Discover the impact of pretending to be happy, its effects on mental health, and learn healthier ways to cope with emotions.

How to Stop Pretending to Be Happy and Start Living

Jun 5, 2024

By Will Moore

My teens were tough. A series of unfortunate breaks early on in life had led to a fixed mindset that left me extremely insecure and questioning my every move in front of others.

I was living a constant lie. Trying my hardest to put on a confident, happy face mask when underneath I suffered debilitating social anxiety. All I wanted was to fit in, to appear "normal" so others couldn't see the "loser" underneath the mask.

My teens and young adult life were NOT happy times. I so wish I knew then what I know now; how to view myself from a 10k view, analyze what's not working, and incorporate a system to tackle each major pain point in my life one small step at a time.

I can honestly say that I've cracked the code to throwing away the mask forever. Are some days tougher than others? Do I still get small bouts of insecurity now and them? Yes, but so does 100% of the population.

The key is to understand WHY you feel the need to force a smile, identify the major areas of your life wearing a mask is destroying your happiness, and learn simple, actionable, science-based steps to start rebuilding yourself from the inside out. One habit at a time.

In this blog you'll:

  1. Identify signs of pretending to be happy.

  2. Understand the negative impacts on mental and physical health.

  3. Learn actionable steps to cultivate genuine happiness.

Why do People Pretend to Be Happy?

In those early mask wearing years, I didn't have the knowledge and insight to every ask myself, WHY I was pretending to be happy. Here's what I've learned since.

To Fit into Society's Mold

Societal expectations play a huge role. From a young age, many of us are taught to put on a happy face no matter what. We're told to "fake it till you make it" and that showing negative emotions is a sign of weakness. In our social media-saturated world, this pressure only intensifies.

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Think about it: how often do you see someone posting about their bad day compared to their vacation photos or new achievements? Social media creates a highlight reel of life, making us feel like we have to keep up appearances.

To Avoid the Stigma of Sadness

Fear of being judged is another major factor. Admitting that you're unhappy can feel like admitting failure. It might seem like you're not strong enough to handle life’s challenges.

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This fear of judgment can be especially intense in professional settings, where appearing competent and in control is crucial. No one wants to be the "downer" or the person who brings everyone else down with their problems.

For Protecting Those We Love

Another reason people fake happiness is to protect their loved ones. Sometimes, it's easier to put on a brave face than to explain what's really going on.

Parents, for instance, might hide their struggles to avoid worrying their children. Friends might mask their negative feelings to keep the mood light and avoid awkward conversations.

In my case, it was me not wanting to burden my mom and dad because they were battling their own struggles, and I was ashamed and didn't want them to have to battle mine as well.

For Chasing the Illusion of Perfection

This was a big one for me. That fixed mindset I'd developed early on equated to feeling the need to constantly be perfect, and if I wasn't, I was a failure.

I believed that if I wasn't happy, something was fundamentally wrong. This led to a vicious cycle where I pretended to be happy to convince myself and others that I was living the ideal life.

Signs Someone is Pretending to be Happy

Forced Smiles: One of the most common signs that someone is acting happy is the presence of forced smiles. I never did quite pefect this one, and always felt people could see through my phony plastered grin; which only deepened my anxiety and insecurity. "Can they tell I'm faking it?"

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My smile lacked the genuine warmth and spontaneity of a true smile and I avoided eye contact, a key indicator of genuine happiness.

  • Interestingly, in a study, 40% of people admitted that they don’t always smile in photos. Instead, they opt for other facial expressions like poker faces, frowns, or even hiding behind masks to avoid smiling. So, next time you encounter a seemingly cheerful grin, look beyond the lips and into the eyes—it might tell you more than you think.

Avoidance of Deep Conversations: People who are pretending to be happy tend to avoid deep and meaningful conversations about their feelings. They might steer conversations away from personal topics and prefer to keep interactions light and superficial.

This avoidance is a defense mechanism to prevent others from discovering their true emotional state.

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Ironically, I preferred these types of conversations because they allowed me to forget I was pretending and be myself, genuinely engaged in a stimulating conversation and learning about the other. But more often than now, I wasn't able to get to this "trust tree" level of the convo.

Overemphasis on Cheerfulness: When someone is overemphasizing their cheerfulness, it can be a sign that they are compensating for their true feelings.

This behavior can manifest as an overly enthusiastic demeanor or exaggerated positivity, which might feel forced or unnatural.

I vividly remember winning our high school basketball playoffs, me on the bench, and jumping up and down for joy with the rest of the time, completely phony as I felt I hadn't contributed anything and didn't deserve to be there.

Physical Symptoms: The stress of pretending to be happy can take a physical toll on the body. Common symptoms include fatigue, sleep issues, and general discomfort.

These physical manifestations are the body's response to the ongoing emotional strain of maintaining a facade.

I would often get extremely tired after long social encounters, having to take a nap or isolate myself for a period of time to recharge. I'd expended all my energy being fake.

Inconsistent Behavior: People who are pretending to be happy may exhibit inconsistent behavior. For instance, they might appear extremely cheerful in social settings but seem withdrawn or despondent when they think no one is watching.

