Then he looked at me and he said, “Well, you look good. And you ALWAYS seem like you’re happy!” and the conversation continued while silently, my stomach tied itself into knots and my heart sank to the pit of my chest.
You ALWAYS seem like you’re happy.
Do I? In the 7th grade a boy in our class brought a burn book, like the one from the Mean Girls movie, to school. It had everyone in our class in it and whatever this boy decided he disliked about that particular person was plastered in sharpie next to their name. Next to my name he wrote, “She’s too obnoxiously happy!”
If that’s why you hate me, go right on ahead. Sounds like a YOU problem and not a ME problem. It was hilarious at the time, although no middle schooler can stand the thought of being disliked – even for something as arbitrary and silly as that.
Here I am, 10 years later and I WISH that being “too obnoxiously happy” was the only fault people find in me, but unfortunately, that’s far from the case! I (generally) am an upbeat person, energetic, excited for and with others over the little victories in their lives, optimistic by nature, etc etc. And that’s why it’s so easy for me to hide. It’s far too easy for me to seem like I’m okay when in reality, it feels like my life is falling apart.
I want to seem like I’m always happy and as if I have a sunny disposition – but I also want that to be genuine, to not be an illusion…I so desperately want that to be REAL. For years I fought against my own positive words and optimistic nature by trying to display my pain with or on my body. My words didn’t match my true thoughts and feelings because I felt as though I had to protect the people around me from myself. But after years of ignoring that pain, of thinking that I had shaken it all off and let it go, it found itself in the shaky, brittle, insides of my bones.
There it was – making its home between the ridges of my collar bones and hiding between the caverns of my rib cage. I thought that I had let it all go, I thought that I was fooling people, I thought that I was fooling MYSELF. Everyone thought I was happy because of the words that came out of my mouth and all the forced smiles and laughter, but the reality was that I felt like I was dying. And no one saw it – no one noticed, so I used my body to display my pain. I used my eating disorder to cope, to control, and to show people that I was not alright.
It worked. But it also almost killed me. And so do those words, “You ALWAYS seem so happy!” No one can be happy ALL the time – not if it’s genuine happiness. No one can smile constantly and instantly let go of everything that troubles them. No one would think that a phrase such as, “You ALWAYS seem so happy” could be so painful, detrimental, and down right cringe-worthy.
It’s not offensive. It’s not rude – it’s meant to be a compliment. And I believe that it would have been a compliment if I had felt that it was true. But when people say this too me, particularly during a time that I am struggling, it makes me feel as though I’m not being seen or heard. Granted, often times I do fall into the trap of faking my way through my days with a smile on my face and a mouthful of optimism with the intent of not being a burden to anyone around me. In those cases, how could anyone know that I was feeling unhappy and unwell?! This is also something to be considered – the fact that I, “ALWAYS” seem to be so happy means that I am obviously not being as genuine as I could be.
I want to be happy – after all, who doesn’t? I want to be optimistic and cheerful and be known as having a sunny disposition. But I also want to be genuine. Finding the line between being genuine and authentic or being happy and easy going for the sake of protecting others (or because I don’t have the time or energy to explain my unhappiness) is something that I’m still struggling my way through. I don’t think there is necessarily a right or wrong answer, but I will say that there are definitely people with which being genuine and authentic is easier.
There is definitely a time and a place for the typical, “oh, I’m good – how are you?” “I’m good, thanks.” type of conversation, but I think that people (especially myself) really need to take the time to slow down and invest in the people around us. I think if we all spent a little bit more time pouring love into the lives of others, we might feel like we, ourselves, have more space to be authentic and vulnerable with our feelings. Maybe if we spend time loving the people around us and TRULY investing in their lives – not with money or things, but with time and energy, we may feel safer just being ourselves – happy, sad, angry, confused, or whatever we may be in the moment.
Looking like we’re happy is most definitely a compliment. But if someone says it to us and we have a jaw-clenching, stomach-lurching reaction, maybe it’s time to look a little deeper and see what’s really going on for us. Maybe it’s time to self examine and to ask ourselves why that type of compliment hurts instead of heals. We all deserve the space to just be – to be ourselves fully, in whatever state of mind or mood we may be in in any given moment. We owe it to ourselves to be real with the ones around us – but also to let others know that they can be real with us. Let’s love more fully and give others the permission to feel more deeply. People loving other people is one way that we are able to help ourselves and others heal.
“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”
― Stephen Chbosky
“There are two things that may happen to a person: the first is that you become so soft that no one and nothing can break you, and the second is that you become so hard that nothing and no one can break you. Either way you go, the path will be very painful. But herein is the great sadness of it all: that anyone must try to become something that cannot be broken (whether the soft or the hard). Why must we be born into a world where we must spend our lives struggling to become unbreakable?”
― C. JoyBell C.