Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness

"You smile a lot."

"Do I?"

"Yeah, it makes it hard to tell what you're really feeling."

Sometimes the way my fourteen year old son is able to just say things - astute things - blows me away.

"That's an interesting observation.  You know, I'm reading a book about women and happiness and the author goes into how Americans, especially American women, are programmed to be cheerful."

"I didn't say you were cheerful.  You just smile alot.  Like at that intersection.  You smiled at that guy and he smiled back."

"Did that bother you?"

"No.  I just realized you do that a lot. Doesn't matter if it's a man or woman driving the other car.  You just smile."

"So when I smile, it doesn't necessarily mean I'm happy."


He's right.   My smile has no connection to what's going on inside.  I haven't shared this with you guys, but I'm back on the appetite suppressant, aka The Mean Pill.  When I'm taking it, it works.  I lose weight (8lbs gone!).  But I also become a bit of a powder keg with a short fuse.  My mean mouth, otherwise held back on oh so many occasions, is given free reign and instead of just letting things slide, I become hell-bent on pointing out all the petty grievances I have with my family. 

I become yelly. Chloe, who coined the phrase The Mean Pill, also had another way to describe my behavior when I'm taking this drug.  Raging around.  Lovely, right? There she goes, raging around like an angry elephant.  A pack of hyenas.  A wild-haired woman brandishing a jug of bleach and a toilet brush.

Then I hear myself and I stop.  Take a breath.  I come through with quick apologies. Remind myself that next time - filter, filter, filter!

After I've been on the meds for a bit, it smooths out, but in the transition, I become the pill.  I guess you could say that, even if you can't tell when I'm happy, you certainly won't have any trouble knowing when I'm angry.  I broadcast it loudly and colorfully.  My mother would die of shame if she could hear me.  Heck, I die a little of shame right before I apologize to the most recent victim of my verbal assaults. 

I suppose the best thing you can say about this is that at least I don't fake smile while I'm shredding my loved ones.  The remedy for now is for me to stay locked in the basement or to keep the duct tape over my mouth when everyone is around.  Because no matter how many times I do tell them what sends me over the edge, they still do and don't do the things that turn push that rage button.

"So what do you think, Nate?  Should I stop smiling when I'm not happy?"

"Nah.  I don't think it's a bad thing."

"But the book suggests that maybe it is.  It keeps us from being more aware of our emotions."

"Mom?  We're Americans.  We don't have emotions."

"That's what the book says!"

"Okay, now be quiet.  We've reached our talking limit.  Here listen to this."

So what about you?  Do you wear your emotions on your sleeve?  Cram it all down until it's an unrecognizable nugget?  Okay, who besides me are the phony smilers?  And are there any other rageaholics or is it just me?


  1. I am an often cramming, sometimes raging smiler. I wish I could credit a Mean pill for some of this, but I'm afraid it is all me.

    I'll work on changing that.

    Probably not today, though.

  2. My temper and I are in a lifelong relationship, in which I try to tamp it down only to discover that's like pulling the pin on a grenade -- and in which my anger continues to teach me valuable lessons, mostly about how I allow my own boundaries to be violated, over & over, in an effort to make nice, to keep the peace, to be liked, rather than valuing myself appropriately and taking steps to back that up.

    Lately my angry self has been teaching me how to see others through the eyes of compassion -- because everybody's on their own path, struggling with *something*. Sounds weird to learn that from anger, but hey, I figure the Universe sends me whatever works to get my attention.

    I hope the transition is soon over and you can ease back into your normal routine, Lisa. New meds can be really tough. My one attempt at taking an appetite suppressant, years ago, made me a woozy bitch, if I recall correctly. At least this time around on "the mean pill," you are fully aware of what to expect and taking steps to protect the ones you love. :)

  3. Americans don't have emotions? The author obviously never attended a football game, hippie/bagger rally or other residue of the spectacle.

    You do realize that smiling takes more muscles than doing nothing, right?

  4. I used to be smiley in high school and college - people ALWAYS said that about me. You're sooooo smiley!


    Now I kind of wear my heart on my sleeve.

  5. I used to have a Mean Pill. It was prescribed for a non-existent menopause (which, even existent, IMO, should be left alone, being a natural part of life). I stopped taking it, but I'm still not perfect.

    Like most people, I behave better towards strangers and friends than I do towards family. Sucks, that.

  6. I am a recovering Dr Jekyll (people pleaser) and Mr Hyde (rageaholic). Getting older helps A LOT. In the emotions department, I'm pretty open, which works better now that hardly anything makes me mad -- well except politics of course.

    In my experience kids don't really want parents to have emotions.

    The meds sound awful. I hope you feel better soon.

