited by body language.
Feb 25, 2013
My 13 year old daughter asked me "how are you" the other day, in a casual greeting sort of way. I told her "I'm warm and cozy."

It's nice to have a doctor who explains there isn't any point to giving me painkillers because he would be manipulating the bone. The nurse asked me "how are you doing?" as the doctor was grunting from the effort of spending several minutes pushing the bones in my broken hand back into place. My answer was "I'm doing great. You know... except for the pain. But other than that I'm having a wonderful day."

But no, I don't feel an obligation to act happier than I am, although sometimes I can't help but seize the comic moment.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 25, 2013
It's probably a culture thing too. "How are you?" in Germany means a lot more than in the US and you ask that only of friends. Therefore a knee-jerk like "Fine, and you?" is not appropriate where I live.

As for faking it, it depends onthe context. If I have a problem at home I don't load it onto my coworkers, at least not until I have figured out how to turn it into a joke story. Of course, at that point I'm pretty much over it as well.

But your loved one should not be the one you lie to. But she must be able to take it properly. Solidarily breaking down in tears isn't helpful, but giving a hug and a smile very likely is.
Feb 25, 2013
So basically fake it until you make it.

I feel like the High Lord of All Earth and that feels wonderful, thanks for asking future subject. :p
+15 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 25, 2013
I can't be the only one who is calculating how many days I'd have to sleep on the couch if I sort of passive-aggressively forwarded this article to my significant other...
Feb 25, 2013
when I'm running a team - it's definitely worthwhile to stay upbeat (not phoney, but pleasant and optimistic, even if we're laughing at how f---ed we are). Conversely, the people who appear upbeat and happy (even if the face of a setback) all the time worry me. You know you're getting a constructed 'face' with reality hiding behind it, so you don't know where that person is really coming from.
Feb 25, 2013
I definitely feel obligated to put up a happy, productive face to my boss. I'm actually a pretty pessimistic (realistic?) person in general, but I always try to give him my "it's good," "it's fixable," "I can do it," and "it'll succeed" spin on things.

Life might be better if I had that kind of attitude at home, but I don't really feel the need to impress anyone there, I guess.
Feb 25, 2013
That's the exact kind of attitude that drives me absolutely nuts in the morning. I worked with a guy in a small office and we had all the usual "How's it going's" every morning. He was a nice guy and fine to work with, except that he always said "best day of my life!" or "If I were any happier, there'd be two of me!" or some such crap. It was all phony, and instead of spreading cheer I just wanted to slug him.
Feb 25, 2013
Yes, I have a responsibility to act happier than I am. I don't want to brood a cloud of gloomy misers spreading their foul miasmas in my vicinity. I'm feeling great. Have a nice day!
+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 25, 2013
Absolutely. I think if you have kids you are under a certain obligation to act chipper and as if everything is under control. It's hard to do sometimes - often, normally - but does leave you actually feeling better though.

Last might my young son was playing up about bath time and I gently explained to him that we have to do this, so let's do it in a way that we both enjoy. With that and a few simple distraction techniques I nursed the poor tired lad through it with just a few minor gripes, we finished the routine happy.

Still, I guess I must have the disposition to be able to do this if we accept your deterministic moist robot proposition...
Feb 25, 2013
I watch a fair amount of Anime (Japanese cartoons; some of them are pretty adult) and get the impression that this sort of thinking is a part of their culture. You often see characters acting happier than they are.
Feb 25, 2013
Normally no I don't feel a responsibility to act happier than I am. Most of the time when asked how I am I say 'fine' but this is more a reflex than anything else. There are exceptions; most of the time when asked about a gift by the person who gave it I act happier about it than I really feel, mostly because I appreciate the thought.
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