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A popular piece of advice in pop psychology is to “fake it ’till you make it.” In other words, by pretending to act happy (by faking a smile) it’s said that we can actually produce these feelings of happiness internally. I’ve written about some of this research before in my post habits matter.

On the other end of this research, there is also evidence that pretending to fake happiness can be unhealthy in some situations:

  • According to a recent study in the Academy of Management Journal, it was discovered that bus drivers were more likely to experience negative emotions on days when they pretended to be in a good mood.
  • Another analysis of over 3 decades of research found that faking positive feelings at work was associated with lower employee satisfaction and increased job burnout.
  • A third study published in Anxiety, Stress, and Coping found that volunteers at a call center who were told to “hide negative emotions” had greater increases in blood pressure and heart rate than those told to show their true feelings.

As it turns out, the “emotional labor” it takes to pretend to be in a good mood can actually be very taxing on our physical and mental well-being.

There are a couple of lessons that both business and employees could learn from this research.

One lesson for businesses is to give employees an opportunity to express themselves genuinely and openly. Of course, this doesn’t mean you want customer service yelling at people, but maybe giving employees a way to express their frustrations among each other could provide a valuable emotional release, without necessarily disrupting the “consumer experience.”

There should also be a drive in businesses to try to make work environments as stress-free and enjoyable as possible. Often times the happier workers are, the better their work performance and productivity. Because of this, I believe it is only a matter of time until more businesses begin implementing these principles.

One lesson for employees is to not feel the need to plaster on a smile every time they walk into the office. It is okay to feel down from time to time, and we need not pretend that our jobs are perfect (they rarely are).

This also fits with a common theme of this blog which is that we must give ourselves permission to be negative every now and then.

Another lesson for employees is to raise their standards. If a job isn’t at all satisfying to you, consider searching for something else that makes you genuinely happier. We sometimes underestimate our value and skills in the marketplace. We become complacent to one job, and we stop searching for other opportunities. We begin to accept the idea that a job is supposed to be something we hate, so we settle for something less than what we might really be capable of. Jobs can be difficult and tiresome, but that doesn’t mean they have to be the plague of our existence.

(I understand there are some limitations to the above, maybe based on your prior work experience, intelligence, and other factors. I only recommend that you keep yourself open to alternatives. You may not have a whole lot of different jobs to choose from, but there is often more than just one path.)

On that note, I want to remind you one last time that it’s completely natural to not be 100% in love with your job. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that needs to be the case. Often times, by acknowledging life’s imperfections, we can handle them better than if we try to bury ourselves in delusions and false promises.


Learn how to live a happy and successful life in The Science of Self Improvement.

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