Why forcing yourself to be happy does not work

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We’ve all done it; been through a hard time and forced ourselves to smile and act like everything is okay, even though our hearts feel like they are breaking. For some of us, this is our everyday coping mechanism, and it might seem as though it works, but science and psychology says otherwise! In fact, this suggests that those who embrace their negative emotions are better off in the long term than those who try to force happiness.

Radical acceptance

Instead of forcing ourselves to feel happy, when we don’t, we should be practicing what is known as radical acceptance by psychologists and teachers. This involves accepting the reality of a negative feeling, dealing with it and moving on. We are given two options when something bad happens, to deny it and fight the reality, or to embrace it, deal with it and move on. The theory is that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional, and by denying reality and our feelings, we are causing extra suffering.

The proof

A few years ago, three studies were conducted, to prove this theory. In the first, 1003 people were asked a series of questions online about how they relate to their feelings. They were asked to rate their agreement with several options. The other research was conducted in a lab and was set up as a simulation of a job interview. 156 were told that they were going to be given two minutes to prepare, before being recorded giving a speech about their job skills and qualifications, that would be presented to a group of judges. Finally, in the third study, 222 people spent two months completing journals about the tough moments in their lives, before being interviewed about their feelings six months later.

The results

All of the experiments had the same result, which was as hypothesized. Anyone who let themselves feel the negative emotions, tended to be less stressed, anxious and depressed when compared to those who either aimed to avoid or control these feelings. There is no solid explanation as to why this is, but there are many theories. For example, it could be that by accepting your feelings, you let go of them easier, whereas it takes a lot more energy, in the long run, to ignore or fight your emotions and this is where they could pile up.

A warning sign of depression

To take this one step further, it has been suggested that forcing happiness is actually a sign of depression. Putting on a mask or trying to show the world that you are happy when you are struggling with the emotions inside is a sign that there is something wrong, and this also makes it harder to get help, as no one else can see the issue.

Forcing isn’t the same as trying

It’s important to remember that trying to make yourself happier isn’t the same as forcing it. For example, if you are making a proactive choice in your life to make a change that will work towards happiness, that is a good thing and should be applauded. It’s not the same as forcing happiness; it’s seeking it out.

It’s okay to feel your feelings – in fact; it should be encouraged. Hopefully this is the reminder you need to stop driving happiness and try to deal with your negative feelings instead.

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