Why You Should Stop Putting on a Happy Face

At some point, we have probably all shoved down a negative feeling and put on a happy face, even when we didn’t feel like it. What we probably didn’t consider is the psychological cost of masking how we really feel.

At some point, we have probably all shoved down a negative feeling and put on a happy face, even when we didn’t feel like it. What we probably didn’t consider is the psychological cost of masking how we really feel.

Conducting two separate studies, and using parental negative emotion suppression and positive emotion amplification as a barometer, Dr. Bonnie Le and Dr. Emily Impett of the University of Toronto Mississauga and their colleagues looked to find out.

In the first experiment, 162 parents were asked to recall past caregiving experiences before answering a series of questions.

“By examining the regulation of positive and negative emotions in tandem, our results can shed light on the unique effects of using each strategy,” explains Le (Le, 2018).

According to Impett, when parents attempted to hide their negative emotion expression and overexpress their positive emotions (put on a happy face) with their children, it came at a cost: the parents felt worse themselves (Le et al., 2018).

Moreover, the parents reported experiencing lower authenticity, emotional well-being, relationship quality, and responsiveness to their children’s needs when they suppressed negative emotions and amplified positive emotions when providing care to their children.

In the second study, the researchers asked 118 parents to answer open-ended questions regarding their daily caregiving experiences over the course of ten days.

Again, the results were similar: more challenging caregiving led to more suppression of negative feelings and amplification of positive feelings (Le et al., 2018).

Le summarizes the results, “Parents experienced costs when regulating their emotions in these ways because they felt less authentic, or true to themselves. It is important to note that amplifying positive emotions was relatively more costly to engage in, indicating that controlling emotions in ways that may seem beneficial in the context of caring for children can come at a cost” (Le, 2018).

For Impett and her team, the findings offer one clear takeaway: when parents express more positive emotions than they genuinely feel and mask their negative emotions, they feel worse. We will all have negative feelings at some time or another and the point is not to deny them, but rather find ways to accept them as normal – or even better, use them to propel psychological growth.

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