Why Being Fun, Authentic, and a Realist Is a Winning Triad
New research offers fresh clues about ways to optimize your “je ne sais quoi.”
Posted Jul 30, 2020
As a science reporter, I look for trends and try to connect the dots between seemingly unrelated psychological research in a way that might be useful to readers. In this post, I'm going to recap six of my favorite studies from the past six months and frame the findings as actionable self-help advice that will, hopefully, be of some value to you.
If I were to compile a "greatest hits" of new research that's helped me cope with the ups and downs of 2020 thus far, this is it. I've reported on each of these studies in previous posts. However, because it's so easy for content to get lost in the shuffle, I wanted to bundle all of this research into a user-friendly format that can serve as a one-stop-shop for readers.
As the title of this post suggests, in recent months, different evidence-based research has put the importance of three personality traits in the spotlight:
Let's trace the footprints and chronological timeline of the latest (2020) research on the benefits of being fun, feeling authentic, and realism.
On March 7, 2020, Brett Laursen of Florida Atlantic University and colleagues at Concordia University in Canada published a first-of-its-kind international study (Laursen et al., 2020) on the importance of being fun as an overlooked indicator of social status during childhood.
This study found that children who were perceived by their classmates as fun to be around appear to benefit from a "halo effect" of likability that makes them less stressed out and more comfortable in their own skin, which subsequently made them seem even more fun to be around.
Being fun creates an upward spiral. Although this study focused on children, anecdotally, I have a hunch that being perceived as someone who's fun to be around can create a halo effect in adulthood, too.
Of course, there's a time and place for "fun." As part of being a realist (which we'll discuss later), constantly acting like "good time Charlie" during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic is inappropriate and off-putting. Also, phony fun-loving behavior that's inauthentic can seem disingenuous; being fun should come from an authentic place.
Speaking of authenticity: On March 31, 2020, Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School and Maryam Kouchaki of Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management published a study, "Feeling Authentic Serves as a Buffer Against Rejection." The researchers found that interventions designed to boost authenticity appear to buffer against rejection sensitivity within someone's social circle and that "experiencing authenticity leads people to appraise situations as less threatening."
In a May 2020 blog post, "The Halo Effect Created by Feeling Authentic and Being Fun," I share some autobiographical stories about how I stumbled on the synergistic relationship between authenticity and letting my joie de vivre show as a gay teen who refused to pretend not to like disco during the "disco sucks" era. I strongly believe that feeling authentic and being fun go hand-in-hand and feed off one another in a way that decreases rejection sensitivity and increases social status.
Another trend that seems to be emerging in 2020 is a growing body of evidence suggesting that optimism may not be as beneficial to our psychological and physical well-being as previously believed. On July 6, 2020, David de Meza and Chris Dawson published a UK-based study "Neither an Optimist Nor a Pessimist Be: Mistaken Expectations Lower Well-Being," that gives us more reason to rethink the so-called "power of positive thinking" and puts the underappreciated benefits of realism in the spotlight.
De Meza and Dawson found that realists—who have realistic expectations about the future—tend to be happier and have higher subjective well-being scores in the long run than both optimists and pessimists. Why is this? The researchers speculate that, in general, optimists tend to experience more dejection and disappointment when their pie-in-the-sky expectations don't come true. Conversely, even when pessimists realize that "the sky isn't falling, after all" the relief of this "Phew!" moment doesn't appear to outweigh the heavy toll of constantly catastrophizing and always expecting the worst.
These findings on the benefits of being "neither an optimist nor a pessimist" dovetail with another study (Whitfield et al., 2020) published on July 28 which found that being extremely pessimistic is linked to a higher risk of all-cause mortality and early death but that optimism is not protective. (See: "Optimism May Not Save You, but Pessimism Is Pernicious")
Surprisingly, this study by researchers from QIMR in Australia found that being optimistic did not appear to increase longevity. "Optimism scores, did not show a significant relationship with death, either positive or negative," first author John Whitfield said in a news release. Although being extremely pessimistic appears to take a heavy toll, when it comes to subjective well-being and longevity, the latest research suggests that realism outshines both pessimism and optimism.
You may be asking: "How can I learn to be less pessimistic and more of a realist while also feeling authentic and being fun?" This brings us to another study (Mehr, Geiser, Milkman, and Duckworth, 2020) by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania that introduces a new self-nudging technique called "copy-paste prompts." Basically, a "copy-paste prompt" involves mimicking the mindset and behavior of someone you admire as a way to achieve self-improvement goals. (See "How Being a Copycat Can Help You Achieve a Goal")
In terms of manifesting a target mindset of feeling authentic, being fun, and having realistic expectations, I find that putting myself in the shoes of a fictional protaganist who has these three traits helps to weave these characteristics into my alter-ego.
Along this line, another recent study (Greenberg et al., 2020) published on July 2 found that fans are drawn to songs by musicians who feel like kindred spirits. The power of brain plasticity and mirror neurons suggests that listening to music by artists who you identify with can help rewire your brain to think like the protagonists in their songs. (See "Using Rock-Star Personas as Identity-Construction Blueprints")
Hopefully, putting the importance of feeling authentic, being fun, and staying realistic about the future will help you navigate these turbulent times. Finding an anthem with a protagonist who captures this mindset is an easy copy-paste prompt that can nudge you closer to making these character traits a day-to-day reality.
In closing, my "song of the summer" for 2020 is "Free Woman" by Lady Gaga. As Exhibit A of how the protagonist in a song can facilitate copy-paste prompts, Gaga sings: "I'm 'bout to set this feeling in motion. I say that I want it, want it. (Be. Free.) But if I'm gonna go for it, I remember that I'm not nothing without a steady hand. I'm not nothing unless I know I can. I'm still something if I don't got a man; I'm a free woman. Oh yeah. Be. Free."
To learn more about the impetus behind this song and why I think it's a perfect "copy-paste" anthem for learning how to feel authentic, have fun, and remain a realist check out the May 2020 Harper's Bazaar article, "Lady Gaga Takes the Power Back in Her Chromatica Track 'Free Woman.'"
1. Brett Laursen, Robert Altman, William M. Bukowski, Li Wei. "Being Fun: An Overlooked Indicator of Childhood Social Status." Journal of Personality (First published online: March 07, 2020) DOI: 10.1111/jopy.12546
2. Francesca Gino and Maryam Kouchaki. "Feeling Authentic Serves as a Buffer Against Rejection." Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (First published online: March 31, 2020) DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2020.03.006
3. David de Meza and Chris Dawson. "Neither an Optimist Nor a Pessimist Be: Mistaken Expectations Lower Well-Being." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (First published online: July 06, 2020) DOI: 10.1177/0146167220934577
4. John B. Whitfield, Gu Zhu, J. George Landers & Nicholas G. Martin. "Pessimism Is Associated With Greater All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality, but Optimism Is Not Protective." Scientific Reports (First published: July 28, 2020) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-69388-y
5. Katie S. Mehr, Amanda E. Geiser, Katherine L. Milkman, and Angela L. Duckworth. "Copy-Paste Prompts: A New Nudge to Promote Goal Achievement." Journal of the Association for Consumer Research (First published online: May 11, 2020) DOI: 10.1086/708880
6. David M. Greenberg, Sandra C. Matz, H. Andrew Schwartz, Kai R. Fricke. "The Self-Congruity Effect of Music." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (First published online: July 02, 2020) DOI: 10.1037/pspp0000293