“Smile!” my coworker said to me, as we passed in the hallway.
I didn’t respond … out loud. In my head, however, I was thinking, “I am not smiling. I mean, I am not smiling, but why does that have to mean something bad? I am thinking, and it hurts to smile and think at the same time sometimes.”
My internal response suddenly grew angrier, “I got your smile right here, buddy. Don’t tell me what to do!”
In hindsight, the guy was probably just trying not to ask the customary, “How are you doing?” To which I would have unconsciously responded with a quick, “Fine” that he most likely would not have even waited around to hear.
I ask people how they are doing all the time and, you know what? I sometimes don’t listen, or even wait for them to answer.
How about you?
The truth is, we should probably be asking that question a lot more often these days, because, according to the people who keep track of these things, an increasing number of those among us are far from “fine.”
According to one New York Times article, mental health providers are struggling as this pandemic wears on to find appointment time for the influx of would-be patients who are suffering from anxiety and depression.
I am hardly trying to say that a simple, “How ya’ doin’?” is going to make this all better. But, what I do know is that a lot of people out there are in desperate need of someone, anyone, who will listen to them.
Just as I internally bristled when my coworker told me to smile, I think a lot of us get really uncomfortable with other people’s feelings. It’s as if we are trained from early on to buck up and be positive, which makes it hard to know what to do when we (or anyone else) shows real vulnerability.
One of my favorite thermal coffee mugs is inscribed with “Good vibes only!” While I love the sentiment, I don’t love the pressure that being inundated with such messages can put on people. Somewhere in that sea of positivity there must be a place that’s safe for people who are struggling to swim without being pulled under by people who insist you smile, whether you feel like it or not.
It has to be okay to say you are not, in fact, okay. Just getting that notion out there into the ether can get you headed back toward your okay place.
Somehow, the whole “be positive” movement has taken us to a place where smiling when you don’t want to, saying you’re fine when you are not, and pretending not to have feelings somehow makes everything right with the world.
If you really want to spread some good vibes, start with genuine kindness. Find out how people really are doing and be there to listen. If you have a genuine smile in your soul, share it with someone who needs it, with no demand for anything in return. You know, if you have so many good vibes that your thermal coffee mug is overflowing, then pour some of them into someone else’s.