This inconsistency can be a clear indicator that their public persona does not match their private feelings.

Isolation and Withdrawal: In some cases, individuals who pretend to be happy might start to isolate themselves to avoid situations where they have to keep up the facade.

They might decline social invitations or withdraw from activities they once enjoyed, as maintaining the appearance of happiness becomes too exhausting.

Overcompensation on Social Media: Overly curated social media profiles can be another sign. If someone constantly posts about their seemingly perfect life but avoids any mention of struggles or negative experiences, it might be an attempt to project an image of happiness that doesn’t reflect their true emotional state.

By understanding these signs and the underlying reasons for pretending to be happy, we can address the behavior pattern in ourselves and others. Acknowledging and validating our true emotions is the first step towards genuine happiness and emotional well-being.

Can Pretending to Be Happy Make You Happier?

While it might seem that pretending to be happy can eventually lead to real happiness, the truth is more complex. A fascinating study put this idea to the test. Researchers asked people to fabricate positive experiences and exhibit signs of happiness, like bright smiles and upbeat body language, even if they didn't feel that way inside.

At first, the results seemed promising - these "happiness fakers" reported feeling more chipper and showed a bias toward seeing things more positively. However, this artificial high was short-lived. Within just 8 days, the fake happy feelings had completely faded away.

The troubling part? Maintaining the facade of forced positivity took a psychological toll.

Short-term effects might include a temporary boost in mood, but in the long run, this behavior can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and burnout. The mental strain of wearing a fake smile can result in deeper issues such as depression and a decline in psychological well-being. Understanding these impacts highlights the importance of seeking genuine happiness instead.

How to Act More Happy, Practical Strategies

To transition from pretending to be happy to genuinely happy, consider these proven strategies that I used myself, and are now part of my Moore Momentum system.

Make It Obvious: Design Your Environment for Positive Habits

Creating an environment that promotes positive habits can help you stay focused on your goals and maintain a positive mindset. Visual cues are powerful reminders of what you aim to achieve and can keep you motivated.

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Example: If you want to practice gratitude more often, place a journal and a pen on your nightstand where you see them first thing in the morning and last thing at night. This will remind you to jot down things you are thankful for each day.

Make It Easy: Simplify Tasks to Avoid Overwhelm

Breaking down tasks into manageable steps can make them seem less daunting and more achievable. Simplifying your goals helps you avoid feeling overwhelmed and keeps you motivated.

Example: If you want to improve your emotional well-being, start with a simple daily practice like writing down one positive thing that happened each day. Gradually, you can add more practices like mindfulness or meditation as you build the habit.

Make It Fun/Rewarding/Attractive: Incorporate Enjoyable Elements

Using gamification and positive reinforcement can make habit-building enjoyable. Reward yourself for achieving milestones, no matter how small, to maintain motivation and enjoyment.

Example: If you find it hard to stay off social media, turn it into a game. Reward yourself with a small treat for every hour you spend off your phone. Use apps that block social media and reward you with points for every distraction-free hour, which you can trade for real-life rewards.

Make It Automatic: Set Up Systems to Sustain Positive Behaviors

Automate habits and remove obstacles to make positive behaviors part of your routine without conscious effort. Setting up automatic processes can help you maintain consistency and build momentum.

Example: If maintaining a positive mindset is your goal, set up daily reminders on your phone to practice gratitude or positive affirmations. Automate self-care by scheduling regular activities that make you happy, like a monthly massage or a weekly call with a friend.

By addressing these core areas of life and implementing practical strategies, you can move from pretending to be happy to experiencing genuine joy. Embrace challenges, build meaningful relationships, find fulfillment in your work, enjoy physical activities, and manage stress effectively. These steps will help you cultivate a life filled with true happiness and well-being.

How to Make Yourself Happy When You Are Not? 5 Quick Hacks

1. Listen to Your Favorite Music:

Put on a song that always lifts your spirits. Music has a powerful effect on mood and can quickly make you feel better.

2. Take a Short Walk:

Step outside for a quick walk. Fresh air and a change of scenery can boost your mood and clear your mind.

3. Watch a Funny Video:

Find a short, funny video online. Laughter can instantly improve your mood and help you feel happier.

4. Call a Friend:

Reach out to a friend for a quick chat. Talking to someone you care about can provide immediate emotional support and uplift your spirits.

5. Do a Quick Gratitude Exercise:

Take a moment to think about three things you’re grateful for. This simple exercise can shift your focus to positive aspects of your life and enhance your mood.

How to Stop Pretending to Be Happy in The 5 Core Areas Of Life

Moving from fake happiness to genuine happiness involves addressing various aspects of life. Let’s explore how focusing on the five core areas can help you cultivate true joy.

1) Mindset Core: Embrace a Can Do Attitude

Practice seeing challenges as opportunities for growth rather than setbacks: When you face obstacles, view them as learning experiences that can help you improve and evolve. By embracing challenges, you can build resilience and a more positive outlook on life.

