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You Can Pretend Your Way to the Flourishing Life

The Goodness of Faking Yourself Out

Photo by Jaroslaw Slodkiewicz / Unsplash
"If one way to make friends is to show a great interest in other people, showing such an interest, however artificial it might be at the outset, can before long issue in genuine interest." Joseph Epstein, Once More Around the Block

In The Guinea Pig Diaries, A.J. Jacobs wrotes about a series of intense experiments of the subjective sort: he used himself, the guinea pig, to test ideas and phenomena. Each chapter of the book described the results of the various experiments.

In “My Outsourced Life,” he wanted to know what it’s like to outsource work, so he hired two workers from India and outsourced his drab editorial and personal chores. What did he discover? He discovered that young Americans have some stiff competition on the horizon.

In “Whipped,” Jacobs did everything his wife asked for thirty days, just to find out what it’s like to give oneself fully to another. What did he discover? He discovered that he started to love her even more than he had before.

But it’s an observation at the end of the book that really resonated with me. He wrote, “It goes back to a recurring theme I’ve found in almost all my experiments: behavior shapes your thoughts.

It's the same point C.S. Lewis made in Mere Christianity, "Let's Pretend."

Lewis observed that, even if people aren’t kind, generous, or charitable, they can become so if they pretend to be. If they behave like they’re kind, for instance, they’ll start becoming kind. Their inner life, in other words, will start to correspond to their outward appearance.

“Gesture reaches from the hand back to the heart.” Romano Guardini

You can’t pretend to possess it for purposes of conning people, of course, but if you pretend with the proper intent, you will soon no longer be pretending.

A.J. Jacobs, Joseph Epstein, C.S. Lewis, and Romano Guardini all agree.

Try it. Experiment on yourself. You'll be happy to be that you made yourself into a guinea pig.