Here's something that probably doesn't happen often. Actually, I'm wondering if this has ever happened to anyone else in the world other than to me. And it happened yesterday, when I was celebrating my 50th birthday over lunch with my husband.
I was carded! Yes, we ordered two glasses of champagne, and the waiter asked for proof of age. Did he really think I wasn't yet 21? Was it my hair, which I swear I've never colored? The outfit, which was very middle-age appropriate?
Or could it have had something to do with the fact that when I got to the restaurant a few minutes before my husband, I asked the hostess to ask the waiter to ask me for proof of age when we ordered drinks? I explained to her that I had just turned 50 and that all I really wanted for my birthday was to be able to say, "Someone asked me for proof of age on my 50th birthday!"
So now I can. And guess what? I felt so good about myself, even though I'd contrived the whole thing. In fact, scientific studies have provided some evidence to show that lying about yourself really is a good thing after all -- in moderation, of course.
For years, psychologists have known that a lot of us exaggerate our qualities, whether it's height or grades or whatever. In my case, it's overestimating how young I look. But there's a reason: When I was 12, I looked 8. When I was 21, I looked 14. People talked baby talk to me my whole life, which isn't a good thing. And everyone told me that I would feel so much better when I grew old and still looked young. At the time, I thought they were talking about me as a future 40-year-old, but really, the teenage me thought, "Who cares what you look like when you are 40?" So now I'm 50, and if you do the math (I did), that means I should look 33.33. But I was thinking that I could maybe pass for 20. An exaggeration, I know.
I also told myself another little lie today: I felt really popular because of all the Facebook "happy birthday" messages -- mostly from high school friends who may not even remember which one I was. (I was the short one with the red hair and the Dorothy Hamil haircut. I looked like I was 11.)
But get this: A 2009 study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that students who exaggerated their grades and grade point average showed "greater achievement motivation and positive affect." The scientists used grade point average to explore self-deception because it's easy to distinguish fact from fiction. But their mission was really all about self-deception in general. They believed that their findings added support to prior studies that showed that people who lie to themselves tend to be "well-adjusted," while those with an accurate assessment are depressed. So even though I did something crazy today, it proved that I was really sane after all.
P.S. Other studies have suggested that this is all nonsense and that people who lie about themselves are pompous jerks. But hey, we all tend to ignore studies that don't feed into our biased views.
Follow Randi Hutter Epstein, MD, MPH on Twitter: www.twitter.com/randihepstein