Tuesday, April 5, 2016

"Don't Harsh My Happy, Bro."

I like to say that true enlightenment comes through trial, error and our interactions with the world around us. Never has this been truer to me than today, courtesy of an amazing group of fascinating people that I’m lucky to associate with on social media.

A few days back, I posted a selfie on Facebook of me looking grimly into the camera after a ridiculously fun and productive day that left me completely disheveled and with zero energy. So little energy was left after this lovely day, in fact, that I could not muster a smile.

I loved it.

To me, it was a photographic embodiment of my perfect Saturday.

But this morning, a male acquaintance commented on the photo about how he’d like to see me smile. I won’t get into it, but it baffled me that a stranger (I’ve only interacted with this person through the internet) would assume that I was unhappy, despite a caption to the contrary. Of course, it upset me and a conversation ensued that was quite educational on my end. Another person I haven’t met also commented about why he didn’t see anything wrong or insulting about the photo, and I responded to that.

However, after posting my opinion about this topic on my personal Facebook page, I was lucky to have some of the best conversation I’ve ever had about this. With a few of the very informed ladies there, the topic turned away from the gender-specific frustrations of ‘Hey, you should smile’ and more into a conversation about perceived happiness and how it shapes our world.

One amazing gal mentioned that she’s been on the receiving end of ‘Hey, smile!’ from both genders:
“I've been told this by both genders. Really, it makes me feel damn uncomfortable and self-conscious. I know I challenge myself by working in the service industry, but I can find enjoyment with interactions even though I'm introverted.

Last year (first season at the shop) and a woman had asked if I was the person in the Inspire(d) magazine ad that we had published. I said yes. She said that she was happy to see that I could smile (because I wasn't smiley enough for her, I guess.)

I feel like it's absolutely crap that it is expected for humans to behave "ideally" to whatever standards someone else dictates. Not all individuals bode well under that pressure. I have worked with the public in my jobs for years, and I do my best to give really good customer service -- I just might not be smiling my face off the entire time."

I couldn’t have agreed more. It speaks to an expected emotional status that’s especially burdensome of women: we've made happiness so omnipresent as the only emotion allowed that we're unable to recognize or appreciate other feelings or emotions (or the lack thereof).

As a culture, we seem to idolize happiness and optimism so much that anytime anyone, especially women, aren't OVERTLY and obviously overcome with joy, they're 'negative'. There are people in my industry who have continually labeled me as a bully, unhappy and extremely negative, but I think that it's an unconscious inability on their part to recognize other emotions as valid and valuable, especially in a woman. Emotional complexity is not something they personally find valuable, so I’m not allowed to be emotionally complex if I want to conform to their world view.

The most implausible part in all of this is that humans are emotionally complex. Yes, even those who criticize me. That’s the irony. The intricacies of human emotion is what helps us idolize happiness as the end goal, but it's particularly detrimental to mental health of everyone when there's this constant pressure to put positive spin on EVERYTHING. From social media to friendly conversations to optimistic criticisms and professional livelihood, we're supposed to pre-treat everything with some sort of #blessed hashtag compartmentalization to avoid getting labeled as 'negative'.

My smart friend went on to say “This is one of the reasons that I felt I had to move on from my previous job. There was SO much emphasis on being positive, that it was becoming detrimental to me on a mental/emotional level. Particularly after the Mystery Shopper survey became implemented."

Besides physical issues that I had been dealing with for years (repetitive motion) I simply couldn't stand having alluded to me that the only way I would progress into management was if I would become a fake, happy robot.”

That seems absurd to me, and as though it may be a very good way to force people into hiding any valid feelings and emotions outside of the falsely ‘happy and optimistic’. The proselytizing of the happy cult is creating positivity soldier robots who cannot think, feel or communicate a critical, unhappy or negative thing without the entirety of the happy church condemning their personality.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not asserting that there’s anything wrong with happiness. There isn’t. It’s AWESOME! Why else would everyone seek it so fiercely?

However, our sole focus of being happy and/or the expectation of constant happiness in those around us is extremely unhealthy. Dangerous, even. We live in a society where our friends and family and heroes and role models all hide depression and angst for fear of being judged.

Men have a higher suicide rate than women and women have a higher concentration of disordered eating; it’s my personal (and very much as a non-mental health professional) opinion that this single fact speaks to the unrealistic expectations that we put on each other. Our cult of stoicism and demanding the role of protector for men is so damaging, and the required level of happiness and perfection in women is equally harmful.

There seems to be this belief that we can change human nature and emotions simply with the wave of a magic demand wand. Whether it’s a presumptive “I’d like to see you smile” on Facebook from a stranger or a “Hey girl, you should smile more”, there’s a dark shadow of demand placed on women that we show optimism and happiness at all times and comply with proof of our happiness when checked.

Don’t check my happiness, bro. It’s no one’s right to demand that a person be upbeat or smiling all the time. It’s also no one’s right to say “What’s your happy-level, girl? Are you appropriately pleased with your level of function in society?”

Not all of us are happy. Not all of us are pleased that we’re not seen as capable of having and experiencing emotions. There are some of us who are frustrated at the lack of capability assumed about us. Everything about feeling, evaluating and communicating in our lives is questioned, supervised, double-checked and given a score; from our resting bitch face photos on social media to our choices in medical care, we’re constantly told that we are incapable of making our own informed decisions like adults. AND WE’RE SUPPOSED TO SMILE AT YOU?! You want our assurance that everything in our lives is hunky dory? It’s not.

We’re second guessed when we ask for an IUD. We get questioned about our choice to get an education over having a family. We’re dictated laws about what we can and cannot do with our bodies to the point that our employers have a say in what they will and will not approve of in our medical benefits. Life is not hunky dory, and it’s a direct result of the world’s inability to respect my individual autonomy as an adult making their own informed, controlled and personal decisions.

Now tell me: would you smile if that were the case?

Women are not property. Our existence doesn't boil down to what another human being finds valuable or attractive. Humans don't exist to please other people. And THAT is the bad part of this -- you'd like to see me smile?

SO WHAT? I’d personally like a million dollars. I'd like to have all of the stresses in my life go away so I can practice smiling. I'd like to be able to post a selfie on Facebook and have people NOT comment about my appearance, but about the caption that clearly says "I had a great fucking day. Magnificent. And I'm so exhausted from the wild joy of it that I don't even have the energy to smile."

I'd also like the world to stop normalizing the demands of men made on women.

So before you ask us why we’re not happy with the breadcrumbs all of the white men of a proper age are tossing us, take a wider look at the things going on in this world. Open your eyes to the discrimination and unconscious bias that cost so many of us our smiles and satisfaction. Understand that not every human (man and woman alike) fit into one unrealistic tiny glass box of approved emotions. Very, very few human beings have the hashtag blessed existence that is portrayed on social media, and it’s not our job as humans to set aside our own lives and emotions and validate your unrealistic utopian view of how the world’s inhabitants should look.

This is life. Life is not always happy. Let us live. Let everyone live and experience their own emotions. Compassion and tolerance tend to work much better as the lens with which we see other humans. 

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