Don't Hitch Your Happiness to My Honda
Driving past the bus stop today I saw this young man. The light was red and I stopped, curious to examine his face. He was thinking deeply, mouth slack, eyes fixated on the invisible thought that hung mid-air in front of only him.
As I tried to tune into his thought and peer intrusively into his subconscious, some adult happened by and muttered "smile, kiddo" and the wavelength vanished. Irretrievable file error 404—page not found. Light green. Moment gone. I don’t know the boy’s story, and I certainly don’t know why he would have been sitting at a bus stop smiling aimlessly.
Short of saying mind your own damn business, this blog is a mindfulness reminder. Let me state for the record that although a falsified smile can lead to genuine happiness, a forced smile is a mask, a punishment for emotions that have already been suppressed or cancelled out. Something so simple as a smile can mean much more to the next person. For this reason, I personally do not smile disingenuously on demand. Further, I do not engage in the practice of urging others to smile simply by telling them to do so. Allow me to explain.
I knew a girl back in high school who was smart, pretty, and popular. She had a brilliant smile, bubbly personality. No one knew that it masked a deep and troubling pain. Years later I learned she had been violently raped. She smiled to protect others from her shame, guilt, and heartache. Plus, this way, no one bombarded her with a question she couldn't begin to answer: "what's wrong?" Yet, people felt it appropriate to tell me--smart, pretty, and unvictimized--to "smile". Always too pretty not to smile. Give me a freakin' break! Great...now I've lost my train of thought! What was I thinking...?
Women and children first. Smile, dammit. Society just assumes that sweet, cherubic children are first in line to plaster a grin on their face. Women next, for it's our responsibility to soften and enlighten the world. No pressure--just peel your lips back and show the world how your happiness has been tattooed on your bicuspids. Thatta girl. One more expectation for you to live up to. So simple, yet so contrite. "I'm so sorry for having thoughts and feelings that do not align with your opinion of my abundance and joy. Here is a manufactured grin. Better?" Telling someone to smile disregards that person's feelings and experiences. It is invalidating. It tells them they do not have permission to go inward and feel how they might be feeling. Why? Because you are uncomfortable with their expression of thought, pain, discontent, anger, confusion? How dare they piss on your parade with that crumpled, grumpy face! Oh wait, so now this is about you?
It's like handing a person a tissue when they are crying. Your intention is to be kind, but your message is possibly interpreted as "stop crying". Stop crying why? Because it makes you uncomfortable or embarrassed? Makes you feel obligated to come up with the right thing to say? Because someone else's tears leaves you inclined to feel something you don't want to feel? How does the absence of a smile make you feel? Slighted? Distrustful? Awkward? Unappreciated? Unacknowledged? Unfulfilled?
Perfection vs. Authenticity
Sometimes, as people, we get so hung up on what’s good and right or winning versus losing that we end up creating this fantasy world for others to indulge in while we mask our own hurt. We create an exterior that is palatable, protective, and perceived as perfect. When we do this, we swallow our true feelings and let the lie wash over our painful or pensive truths. Being authentic is not a buzzword—it is a manner in which some people live, and others have difficulty accessing. The truth is, we’re so eager to judge others that a smile is no less than a fancy watch, an expensive handbag, or designer shoes. It is a measurement that we use to gauge how we feel about another person. We are creating a story based on how we perceive another person’s appearance, words, and actions. Does the absence of a smile say more about the other person, or more about you? Even in a relationship or partnership, you and only you are responsible for your own happiness. You cannot make your joy conditional upon someone else’s.
Be your own brand of happy. Don’t assume that because my version of happy doesn’t look like yours that I’m not. So smile when you damn well want to. Share your smile with others without giving them a directive to do the same. Smile how and when you want to. Smile bigly, freely, unambiguously, toothlessly, incessantly, effortlessly. Be spacious and gracious, allowing others the opportunity do whatever they want to do with their face. Do not presume to know what is going on for someone based on a facial expression. Ask! To my unsmiling brethren: don't allow someone else's experience to dictate yours. Smile from your heart, regardless of whether anyone else smiles back. Be secure in your truth and live in your moment, whether it warrants a smile... or not.