  7. I am just wired this way. It builds and builds and builds and then explodes silently through my eyes. I've been told I make peoples eyeballs bleed just by looking at them. So when I know my filter is peeling off my face in wet globs that generally stick to my chin and would land on my boobs if I had any (they hit my tummy instead and if that's not enough to make any woman hostile I don't know what is). Where was I? When I know it's about to happen, this eyeball bleeding thing (think Fire Starter) I channel the most insipid person I know. We actually share the same first given name (and it sure as hell ain't Alecto)and often the very mention of her threatens to blow out my own eyeballs. However, her insipid bit works. I generally difuse any lingering badness or at the very least walk away smiling like a drooling idiot and everybody just assumes I've had one too many little white pills that day. Anyway, I'm still employed, if not married, so something's sort of working, right? Right?

  8. I smile a lot because it is required in working with the public. But I hate it when someone tells me to smile. Usually it is men who ask me to smile because I'm not being as deferential as they think I need to be. I ask them to smile instead or to kiss my ass, depending if I'm on the job or not.

  9. I'm not terribly smiley, but I'll usually give a little smile to strangers if we make eye contact. But if I'm irritated, I'm the queen of the throat fart. "Hhhhhhhuuuuhhhhh...." My husband loves it.

  10. The post has made it undeniably clear, you and I are twins separated at birth. I am ALWAYS smiling. :-D

  11. The Crow - I read your blog. You have plenty to be enraged about.

    Meredith - The pin on the grenade. Yes, exactly. And what triggers it now, meant nothing a couple of weeks ago. Or at least I didn't say anything when it did. In a couple more days, I should be more settled. Cutting my calories and giving up sugar hasn't helped my mood either. Soon...

    Randal - The book says we're allowed two emotions here in the U.S. They are anger and happiness. But only men are allowed to be angry.

    Mommy - I'm guessing that feels better to be more true to how you're feeling?

  12. You are most definitely not alone.

    No matter how much one smiles, bottled up emotions have a way of biting us in the arse. It's best if we can let those things out.

    That's what I'm learning these days.

    The image of "a wild-haired woman brandishing a jug of bleach and a toilet brush" made me schnorkle! I dive into a cleaning frenzy when I have coping issues. I need to do some coping right now! ;)

  13. BTW; the pill my doc precribed for my moods makes my hair fall out.

    I'm going back to pulling it out on my own, accompanied by a nice glass of malbec.

    Works for me!

  14. Gine - It's sad that we show that fact to our loved ones, but that's the truth. Thankfully they don't chuck us out.

    Susan - You're right about the kids not really wanting us to have emotions. Except perhaps that open wallet, say yes all the time emotion. Is there a pill for that?

    Alecto - Your kids are smart to read your signals. I hate inflicting this monster on people. If they would just stay back a few feet and do what they know they're supposed to, there'd be less fussing.

    Liberality - You make the book's point perfectly. Can't abide a nonsmiling woman!

    Wendy - I sigh. If only these could be superpowers!

    LBR - I am believing it more and more.

  15. kkryno - Purging ourselves of these feelings can be very helpful. I need to box more, I think. Your malbec and cleaning sprees sound good, too.

  16. I smile at people at work. Otherwise, I tend to have a neutral face that people read as off-putting. Oh, well.

  17. I smile as often as I can because I'm well aware of the cause/effect dance of facial expressions and actual emotion (Cheshire grin for 90 seconds in the mirror - crazy!). If I'm below the threshold for such foolishness, I stay out of public. I won't go back on depression meds from a decade ago; more dangerous than the depression in my case.

    So yes, I smile. Just about all the time. And my biggest motivation is to see others react to seeing someone smile - surprisingly, it catches people off guard, like looking a cashier in the eyes and saying "Have a great day" and meaning it.

    For all other emotions, themes, and coping situations, see: beer.

  18. first of your son is very wise behind his ears (or something like that)

    i am a keep it bottled up kind of person,

    i'll yell when i get home where there is no to hear it but instead a lot of times the situation demands I the rational one especially at work which just kind of sucks.

    but on the plus side my first ulcer aint probably too far off!

  19. and i cant believe i butchered that comment like that but i hear you speak Steve so I guess we're ok.
    also doing the 7 thinks i like meme tonight

  20. "[...]You smiled at that guy and he smiled back."
    [...] Doesn't matter if it's a man or woman driving the other car. You just smile.[...]"

    And all these years I thought it was my rakish good looks.

    Another pathetic delusion down the drain.

  21. Man, he's awfully astute for a 14 year old boy. Kudos. He learned it from somewhere.

  22. With an Irish temper, I've had to learn to tone it down over the years. i'm kind of the Queen of sarcasm (it's an art form!) but not everyone gets my brand of humor... might think I am snarky.
    I have literally had to tell myself to shut up @ work so as to not blurt out what I REALLY think.

