Thursday, December 6, 2012

Faking Happiness

I've always tried to be a positive person. Sometimes it's extremely difficult with bills to pay, so many different people to please, never ending housework and a stressful job. Most of the time when I seem all happy and upbeat, however, I'm actually faking it.
For five years I worked in a county courthouse where people came to me when they needed to file for divorce, had issues with child support, or had their children taken away for poor choices in parenting. I'm not even sure why I took the job in the first place - just the description of it makes me want a Xanax. Regardless, I tried to be friendly to people I waited on. But many of them were so angry and bitter that my attitude didn't phase them. Being the normally upbeat person I am, that work environment nearly killed me. Not only was my spirit crushed, but the word "hate" came from my lips nearly every hour. Then it hit me - if I stayed there I was going to be one of those gray-haired old ladies who snaps at everyone and never smiles. I was becoming one of those people who is crabby because they hate their job.

Fortunately, my loving husband allowed me to take a chance and leave that environment to pursue the things that I've always dreamed of (writing) and that make me happy (photography). I'd love to tell you that everything became all unicorns and rainbows after that. But it didn't. I quickly discovered that there is a lot of work that goes into my dream profession. Now my spirit is becoming crushed with stress. Yet I try like hell to remain upbeat.

And it's a lot of work.

I used to work with a friend who would come into the office every single morning with a giant smile and say in the cheeriest of voices, "Good morning, friends!" The rest of us would usually grunt something back in return with not nearly the same level of zest. After a time, I asked him why he was always so damn happy. He confessed that most of the time, he was faking it. He knew that we were all in poor moods and that his spirit would be infectious.

Shortly after that, I helped my daughter with a science fair project in which she wanted to test whether smiling is contagious. The theory was executed in three different airports and on beaches while on vacation. For the most part, it worked. If someone wasn't smiling and they saw my daughter beaming up at them, the light in their eyes would usually transform and they would smile back. The ones who didn't smile back were clearly the sterotypical "grumpy type" - business men in a hurry, people with a permanent scowl on their face, mothers dragging along screaming toddlers.

From that point on, I vowed to remain positive and upbeat, hoping to infect others with my attitude. I stopped hanging around people who are total Debby Downers and never happy (despite my best efforts). I almost never complain to my friends on Facebook. I surround myself with happy music all day long (which can completely transform one's day). If I come across anyone who seems down or is having a tough day, I make a point to reach out to them. I am overly friendly to people who wait on me at gas stations and restaurants. Even if I am having the worst day and feel like crawling back to bed, I go out of my way to be nice.

Just as with the smiling experiment, however, my upbeat attitude doesn't work on everyone. There are people who are so unhappy in their life that they simply cannot see past their own gloom.

But at least I can take comfort in knowing I tried to make a difference. Even if I'm totally faking it.

1 comment:

C.J. Sullivan said...

I think once you hit a certain age (given you're not a famous millionaire with everything you want), you have to choose to be happy for the most part. It's easy to feed into the grouch, but like you said, if you surround yourself with upbeat music, people, etc., it does help quite a bit.

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