Let’s Get Real – Exploring the Joy Superpower of Authenticity

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I bet you’ve heard the phrase “just be yourself” countless of times from family or friends when asking them for advice on something. It’s made to seem like the simplest thing in the world to do. Have you ever thought about what the phrase actually means, or why it’s such an important piece of advice? Worry not – we have the answers for you! Modern psychologists deem authenticity as not only an element of well-being, but the very essence of well-being and functioning in a healthy way. We dug deep into the research and are here to tell you why it might be a good idea to learn to be your genuine self.

What does authenticity mean?

Essentially, authenticity is synonymous with being yourself. Many researchers in the field of positive psychology have tried to make sense of authenticity as a psychological construct, and it hasn’t been the most straight-forward road. However, after looking into multiple conceptualizations of the word, it can be quite simply put: An authentic person acts in accordance to their internal emotions, thoughts, beliefs and values, despite the outside influences they may be subjected to.

How do I benefit from being authentic?

Despite the challenge of measuring authenticity accurately, the positive effects to being authentic have been studied through various methods, mostly utilizing self-reporting. A good amount of data has been gathered and similarities in the results have appeared, allowing us to draw some conclusions.

Roberts & Donahue (1993) found that people being consistent with their personality between different roles and interactions was linked to higher levels of well-being. More variability between social roles correlated with people viewing themselves as inauthentic, which again correlates with feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. Kernis & Goldman (2002) were also able to connect authenticity with better self-esteem and subjective well-being. Wood et al. (2002) found out that authentic people are more extraverted, diligent, agreeable, open and less neurotic, thus supporting the idea of authenticity being a strong predictor for well-being.

In addition to personal well-being, Sutton (2020) concluded that the subjective feeling of being true to yourself is also essential in employee engagement, and highlighted the importance of encouraging diverse, authentic expressions of self in the work place, since it could have positive impacts.

Drawbacks of authenticity

With all the positive effects on being authentic, there are bound to be some negatives as well. Since an essential part of being authentic is having a deep self-knowledge and awareness of one’s inner thoughts and emotions, there is also access to a lot of negative information about oneself. Kernis & Goldman (2006), as cited by Mengers (2014), suggest that said information has the potential to be hurtful when acknowledged. For example, one might become painfully aware of their personal limitations, or the conflict between their ideal self and actual self. As people are fundamentally social creatures, authentic behavior may also cause judgment, disapproval or ridicule from other people especially when one’s authentic self differs from social norms.

“– evidence of the connection between authenticity and well-being suggests its benefits outweigh its potential risks.” – Mengers, 2014

However, it’s entirely possible to embrace those negative effects and actually turn them into strengths. It takes courage to be authentic and unique, to stand out from the crowd. Being ostracized by others for those reasons says more about other people than you – they are expressing close-mindedness and conformity, where as you can experience freedom and inner peace while being connected with your true self. All in all, as Mengers states, the benefits of authenticity outweigh the risks – so be you, be free, and spread the joy!

Do you find being authentic difficult, especially in the era of social media? Have you experienced judgements from other people for being your true self? Let’s discuss! Start the conversation down below or on social media using the hashtag #joysuperpowers. Remember to also come back next week for the Joy Superpowers podcast episode on authenticity, featuring psychotherapist, author, keynote speaker and podcaster Mel Schwartz!

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