Happiness is not overrated. It’s a worthwhile aspiration in life. That said, can it be faked? Is putting a fake smile on your face going to make you any happier?
It was long maintained that if you smile, whether you feel like it or not, it will encourage positive feelings, so in a way fake smiles were encouraged by large.
This always sounded a bit dubious and hypocritical to me. Not that being served coffee or talked to at a meeting by a person who frowns is better, but seeing a fake smile seems to indicate dishonesty, and most importantly suppressed emotions.
Nothing suppressed can ever be any good. It will reflect somewhere, completely out of your control, so why not show how you truly feel?
Living In The Moment
Matt Killingsworth shares the research findings from his Track Your Happiness project in his TEDxCambridge talk:
“People are less happy when they’re mind-wandering, no matter what they’re doing”.
Now, this may appear intuitive knowledge, though he found related results of a surprising effect. Namely, even when you’re mind-wandering about pleasant things, you’re less happy than when you’re fully present in the moment.
Sounds like Eastern philosophy, specifically Zen Buddhism, had it right all along, and we may all do better by their teachings that revolve around the focusing on the present moment.
This is quite contradictory to the western philosophy where the emphasis is either on the past trying to draw lessons from it, or the future by means of daydreaming about it, fearing it, and feeling anxious.
The present is squeezed into a non-existent space between the all-mighty past and the ever-fearing future in the west.
Life exists in the present and only by living each moment consciously will it ever make sense. Otherwise, it slips by and looking back at it later may seem like a fantasy.
Imagine drinking coffee and the only thing on your mind at that very moment being the smell of the coffee beans and the flow of the golden liquid through your body.
The Pursuit of Happiness
In her diaries, As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh, 1964-1980, Susan Sontag remarks:
“Psychoanalytic thinking sensitizes one to the contingent quality of the self – as the product of a history that is contingent, rather than the expression of a nature that is given. It persuades us that we are being ‘passive’ if we merely accept our selves…Hence, the essential optimism of this culture. Psychoanalysis took root here, as it did nowhere in Europe, because it supports the feasibility of ‘the pursuit of happiness’.”
This smart observation explains the ever-growing phenomenon of pursuing happiness, though by now it has become vastly universalized.
Having the explanation, however, doesn’t suggest a resolution. Is happiness to be faked, pursued or given up as a lost cause altogether? Is a radical change of the ‘self’ possible?
Happiness is a frame of mind, which is to be recognized and maintained, rather than pursued. Look for a worldview that makes sense to you, and spot the small and big things that make you happy. A meditative life isn’t a bad deal after all.
Over to you: Do you fake, pursue or live happiness?