Why is authenticity so important? And what is the best way to fully embrace who we are to become our authentic selves? In this guide, psychologists Emma White and Jasmijn Eerenberg answer these questions and help you on your journey to living a more authentic life.
The importance of being authentic
‘All human beings wear a mask’ used to write Italian novelist Luigi Pirandello. If you ever had this feeling, we are here to tell you it’s more normal than you would think. Whatever the reason, sometimes it might happen that we behave in a way that doesn’t feel true to who we are. For example, instead of being yourself, you might play a role in order to fit in or to impress others.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest achievement.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Living inauthentically can be caused by many reasons, among which are the desire to please, the need for confirmation, or the wish to belong to a particular group and be accepted. But is it actually enabling us to lead the life we want for ourselves? Although sometimes this might feel like the easiest way to blend in, not being true to who we are can be exhausting, and limiting, and it can prevent us from reaching our true potential.
What is authenticity
What do we exactly mean by ‘authentic life’? Well, there are almost as many definitions of authenticity as there are psychologists, philosophers and scholars.
The definition we will be using in this guide comes from psychology professor Stephen Joseph and reads:
“Knowing yourself + owning yourself + being yourself = leading an authentic life”
Each element in this definition has its own meaning, namely:
- Knowing yourself entails being aware of your personality, values and needs. You know what you want and what you don’t want;
- Owning yourself means that you can trust yourself, what your opinions are, what you think, your choices and how you behave;
- Being yourself entails that you behave in accordance with your personality, values and needs. You don’t let yourself be influenced by the expectations of others.
Together, these elements lead to you living an authentic life, where who you are, what you stand for and how you behave are aligned.
Fun fact: did you know that, originally, the word ‘authenticity’ comes from the Ancient Greek word Authentikos, which means being genuine, doing something for yourself.
Benefits of living authentically
How would you feel if every day you said what you meant, remained true to yourself and behaved accordingly? ‘Fulfilled’, would be my first thought. Well, science backs me up here.
Many studies demonstrate that there is a great number of positive effects linked to living authentically. Let’s see some of them.
Happiness and satisfaction: research shows that living authentically makes us happier and more satisfied with our lives;
Stress: research shows that being authentic is way less stressful than trying to be someone who you are not;
Confidence and self-worth: When you can trust yourself to make the right decisions, this will increase trust in yourself, feelings of self-worth, optimism and satisfaction in your life. Another interesting fact? The way you treat and feel about yourself is radiated towards others, so when you trust yourself you invite others to trust you as well;
Intrinsic motivation: Research also shows that people who live an authentic life are more likely to show gratitude and engage in socially conscious activities such as voluntary work;
Increased problem-solving abilities: When you are honest with yourself and others, you have the ability and open-mindedness to quickly deal with problems instead of procrastinating or ignoring them. This means you actively take action on what you think is important and have fewer doubts.
These are only some of the many benefits of leading an authentic life! Sounds great, right? Yet, saying and doing are two very different things. So, how do we switch from theory to practice? How do we actually become more authentic? And what makes this hard to do and stick to?
An important first step to living a more authentic life is to get to know yourself better and explore what you find important in life. It’s all about becoming more aware of your personality, values and needs.
Ask yourself: what do I find important in my work, relationships, and free time? What are the things that really move me? What do I like and even more, what do I dislike? What am I good at? How would I ideally live my life?
These are big questions, we know. And it’s totally okay if you don’t have the answers yet and you don’t feel like knowing yourself in this way. It takes time and it’s a lifelong process. The things we want, our goals and desires of course change over time and different things will gain different importance over the stages of life.
Our goal is to help you take the first steps in the direction of leading a more authentic life. There are many exercises that can help you find a way to understand yourself better. Let’s try some of them together.
Let’s imagine that it’s your 80th birthday party, all your loved ones are present and they all would love to give a speech about you. What would you want them to say in this speech?
Take a moment to reflect on the following questions: