A random thought on a contradiction within positive psychology

How does one reconcile the notion of “acting as if” with the notion of “being true to yourself”?

The concept of “acting as if” essentially says that if you are feeling sad, and wish to feel happier, then act as if you are happy and you will be. And this turns out to be somewhat true – if you turn your facial expression into a smile and sit up straighter and focus your attention on happy things, you will genuinely become happier. If you are feeling unsure of yourself, and you stand up straighter, look people in the eye and talk with a tone of authority, then you will feel more confident.

What if you have a strength or value of honesty and integrity? From theΒ Character Strengths and Virtues: “Integrity, authenticity, and honesty capture a character trait in which people are true to themselves, accurately representing – publicly and privately – their internal states, intentions and commitments.” (p.294)

It’s going to be awfully hard to “fake it until you make it” if you have a strength of integrity and authenticity.

What do you think?

Lisa Sansom

Lisa Sansom has her MBA from the Rotman School of Management, and over two decades of experience in teaching and training. Her years of work in the organizational development field have included projects on change management, employee engagement, leadership development, team coaching and employer of choice strategies.

Reader Interactions


  1. Judy Krings says

    Hi, Lisa,

    Sitting here in the Outer Banks of NC listening to the sounds of surf and the sea gulls squawking as they soar along, I am blessed with a moment to pause, think of you and smile.

    I think the phrase, “Fade it…” is the corker. To me if I am sad or blue or hurt or whatever I always think of how grateful I am as well as think of all the people in the world who would give anything to be as lucky as I . I smile. I positively reminisce. Is that fake? To me no way! I am re-framing. I am being true to myself. I am not faking it. I acknowledge the pain, but I re-group to re-align myself into the direction of my best self. Some times it takes longer than others, but to me I am proud that positive psychology has taught me how to maximize what is right about me and my life. Maybe I need a pity party first or maybe my inner dragon needs to blast me with a bit of fire, but I have the splashes of strengths constellations to get myself back into the sunshine. “This, too, shall pass”.

    That said if “Fake it till you make it” works for you, to me you ARE using your integrity to get yourself back on your horse ready to run your own race. Giddy up!

  2. Marion Levine says

    That’s a great random thought, Lisa! And here’s my random answer πŸ™‚ I think it’s always important to know what one is feeling, but it doesn’t often serve a person well to express or act out those feelings. Negative affects are part of life and shouldn’t be banished without being acknowledged. But one doesn’t have to dwell on them or let them adversely impact one’s life….or the life of others. No question some people have an easier time avoiding their negative feelings or “faking it.” The context matters in terms of whether that is helpful or not. Probably in many work situations it’s good, but can create impediments to intimate relationships. The important thing, as socialized beings, is that we know how to manage our feelings according to the circumstances. It’s definitely a balancing act, but one that can….and should….be learned.
    Cheers (that’s how I feel now :-)),

  3. Lisa Sansom (@LVSConsulting) says

    Thanks all for your comments – I think the real sticking point here for me is what if someone has a “trait” strength of integrity – perhaps the idea of “faking it” goes against that strength or value. So really, is that the right thing for that person to be doing it? Because even “faking it” in a temporary way could feel grating and disingenuous. I suppose those people aren’t professional actors? πŸ™‚

    I appreciate the insights – very valuable! and yes, no matter what – it’s important to be emotionally aware. That’s the first step towards mature self-management.

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