    That kids have moved out, so I try to be more Zen now. If someone totally blows it, I try to let the chips fall where they may-- let the natural consequences happen. But as a Mom, I often can't contain myself from blurting out the fricking writing on the brick wall the kid(s) are about to hit.
    I nag because I care.
    I think I've gotten better about full fledged temper tantrums.... but I am a work in progress.

    I remember having read about parents putting themselves in time out. What a great idea, I thought. When all those talking heads are in your face & I feel like my head might explode...
    I can go lock myself in my bedroom & breathe.
    Walking away from the chaos @ hand is a good thing.

    If at all I can delay when things are too intense... I will tell the "kids" I can't deal with it right now.... get back to them later. And I do get back to them later, just not in a roaring kind of way.

    But yea, at least you have the meds to blame it on- I have no excuse!

  23. I used to smile ALL the time. I think some of it was not knowing what ELSE to do or say (high school/college--when I was immersed in people). There IS something though, to 'if you act a certain way, sometimes the feelings will follow--people who smile a lot are happier--sometimes it goes one way, sometimes the other.

    Lisa-I have an award for you today!

  24. I'm Canadian, so I'm the polite smiler. Definitely hid behind the smile a lot. But lately I've been energized by the random (potentially meaningless) smile in that it has a wonderful effect on other people (see man in car) and a s a result makes me feel much much better.

    Plus I learned to be honest.

  25. I love that - 'we've reached our talking limit.' :)

    I don't think I do wear my emotions on my sleeve and wish I did, sometimes.

  26. I'm told I'm smiley - but that's in familiar situations - work or home. I choose not to wear my emotions out there - if someone asks me how I am I always say "good" and of course that's not always the case.

    Having said that - I have a maddeningly transparent face, and if I dislike someone, or if I'm annoyed or hurt, it shows. As such, I'm a terrible liar.

    I am trying to smile more at strangers these days. I admire that in you Lisa.

  27. If you have to be a pill, maybe you should try being the little blue pill.

  28. I'm not a fake smiler, but I tend to keep my expression very flat a lot of the time which makes it very hard for people to know how I am feeling. It has been pointed out I should smile more often. I always reply, I will smile when something genuinely makes me laugh. And for people who know me well, they know how to draw a smile out almost instantly.

  29. I have been told that I always look angry, and that people are afraid of me. That's probably because I suffer from horrible sinuses and migraines. I grimace a lot.

    Oh, and I also have a rotten temper and a filthy mouth. Even my PASTOR knows that. [He just shrugs, smiles, and tells me I'm nicer than I used to be. I like that guy.]

    When I was little, my temper would often get away with me. My Gram Irish would take a long drag on her Paul Mall (or is it Pall Mall?), sip her whiskey, shrug and sigh "She's part Irish and part Indian. Child was just BORN to be pissed off."

  30. I find myself smiling a lot because sometimes that's the only thing we can share with each other.. and it's enjoyable :-)

    Ce soir je dors au Québec

  31. I get this. About 10 years ago, I went through a phase when I had suppressed my emotions to the point in which I had no idea what I was actually feeling.

    Basically, however, I'm just a lousy actress. Whatever I'm feeling is usually broadcast all over my face and in my body language. And if it's something I can whine about, I'll talk your ear off. xx

  32. Oh, and. Sometimes I am mean, and I feel ashamed afterwards. I'm not always so good with the filter. And I do this all on my own without the aid of anything other than hormones, temperament, and disposition.

  33. Also, I have anger issues. Not proud of this, but we are a yelly family.

  34. Well, at least you know that once you're done with your "rageaholic" pills you'll get back to normal - um, right??? Also, being super skinny will cheer you up, right? As far as always having a smiley face plastered on my head, I would say that I try not to impose my moods in strangers so yes, I'm kind and polite when out in the world. With anyone I know at all i believe I'm real, with all it's flaws.

  35. First of all, I bought this book today. Which is weird timing.

    The American diet of antidepressants, positive thinking and relentless smiling isn't working for A LOT of people.

  36. I'll have to read that book...very interesting.

    I do smile an awful lot, and feel that it reflects genuinely the way I'm feeling (I'm a happy person, especially going through my day and interacting with others).

    What I don't like is my people-pleasing tendencies--I am getting better with it, but I still prefer avoiding confrontation to minor irritation....

  37. Now I will wonder if the next blond smiling woman I see at an intersection could be you.

    Cheerful or not, I'd rather see a smiler than a non.


And then you say....

(Comments submitted four or more days after a post is published won't appear immediately. They go into comment moderation to cut down on spam.)