The Misery of “Happy” People

Surely a culture where everyone must smile must be a happy culture?  Surely a merry holiday must be the happiest time of year?  Surely a stunning model makes everyone feel good about themselves.

Alas, that’s not how people really think.  Attractive models make people feel horrible about themselves.  Holidays are ground zero for depression and social pressure.  A culture in which one is disparaged for not smiling is a pressure cooker.

Ironically, all these ‘happy’ things don’t make people happy.  Of course no one could publicly admit this without being subject to social censure, so these dreary processes drag on unchallenged, each person a prisoner to the uncompromising mass crowd of their ‘peers’, a faceless multitude with whom in reality they share nothing in common.

In our present modern society false public happiness is exalted into an art form.  Never mind that so and so idol died from an overdose of sleeping pills just like all the rest.  What matters is the brilliant smile they had in all those pictures on posters, in films, in magazines.  In old Aztec times, priests would sometimes wear the flayed skin of their sacrifices.  Too often, the very fame that ‘everyone’ craves is just such an Aztec priest, wearing their skin while they languish, exposed and bleeding.  Too often, the actual person dies without even ownership of their skin.  That bloody priest of fame keeps his garment.  Nothing fuels fame and sales like self-inflicted ‘martyrdom’.

When I ask people about favorite holidays anymore, everyone above the age of 10, myself included usually says ‘Thanksgiving.’  Maybe 4th of July or St. Patty’s day for some.  Everything else, the dreaded death of X-mas, birthdays, and especially anniversaries and Valentine’s Day is a horrific minefield.  The slightest misstep results in a social explosion.  Making it through holidays requires nothing less than a steady hand at disarming bombs.

What do the few holidays people still actually look forward to have in common?  They’re still simple holidays that take place mostly in the home with family and friends, revolving mostly around traditional foods and company.  There is a minimum of social expectations, demonstrations of loyalty, and pressure to perform.

This is precisely why an introvert secretly cringes when asked “Why don’t you smile?”  “Why are you so gloomy?”

As with the nastier holidays, the good will is simulated, the joy forced and false, money and status the bottom line.

For all one knows, the only way the smile police keep smiling is by popping pills prescribed by their friendly neighborhood psychiatrist.

Indeed, if the statistics are any indicator, the present competitive society is so pointless and miserable, legal neuro-active big-pharma drugs are the only way people keep up without wanting to kill themselves.

Consider the ubiquitous candy jar.  It usually sits in an office space or cubicle with the usual pictures of family and strong hints of hobbies and a life outside of work.  We go into this office for some sort of task or processing, the one time we’ll ever be there.  Whether it’s an office building or a local bank, we wonder, “Is the candy in that candy jar really meant to be taken?”  We hesitate and then restrain ourselves.  The candy jar remains perpetually full.  In nearly everyone, some deep seated intuition, ancient as human society itself tells us when giving and hospitality is real and when it is just a façade of generosity.  We know when taking from another is okay and when an offer isn’t really meant in good faith but only made for the sake of appearances.

It is exactly this sort of false giving and generosity one experiences when cheerfully ‘asked’ to smile.  The ‘asker’ may not realize it themselves, but they are not issuing a request but a warning.  They are signaling to the introvert that their member status in the group is in danger if they fail to compete for favor more intensely.  In the sycophantic setting of a royal court, those who fail to ingratiate themselves are cast aside and crushed underfoot.

Loud people seem to find the subservient smile of an underling pleasing.  To Subtle folk, such an expression is unnerving, clearly akin to the snarling of a cornered animal.  Yet until there is a fundamental change in the structures of power, we shall all have to wear perpetual slavish smiles as if we all had the soulless painted features of marionettes.

Zygmunt blogs at Kingdom of Introversion (and elsewhere).

The Misery of “Happy” People appears here by permission.

[image via Flickr/Creative Commons]

on 12/19/11 in featured, Society | No Comments | Read More

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