The Tyranny of Cheerfulness by Mr. Kestenbaum

The USA is known for its friendly people.  Here, you can turn to a stranger who is waiting on line with you, and say “Can you believe this?” or “Chilly day!” and often have a perfectly nice exchange.  In many other nations, you’d be stared at as if you were a crazy person.


I LIKE that we get service with a smile.  Even when it’s clearly fake, it’s better than the alternative.  I LIKE that we can just chat with people around us.


BUT: The USA has – in my humble opinion – a tyranny of cheerfulness.  Cheer expected of you as you go about your day, and sometimes demanded.  This leaves no room for the perfectly normal and necessary moods we have such as cranky, sour, and just plain sad.  Would you be surprised to learn that my favorite Sesame Street character has always been Oscar the Grouch?


I spent years in the business sector.  People would ask, “How are you?” and I’d say “Not bad.”


“That’s GOOD!” I’d be told, emphatically.  It seems that if you’re going to be in business, you’ve got to be “GREAT” like Tony the Tiger.  Or else.


In France, I’m told, people don’t smile at you unless they know you. Grinning at strangers makes you look foolish, there – as if you were a village idiot.  Well, that’s not ideal – but I DO like how, in France, they see the worth in sadness.  Look at words English has borrowed for the French diseases of the soul: Malaise, ennui, pique, umbrage.


I was blown away by Pixar’s “Inside Out.”  I cannot think of any other movie, ever, that was about the value of being sad sometimes.  When the story was first being written, the film’s main journey was taken by Joy and Fear, but little by little the creators saw that fear made a shallow story, while sadness made it deep.


And yet in our everyday talk, “sad” is a slam, an insult: “You are one sad, sorry person, yo!”


What I am advocating for is PERMISSION to feel what you’re actually feeling – without it being held against you.  A true friend stands by you and lets you be you – even if the you who you are today is in a crummy mood.  Allowing that mood to come through allows you to come out on the other side of it.  It’s healthy.  We evolved those moods for a reason.


So feel your feelings.  They’re not right or wrong – they’re just yours.

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