When you place your hand on the door to your church, school, or place of work, knowing that a day filled with people and their problems awaits you, what’s the first thing you do? For many of us, it’s to take a moment and make sure that a smile, real or not, is plastered firmly on our face as we prepare to greet those on the other side. We do this because we think it’s what’s expected of us and, in many cases, we’re right. There has long existed a general belief that happy people are better than the alternative. Better at their jobs, better with customers, and simply better at life. After all, if they’re happy then they must be doing something right.
Of course, we also know that no one can really be happy all the time. We live in a fallen world full of reasons for feeling sad, angry, worried, or any number of emotions that couldn’t be farther from legitimate happiness. So to fill the gap between the way we think we should feel and the way we actually do, we pretend. Most of us know what it looks like to be happy so acting that way is more a matter of practice than anything else. But while that may work for a time, eventually it will wear us down.
Fortunately, a recent study out of Munich’s Technische Universitaet found that not only is it counterproductive for us to act happy when we’re not, but that grumpy people are often better at their jobs than their more joyful counterparts. As Quartz‘s Meredith Bennett-Smith writes, research has shown “that a pessimistic outlook can lead to higher productivity, fewer mistakes, and better communication skills. In other words: Grumpy workers of the world, unite.”
But while Bennett Smith notes that there are certain characteristics of being grumpy that lend themselves to increased productivity, such as heightened attention to detail and a greater sense of discernment, what makes grumpy people better workers likely has as much to do with the fact that they’re not wasting energy trying to be something they’re not. Emotional dissonance is exhausting, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that those who are worried more about what they’re doing than the mood in which they’re doing it would be more productive. As psychologist Susan David put it, “To be clear, I’m not anti-happiness. It’s more that our happiness comes not as a goal, but as a byproduct of engaging in honesty with ourselves.”
That’s a lesson many of us should apply to our relationship with God as well. Just as we often feel the need to pretend we’re doing better than we actually are with other people, we also try to put up a façade with the Lord. When was the last time you were completely honest with God when you prayed? When you’re angry that life isn’t going better, do you express those frustrations to our heavenly Father or do you try to play them off out of some fear that he’ll smite you for venting?
We need look no further than the Psalms to find ample examples of the fact that God doesn’t expect us to act as though everything is fine when both he and we know it’s not. He knows our hearts and he understands our emotions even better than we do (Jeremiah 20:12). The worst thing we can do when our world feels like it’s falling down around us is pretend everything is fine with the one person who could actually help us heal. That’s not what we need, and it’s not what he wants.
So the next time you’re having a rough day and a smile feels like the most unnatural expression you could give, embrace your inner grump and take your pain to the Father. While there are lines we can’t cross in that process and we must be careful to prevent our sour mood from causing us to sin, we don’t have to act happy just because we think it’s what other people expect us to do. That kind of emotional dissonance benefits no one and only prolongs the healing process that our God wants to guide us through. Will you let him?