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If, like me, you’re addicted to bad reality TV shows featuring catty women, you know that one of the worst things you can be called is a fake. A girl can be friendly to someone she dislikes over breakfast, and by dinnertime, the entire household is calling her out for being two-faced. Whereas, the drama queen who hates everyone and lets them know it at every possible moment gets points for being consistent -- because, apparently, she’s “keeping it real.”
Well, according to a new study published in the Journal of Personality, fakers may just be the happier people. Researchers at Wake Forest University found that people who are married to a stringent view of themselves could boost their emotional well-being by loosening up a bit and acting differently. Instead of turning someone into a fake, researchers say that adapting to a situation by acting out of character can actually make people more true to themselves.
The study found that people who think of themselves as rude and disagreeable actually felt better about themselves when they acted kind and polite -- even if they believe it’s not in their nature. Likewise, the researchers found that introverts who consider themselves terrible conversationalists felt like they were being true to themselves when asked to mingle at a party.
“It might be possible for individuals to improve their mental health by acting against their personality traits," says psychologist William Fleeson, the study’s lead researcher. "Being flexible with who you are is okay. It is not denying or disrespecting who you are. People are often too rigid about themselves and stick with the comfortable and familiar."
I don’t know if this study will make the girls competing to be the new Bachelorette or America’s Next Top Model any more gracious with one another -- for the sake of terrible TV, let’s hope not -- but it does make me wonder if I should more frequently push myself to do things I don’t like to do. I identify so strongly with being shy and introverted that I won’t even consider going to parties where I don’t know anyone or asking a new acquaintance out to lunch. “I would hate that,” I think. All those awkward moments of trying to come up with something to say while I figure out the best way to dissect my chicken -- no thanks. But it is true that the times I’ve forced myself out there -- mostly because upon getting invited somewhere I couldn’t think up an excuse quickly enough to bow out -- I’ve returned home to my cocoon much happier than before I left. Though I do eventually enjoy myself on these outings, you can bet that I white-knuckle my way through the first 30 minutes with canned pleasantries and false enthusiasm. Maybe some people think that makes me the biggest faker alive. If that’s what gets me through and leaves me happier in the end, well, go ahead and skewer me. I’d rather be fake than unwilling to change and grow.
What labels do you put on yourself that keep you from doing certain things? Chime in below.