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  • Michael Elliott,

The Fallacy of "fake it till you make it"

And The Wiser Path of What To Do When You Are Stuck in Unhappiness


Ludwig Wittgenstein, the brilliant analytic philosopher, once said, "the way to solve the problem you see in life is to live in a way that will make what is problematic disappear."

Did Wittgenstein mean, "fake it till ya make it?" Or might he, in his nearly infinite wisdom, have meant something else?


Surely, you remember a time when you were feeling happy and you forced yourself to change your emotional state as a way to achieve a more happy feeling. We all have done so. But that is not faking anything! That is changing something; in this case, your emotional state. On the other hand, we all have tried to "act" like we are feeling one way while in fact we are feeling quite the opposite. In my experience, seldom does that work. If the emotional "grip" in which I find myself is more of a "gentle hold," then I may be able to act inconsistent with the problematic feeling allowing me to "fake it till I make it." However, when "gripped" by the unpleasant experience I find it quite difficult to break free from the emotional possession by "acting" like it isn't there. If you disagree with me, ask a loved one if they have ever noticed you trying to act like you weren't upset about something and if whether or not, the whole time, they knew you were upset anyway. Obviously, the times you pulled it off simply worked and they wouldn't know. This blog is for the other times; the times you were "wearing it on your sleeve" thinking you were hiding it. Or trying to hide it from yourself.


What, then, are we to do in order to get loose from this emotional possession?


Wittgenstein was a wise philosopher or a wise lover of wisdom (Philo-Lover of Sophia-Wisdom). He, mostly, wrote on the philosophy of language or, what he called, "language games." A careful reading of his aforementioned quote calls for a careful examination of the words he picked. He encouraged us to "live in a way that will make the problem disappear." He didn't say, "fake it" or "act in a way." I suspect he would say that if faking it works then go right ahead and fake it. He was known for his utilitarian attitude. But what if it doesn't work? Should we just keep on faking it?


A wise shrink prizes wisdom over happiness. What if our goal for problem solving was less happiness and more wisdom? Might a shift in desire-for-happiness to a desire-for- wisdom produce a different result. If we try to understand - ourselves, others in our lives, and our problems as opposed to trying to get rid of them - we might find a different way to evaluate the very problems we are trying to eliminate. Sometimes the "problems" can provide new insight and sometimes if you hold them carefully enough they choose to leave because their job is done. Notice how when you achieve understanding you find a certain calm stability. Even if that "stable" sense of peace is only temporary as life does always get in the way again. Seeking wisdom is a perpetual journey for sure. But so is happiness. If one doesn't work, try the other. However, while becoming wise does not completely eliminate life's problems (neither does happiness, by the way), it does allow one to develop problem solving skills necessary to breaking the tight "grip" of negative emotional possession in a more effective way. Happiness comes and goes no matter the person. But wisdom has a lasting impact, even if developing wisdom takes a lifetime.


So, when Wittgenstein said, "live in a way that makes what is problematic disappear," maybe he didn't mean "fake it till you make it" or just (don't worry) BE HAPPY! Instead, he may have been encouraging us to hang in there and figure it out. Or, in short, BE WISE!


A short but, in no way, exhaustive list of things to do:


  • Learn everything you can about the problem, i.e., make it your friend

  • Seek the advice of wise people you trust

  • Be dead honest with yourself

  • Remember Hope is a great thing but a bad strategy

  • Ask yourself if what you are doing is really helping you get what you want. If it isn't, change your method

  • And most important, stop pursuing happiness. Be Wise. You might find you are happier without trying to be