Even as a child I would wonder why it was so important to smile on photographs. Why wasn’t my everyday expression acceptable? Why did we have to pretend to the world that we were the happiest family on planet Earth? And then when I got older, and particularly when I was at university, it became mandatory to have a “good time” with alcohol and to feign immeasurable happiness. In married life, it was absolutely essential to smile on photos when on holiday, at a social event, or any other occasion for that matter – even a funeral.
Ask the average person in the street how things are going and they are likely to say “great” – or some such thing. And they will say this even if they have just learned they have cancer, have become bankrupt, or if their partner has run off with their personal trainer (they might be telling the truth in such an instance).
There is huge pressure on people to give an outward show of happiness – the smile, ecstatic holiday photos, mates having a good laugh – and so on. Of course, there is no criticism here of genuine jollity, but this need to portray to the world that we are ecstatically happy people is debilitating.
The reason you will be put under massive pressure to appear to be happy is simple. You are not allowed to reflect how people really feel because most people are in pain and they will not thank you for reminding them of it. You will be called a “miserable git”, a “party pooper”, “party skunk”, “miserable bastard” – and so on. In reality, you may be perfectly happy, but this isn’t the point. You are a miserable git if you don’t join in with the phony pretense that life is just one big ball because you remind others of their true “miserable git” inner state. If someone calls you a miserable bastard you can be assured that they are the miserable ones. They just cannot bear to be reminded of it.
As with all things of this nature, it needs to be understood and handled appropriately. I’m quite happy to smile on a photograph if asked (and I do need to be asked). For two seconds I look like a Cheshire cat, after which I resort to my bulldog chewing a wasp expression. I understand why people want others to look happy, and I understand why they can get quite aggressive if a person doesn’t play along. I will do the smiling thing for family and close friends. I will not do it for anyone else unless they are going to give me a large amount of money. In effect, I will tell them to “fuck off” and leave me alone, and go play at happy chappies somewhere else.
We have to deal intelligently with the happiness police. Sometimes it is important to obey them, simply so we can have some form of family and social life. At other times we can ignore them with impunity, even if they become offended beyond measure.
As always, the decision to acquiesce to the implied demand to look happy, or our decision to remain true to our inner feelings and tell the happiness police to go away, both come at a price. We just have to be intelligent about how much we want to pay.