How many lies did you tell today? If you say that the answer is zero, you’re probably lying…or maybe you’re fooling yourself…or maybe you’re one of those rare people who has discovered that by not lying, you have created a much happier life for yourself.

Speaking the truth—the real truth—can feel uncomfortable at first, but the rewards are huge, promises Daily Health News life coach Lauren Zander. She believes that when the truth is told with kindness, magical things begin to happen. But when a life is full of lies—even little lies told with the best of intentions—the consequences are severe. For instance…

  • No one wants to be lied to, so when you’re caught in a lie (including a “white” one), trust is lost. “At their root, all lies are manipulative. It’s like you’re running a puppet show. You want someone to react in a certain way, so you tell the story that will produce the desired effect. But that’s not fair—and relationships suffer as a result,” Zander says.
  • Being honest about your needs and desires is the only way to get those needs and desires met. That’s why each lie represents a lost opportunity to take another step toward happiness.
  • Lying is a form of cowardice. It means that you lack the courage and conviction to deal with the aftermath of telling the truth.
  • Nobody likes a liar…so every time you tell a lie, you like yourself a little less. And there’s no surer way to be unhappy than to be mired in self-dislike, Zander says.

Truth-Telling Success Story

Zander likes to recount the story of her client, “Cara,” whose life improved dramatically within weeks once she committed herself to start telling the truth. Cara was an affluent, married mother of four who, by all outside appearances, led a charmed life. But inside, Cara felt empty. Antidepressants weren’t helping. Her deepest sorrow was her feeling that her husband didn’t understand her.

When Zander asked Cara to write down an inventory of the lies she was telling day to day, they discovered that there was a very good reason for the husband’s lack of understanding…because Cara wasn’t telling him the truth about anything. “She was faking her orgasms, fibbing about how much time she frittered away each day and covering up her feelings of emptiness with a false smile,” Zander says. There was nothing nefarious about Cara’s secrets—she wasn’t hiding any affairs or addictions—but she was not being her real, true self. When Cara made a commitment to stop lying and start sharing herself in an authentic way, her marriage quickly improved and her depression lifted.

The Three Tricky Kinds of Lies

Ready to give rigorous honesty a try? The first step toward truthfulness is to learn to recognize your own lies.

It’s easy to spot the big ones—hidden infidelities, covert illegal activities or other dark, destructive lies that blow up people’s lives. Living with those kinds of lies can be torturous, so when a person has a lie of that magnitude in his life, coming clean may be the best way to find peace. However, Zander says, if the individual believes that the consequences of confessing would simply be too dire, then she recommends that the person make a promise to stop the behavior immediately.

There are three other types of lies, though, that are barely noticeable because they’re often woven into the fabric of everyday life. Learning to recognize these lies for what they are—and then finding ways to deal with the issues that they are covering up—is key to finding authenticity and happiness. Be on the lookout for…

Little white lies. Fibbing often seems like the easiest, most expedient solution to a problem. For instance, you’re uncomfortable telling your sister that you dislike her dog and can’t approve her suggestion of a weekend visit that includes her terrier—so instead you say that your husband is “allergic.” (Then you’re stuck when she suggests rescheduling the visit for a weekend when he’s out of town.)

Lies of exaggeration. These are the stories with a kernel of truth, embellished to impress. Examples: The house you downsized from wasn’t truly 5,000 square feet (it was closer to 3,000), but still, it was really nice. The spot that was removed from your face wasn’t actually skin cancer, it was just a precancerous growth, but it did make you nervous. You may think that telling such lies is harmless entertainment, but in fact, exaggerations are manipulative ploys designed to garner undeserved attention, admiration or sympathy.

Lies of omission. Telling part of the truth (I stopped at the mall to buy sneakers…) but not the whole truth (…and couldn’t resist getting these $600 dress shoes, too) is tantamount to lying. Of course, you don’t have to tell everything to everybody. But if a person has a right to certain information—for instance, if you and your partner typically discuss any purchase above a few hundred dollars—and you withhold that information, you are a liar (and a coward!) who is too afraid of conflict.

Four Lie-Stopping Strategies

Zander suggests the following four steps to stop lying and start telling the truth…

Make a written an inventory of the lies you tell. For the next few weeks, use a small notepad or the voice-record function on your phone to keep track of each lie you catch yourself telling—the small ones, the big ones and everything in between. Keeping the types of lies described above in mind, look for patterns in your falsehoods. Do you tend to lie to get sympathy? To avoid conflict? To make yourself seem important? Once you understand your motivations, consider healthier ways to get those needs met.

Practice telling the truth with kindness. Your goal is not to brashly tell everyone exactly what you think, no matter how harsh. For instance, you don’t have to tell your sister, “Your dog is an undisciplined, foul-tempered, stinking cur, and you did the worst job ever of training it.” But you certainly can say, “I adore you and I want you to visit, but I do not like your dog and I do not want it in my home. Please make other arrangements for it during our visit.”

Set boundaries. In all your interactions, consider the nature of your relationship before sharing your honest opinion. Suppose someone asks you, “Do I look fat?” If that person is your partner, you can say, “Yes, honey, you have put on weight and it shows. It worries me because I love you and I want you to be healthy.” If the asker is a coworker, however, it is your choice whether to have the discussion at all. “You can have a boundary where you refuse to talk about certain subjects. For example, you could respond with, ‘I don’t feel comfortable discussing religion, politics, sex or weight at work,'” says Zander.

Say unto others what you would have them say unto you. When you’re tempted to lie, ask yourself, If our roles were reversed, would I want this person to tell me the truth? If the answer is yes—and it almost always is, Zander says—then find the courage to be honest. If the answer is no, then refer back to the preceding paragraph on boundaries. “It’s fine to have limits about what you will or won’t discuss with certain people. That way, you are staying true to yourself and not being a liar,” she notes.

As you work to develop the habit of truth-telling, remind yourself frequently that honesty is not a burden. Instead, it is a gift that you give to others…and to yourself.