Practice Positive Self-Talk: Positive self-talk can significantly impact your mental state. Replace negative self-talk with affirmations that reinforce your value and potential. For instance, instead of thinking, "I can't do this," tell yourself, "I am capable and will find a way to succeed." This shift in fixed mindset can enhance your confidence and overall happiness.

2) Career & Finances Core: Find Fulfillment in Your Work

Pursue a Passionate Career: Finding fulfillment in your work is crucial for long-term happiness. Pursue a career that aligns with your passions and personal values. When you do what you love, work feels less like a chore and more like a rewarding, confidence building experience.

Reflect on what drives you and seek opportunities that resonate with your inner motivations.

Create a Financial Plan: Financial stress can significantly impact your happiness. Creating a realistic budget and a savings plan can alleviate financial worries and provide a sense of security.

Having a financial plan helps you manage your money more effectively and supports your long-term goals, contributing to overall well-being.

3) Relationships Core: Building Deep Connections

Invest in Relationships: Building deep, meaningful relationships requires time and effort. Honest communication is key to forming strong connections. Don't shy away from expressing your true feelings with trusted friends and family members. These genuine interactions can provide emotional support and enhance your happiness.

Nurture Important Bonds: Take the time to nurture your relationships. Schedule regular catch-ups, be present in conversations, and show appreciation for your loved ones. Strong relationships are a cornerstone of a fulfilling life, providing both joy and support during challenging times.

4) Physical Health Core: Move Your Body

Engage in Enjoyable Activities: Physical activity is a vital component of happiness, but it doesn’t have to be a chore. Gamify your life by finding physical activities you truly enjoy, such as dancing, hiking, or playing a sport. When you look forward to exercise and view it as an enjoyable game or challenge, it becomes a rewarding part of your routine rather than a dreaded task.

Establish a Consistent Routine: Creating a consistent exercise and nutrition plan can improve your overall well-being. Regular physical activity boosts your mood, reduces stress, and increases energy levels. Pair this with a balanced diet to feel your best both physically and mentally.

5) Emotional & Mental Health Core: Manage Stress like a Pro

Practice Mindfulness and Meditation: Managing stress is crucial for emotional and mental health. Practices like mindfulness and meditation can help you maintain balance and resilience. It is important to have certain emotional wellness goals. Spend a few minutes each day in quiet reflection or guided meditation to clear your mind and reduce stress.

Incorporate Deep Breathing: Deep breathing exercises are simple yet effective for managing stress and anxiety. Take deep, slow breaths to calm your mind and body. This practice can be done anywhere and helps you stay grounded during stressful situations.

Seek Support When Needed: Don’t hesitate to seek support from mental health professionals. Talking to a therapist, counselor, or life coach can provide you with strategies to manage stress and improve your emotional well-being.

I saw my first counselor when I was 17, but wish I'd started sooner. I've effectively used counselors and therapists over the years, bot for myself and my relationships.

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By addressing these core areas of life, you can move from pretending to be happy to experiencing genuine joy. Embrace challenges, build meaningful relationships, find fulfillment in your work, enjoy physical activities, and manage stress effectively. These steps will help you cultivate a life filled with true happiness and well-being.

Pretending to Be Happy: Conclusion

To sum up, faking happiness might offer temporary relief, but take it from me, it can wreak havoc on your happiness with significant emotional and physical costs.

By understanding the reasons behind fake happiness and recognizing its signs, you can take steps towards cultivating your own personalized plan of action to build a growth mindset, build meaningful relationships, and integrate enjoyable activities into your daily routine.

Tired of Faking Happiness? Take Your First Step to Real Happiness Now!

Are you tired of faking your happiness? It's time to take the first step towards genuine joy and well-being. Start by making it simple, fun, and rewarding to implement the solutions you've just learned about.

  1. Discover Your Core Values: Take our Core Values Quiz to see where you stand in the 5 Core Areas of Life. This is the first step in understanding what drives you and how to align your actions with your true self.

  2. Personal Coaching: Get personalized guidance to momentify your personal life and business. Explore our coaching options and start leveling up your life today.

  3. Stay Accountable with Fun: Use our Weekly Habit Tracker App to make holding yourself accountable enjoyable. Track your progress, earn rewards, and see real results.


Accelerate your growth in the 5 Key Areas of Life by making your habit transformation journey so simple, fun, and rewarding that your momentum becomes inevitable.

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FAQ Section

  1. Is pretending to be happy okay?

    • Pretending to be happy might help in short-term situations, but long-term reliance on this behavior can lead to mental and physical health issues.

  2. How can I recognize if someone is pretending to be happy?

    • Look for forced smiles, avoidance of deep conversations, and physical symptoms like fatigue and sleep issues.

  3. Can pretending to be happy make you happier?

    • While it might provide a temporary boost, the long-term effects can include increased stress and anxiety. Genuine happiness requires addressing underlying issues and cultivating positive habits.

  4. What are some quick tips to start feeling genuinely happy?

    • Start with small changes: practice gratitude, engage in activities you enjoy, and connect with loved ones. Over time, these practices can help build genuine happiness.


Will Moore is a gamification, habits and happiness expert.

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