Rachel del Valle | Life is good?
Duly Noted | How to not be a grump when everyone around you seems to be happier than you are
October 27, 2013, 4:39 pm · Updated October 28, 2013, 10:38 pm·
Rachel del Valle
Earlier this week, a girl jogged past me and smiled — sunnily, fully — as we made eye contact. I felt myself make a small, confused expression in reply. I was taken aback, not feeling particularly grumpy or content myself.
At that moment, I don’t think I was prepared for that dash of positivity. It was as if she’d slapped a yellow smiley face sticker on my forehead as she sped by. Was she just carrying around a store of joy as she sailed down the street? Maybe it was a runner’s high?
There’s something about a full-on teeth and gums smile on the street from a stranger that feels surprising, just a little off. Kind of like seeing someone without any pants on.
I know that sounds like a very jaded, tough-girl kind of thing to say, but I know I’m not the only one who sees unsolicited grinning as an aberration.
More often than I like to admit, my involuntary reaction to genuine-looking happiness is an eye-roll, figurative or literal. I don’t mean to be such a grump — I like to think I’m getting better at curbing my curmudgeonry. Often I don’t even know where my inability to unsnarkily appreciate the trappings of joy comes from. It’s not that I want to be scowling, but I guess, just like the folks who grin as they walk down the street, I can’t help it.
Sometimes it’s difficult to imagine that some people are feeling so content when you feel so lousy, or vice versa.
When you’re at one extreme or the other, it feels nearly impossible to conceive that all the people around you — on the street, in a classroom, at a coffee shop — are feeling varying degrees of different emotions, many of which are completely unrelated to your own mood. It’s a very simple, childish notion that assumes that the emotional state of the world revolves around you. And yet, I find myself slipping into it every once in a while.
But not lately. More or less, for a little while now, I’ve been on the cheerier side of things. With the exception of the jogger incident, I’m finding myself more aware of and amenable to good vibes. It’s been a pretty weird personal paradigm shift. Is this how the other half lives — with smile-inducing images popping into your head all day?
I guess you could say I’m becoming what I’ve always berated.
So I got to wondering — why is the outward display of happiness so mockable? I guess it makes itself an easy target with all its goofiness and giggling. It’s easy to assume a shallowness of thought, a lack of awareness within an ostensibly happy person. After all, who can be happy in a world full of so much pain and suffering and mediocre television?
Sadness has its hecklers, too. But there’s a perverse glamorization of being down in the dumps that doesn’t exist for the truly content. Just look at Heathcliff or Batman or Daria. Would anyone like those characters if they were a little more upbeat?
The suggestion seems to be that, in order to make room for all that grinning, there must be some inner hollowness.
But I beg to differ.
Because in order to really appreciate happiness, to recognize it for what it is, you have to understand the other side of it: unhappiness. But one day, that gloominess snaps like a dry rubber band after it’s been stretching out for what seems like forever. And then you start to feel better.
There’s more of a symbiotic relationship between the highs and lows of temperament than most people recognize. It’s not so much a dichotomy as a continuum.
We tend to perceive people as having a perpetual disposition — happy or sad — but oftentimes it’s more nuanced than that. Sure, some people are more peppy than others, but that’s an average, not a constant.
So if you’re having a bad week and come across people who appear unscathed, or even happy, resist the urge to judge. It’s not that they have something wrong with them, or that they’re naive or that they’re acting irrationally because obviously everything sucks right now. Maybe their day is just a little sunnier.
Rachel del Valle is a College senior from Newark, N.J. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @rachelsdelvalle. “Duly Noted” appears every Tuesday.