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How increasing honesty can make you happier.

How increasing honesty can make you happier.

Without honesty, you’re drinking your own kool-aid. And let’s face it, kool-aid is full of sugar and other things that are bad for you. They make you fat with the load you have to carry around with you. Sure, everyone tells themselves little white lies. We try to convince ourselves we are happy with small delusions. Like, I really am happy in this job. Or this relationship. Or this house. We look around for clues that reinforce these little delusions. And whatever we look for, we seem to find. We try to rationalize that we’ve made the right decisions. Or ward off having to make a tough choice that requires a lot of effort and emotional pain in the short run. But at some point, they start adding up and pretty soon you’re living a life that isn’t what you’d do if you had to examine it in light of finite time. Years ago, I started cultivating a practice of radical honesty with myself. Asking myself the question “Is this what I would do if I only had a year left to live?”

As time went on, I began to notice a surprise I didn’t expect. As I learned how to be more honest with myself, I became happier. I didn’t have false promises to keep. Or relationships that weren’t quite as rewarding. It wasn’t easy to be honest with others when I wanted something different. The risk was losing their approval. But over time I realized that the reward was something much more authentic. They really knew what I thought and what I wanted to have happen. And they started being more honest with me too. The result? More people living their truth meant more people living a more satisfying life. I began to realize how much nonsense we make up in our heads. Things like “I should not disappoint other people” and “if I told them the truth, they’d leave”....turned into “disappointment is real life and we have what it takes to process it” and “if I tell them the truth, they can choose what’s best for them and it is better than living a farce.”  

I’ve studied how to tell when someone is lying. They pause too long, conjuring up an answer that is made up. What they say sounds like a story they’ve rehearsed in their heads or told numerous others, but it doesn’t sound truthful. They blink a lot or cover their mouth with a hand. They look away as they pull the story from their imagination instead of continuing to look you in the eye. When this happens, I try to help them feel safe being more honest. I want that honesty enough to also hear things I might not like. It creates real relationships with other adults making their own choices. It’s immensely more satisfying. I don’t want my friends and loved ones and co-workers to tell me what they think I want to hear. They could not possibly get it right because they cannot read my mind any more than I can read theirs. Great relationships require that kind of honesty. Communication is the crucial skill that cultivates it. Good communicators that are fearlessly honest are the best people to have in your life. Those are the people I want to hang out with. The ones who are willing to be real. 

Cultivating honesty with ourselves first is the key to being able to give the gift of honesty to others. It starts right here inside. What can I call out as my own kool-aid today? How honest can I be with myself today? If I am more honest with one person who matters, I make a little progress on true and lasting happiness. Can they handle it? I will only know if I take a chance on them. Believe in their capacity to speak their own truth. Only then do we also have the capacity for true love.