You Don’t Have to Smile. You Don’t Have to Feel Happy.
There’s one thing a teenage girl can always count on, and it’s some rando telling them to smile. It happened to me all the time. One guy was fond of saying, “You look like a lost little kitten.”
Every day, I looked forward to going home and listening to sad music. Americans have names for that. They describe it as pouting or brooding, something you’re supposed to grow out of. As it turns out, pouting and brooding are extremely good for you.
Yes, I’m serious.
Years later, it occurred to me what was going on. When someone walks up and tells you to smile, they’re not doing it for you.
They’re doing it for themselves.
Here’s an interesting study:
Psychologists in Spain asked people to put their hand in a bucket of ice water. They told one group to accept the pain, and another group to try their best not to think about it. Guess who kept their hand in the ice water longer? Nope, it wasn’t the people who tried to ignore the discomfort. It was the people who acknowledged it.
They lasted way longer.
There’s another study that introduced a concept known as the white bear problem. In 1987, a sociologist named Daniel Wegner asked a group of people not to think about a white bear. Well, in the end a white bear was all they could think about. Since then, psychologists have come to understand that when you attempt to suppress thoughts or emotions, you actually wind up giving them far more power.
That would explain something many of us have observed: For a society who claims to be so happy and so full of grit, we sure seem awfully sad, angry, lonely, and fragile these days.
Have you noticed?
These kinds of studies are resurfacing in psychology and sociology as researchers try to wrap their heads around the pathology of toxic positivity that’s gripped America over the last several years. In case you haven’t been paying attention, it’s becoming a real problem. We have a lot of people who claim to be really happy, when the truth is that they’re simply not dealing with their anger, depression, and anxiety. They’re slapping a smile on it, then…