Smile! It’ll make you happier!

No. Fuck off.

Today was Clubs Day at Otago University, and I was helping the local UniQ set up. I had designed their flyers (as well as most of their promotional material for this year—plug, plug), lent them my Pride flag, and I was running back and forth across campus trying to find condoms for them.

Today was the day that all the clubs’ representatives jam themselves into the Clubs & Socs building trying to peddle their respective clubs to all the first years who clearly have never been in crowds before and stop in large packs at every bottleneck.

As I was making my toing and froing, I kept running past a woman in the foyer handing out flyers for the bi-weekly cheap vegan lunch held by the local Hare Krishnas. This particular woman is well known by those who frequent Clubs and Socs, though her name escapes me (and I wouldn’t publish it anyway).

On one of my passes she thrusts a flyer at me and says something about the vegan lunch. I, being on a mission, quickly said “no thanks,” and determinedly tried to make my way through the swarm of people. It was then that she gruffly, and with an air of smugness, said “Smile! It’ll make you happier!”

I only had time to shoot her an angry glance as I dashed up the stairs. Here’s what I said in my head:

“How dare you! How dare you have the arrogance to tell me how to feel. To tell me that I should smile. My face is not yours, nor are my emotions, and you have no rights over them. What business is it of yours if I smile or not?

“What do you know about me? What do you know about the scowl that I wear today? Do you know it’s story? Do you know that in addition to catching a particularly nasty flu yesterday that left me worn out, I had to pull an all nighter to finish designing a couple of posters that my client was expecting first thing in the morning? Having spent until 4am the previous night designing flyers for someone else? That I have to do these things for free in the hope that one day someone will like my work enough to pay me for it, and maybe I can get a job and be able to afford to live?

“Do you know that I had to then get up, on no sleep, and run back and forth across the campus finding condoms and cellotape and blutack, in the mean time finding a computer I can check my emails because I was simultaneously in the middle of doing business with people?

“Do you know how insulting, offensive and downright painful to tell someone who has lived with clinical depression for at least 17 years that if they just smile, it’ll make everything better? What an amazing insight into psychology you must have! You don’t think if that worked there’d be no need for antidepressants or counselling or therapy?

“You don’t think that as a queer person [I was wearing a t-shirt with “RECRUITER” written in rainbow lettering across the chest] that I’d be tired of other people policing my body and telling me to keep my emotions in check?

“There’s a story behind the expression I wear, and I’m not going to plaster it up for anybody. I’m tired of wearing masks.

“Does my tired, stressed face offend you? Are you personally aggrieved by the fact that I’m  clearly not having the time of my life and have no interest in your cheap, vegan lunch?

“I’m a human. Sometimes I’m happy, sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I’m stressed, tired or angry. I wasn’t taking the emotion out on the rest of the world, merely not going to the extra effort of hiding it.

“My emotions are mine alone. Don’t you dare judge me for them.”

As I wrote above, I said that in my head, not aloud to her. Because by a quirk of this society, I’d be the unreasonable one. We’re supposed to hide our unhappiness and put on a smile for the rest of the world—we’re supposed to be presentable.

Every other time I saw her, everyone who wasn’t outwardly happy, she’d pertly call “Smiley” as she thrust her flyer into their vicinities.

You are not the emotion police. Keep your shitty flyers; I’d rather have lunch that doesn’t come with judgement.



6 thoughts on “Smile! It’ll make you happier!

  1. Here here! I’m sick of this “fake it ’till you make it” crap. Sometimes you can’t be positive about someone’s clearly idiotic proposal, you need to be negative, and therefore honest. Being 100% positive all the time is unnatural, unbalanced, and unhealthy.

    • “Fake it ’till you make it” only works in something like a job interview, not life. Only a small proportion of my life is spent truly “beaming smiles” happy. Telling us not to express the rest of the time is censorship—censorship of our very being. Life is full on undulations, and telling us to smile through it and be happy is denying us who we are, and it’s been used to oppress women and minorities since forever.

  2. As a fellow depressive, I reeeeeeeally feel you on this one. It’s like we’re supposed to smile so that other people don’t have to make the basic effort to give a shit about how another human being is actually feeling.

    • I was given a “self help” book once. The first chapter was titled “Smile”, and it had some parable about a kid who fell off his bike and was crying so hard, that his brother couldn’t get him to go home, and if they were late, they’d be in trouble. So an old man comes along, and instead of helping the boy, told him a funny story, so that the boy smiled and forgot all about being injured and they got home in time for dinner. The end.

      I said “fuck you, book,” and gave it back.

      If “make your face smile so that you’ll trick your brain into releasing seratonin and shit and you’ll never be down again” is your advice, then I’m guessing you haven’t actually had much trouble with motivation.

      I guess I felt it more being that as a queer person, I’m tired of being told to be “tolerant” of people who hate me, and being expected to be chummy with people who say “I don’t like your gayness, but I totes still like you as a person”. That, and I’ve had a shit of a week…

  3. I agree, it’s ridiculous to think that smiling is a sure way to feel better. It isn’t a mandatory expression that one must wear in public and yet you are looked down on for not being able to smile. I work in service and the other night, at 3 or 4 am when I was run off my feet serving drunks and feeling sick and tired, I was told by a stumbling and slurring patron to smile. I, not having the same restraint as you, retorted “I don’t feel like smiling and I have to deal with all these drunks. You wouldn’t smile if you were me.” I find it hard to smile at any time of the day even though part of my job is to be friendly so why the hell would I smile at you when you are yelling at me to give you food? As someone still undefined in their own sexuality and struggling with depression, I understand your story as much as someone can empathise with another.

    And as a side note, one of my friends who repeatedly tells me to smile and teases me for being in a down mood all the time once said to me, in response to a comment I made over the frustration of dealing with guys and dating, “If you were a lemon, you’d say the opposite.” Confused by her use of the word ‘lemon’ she explained she meant ‘lesbian’. Tolerance without acceptance is not the same, and makes the tolerated feel worse about themselves.

    • I used to work at Burger King, so I can understand you on being required to smile for ungrateful customers — when I was there they used to have the patronising “Smiles… free” on their condiments menu, and a huge sign saying “You are now entering the ‘Smile Zone'” leading to the front counter.

      Normally, I don’t believe in airing personal issues as part of a message (I don’t believe in the personal being political), but in this case it was relevant — you don’t know what sort of day someone’s having, so don’t police their emotions. And having dealt with issues surrounding the queer community for years, I take issue with anyone policing anything about other peoples behaviour and autonomy.

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