Common wisdom sees self-delusion as a flaw. One of the worse things you can say to a person is they are delusional, meaning they either don’t see reality as it is or they have a distorted view of themselves. However, the frontier between delusion and self-confidence is blurry at best. Let’s say you are an aspiring writer or artist. If you are like me, you probably live in constant self-doubt. You keep analyzing your work and wondering: is it good enough? Should anyone care? Every now and then, you will have the feeling that your efforts are futile, that you never had the talent or luck and that you should just stop wasting your time and devote yourself to some other form of entertainment.
Of course, from time to time you will see somebody else’s work that sucks much more than yours become an instant success and wonder: why not me? As it turns out, self-confidence is closely linked to both self-deception and success. Self-confidence is necessary to be able to sell yourself to your audience, to a magazine or simply to a fellow blog. It is necessary to have the guts to go to a publishing company and insist like a madman until they buy your book. It is essential, in fact, to your well-being and your sanity. But a crude look at the facts of your life or your persona will not help you to get there. In order to reach the blissful state of self-confidence, you first need to let go of truth. The mechanics of self-deception have been studied extensively by psychologists. A great summary of the current state of affairs can be found in Cordelia Fine’s A mind of its own, a book which explores the myriad ways in which humans deceive themselves and analyzes the reasons why we do so. The book reaches two important conclusions: first, the vast majority of humans lie to themselves. They think they are better drivers than average, better workers than average and better people than average. They justify their actions even when these are unjustifiable. They always find a mental scenario which depicts them as the hero in the story.
The second conclusion is a little more shocking: self-deception is actually necessary. As Fine bluntly puts it, there is a group of people who are capable of seeing themselves and their surroundings as they truly are. We call them “clinically depressed.” So lying to yourself is not such a bad idea. It actually seems fundamental for leading a healthy, happy life. For feeling confident that you are great at what you do, despite all evidence to the contrary. For believing you are a good person and the world would be worse off without you. We need our little everyday lies, because without them reality would be a harsh, brutal place that most people just wouldn’t be able to bear. Because staring at the facts in the face is something the majority of the population is just not prepared to do. And they probably shouldn’t. The self-deception theory explains many things. For example, in my limited existence I have found a lot more depressive atheists than religious people. This could happen because religion makes you happy, but it could also stem from the fact that religious people are obviously more capable of self-deception. I don’t think I need to explain why. It may also shed some light on the fact that so many scientists and mathematicians have struggled with similar ailments: by definition, people who search manically for the truth are good candidates at feeling the weight of reality upon their shoulders.
So next time you’re looking in the mirror and telling yourself some hard truths, you may want to reconsider. Be kind to yourself. Believe in something magical. Because, no matter what they told you in school, being true to yourself doesn’t pay off. And, in the end, it’s just a matter of choice. You can choose lies and bliss. Or you can choose truth. And misery.