Well, I got a soapbox button pushed tonight. Internet Monk has a very fun post about people who don’t even know him, but who feel the freedom to tell him he NEEDS to smile more. I found myself cheering as I read his post as well as the comments. One comment in particular stood out,
People are always telling me I need to smile more. The ironic thing is that I have had people tell me at work that I need to smile at a time when I was having one those joy-in-the-Spirit holy moments when God is really revealing something to me or I was coming to understand something. Some of us just don’t have a good connection between our spirit and our face. [That would be ME! Emphasis added]
It reminded me of another post I had read on Spectatrix, about the difficulty introverts sometimes having thinking and talking at the same time. And then you want us to add smiling on top of it?!?! Sometimes that’s too many things for this introverted, imploded little brain to handle at once! Oh yeah, don’t forget eye contact! Introverts often look away while they talk (although they tend to make good eye contact when they listen. For a good explanation of some of these dynamics, I recommend The Introvert Advantage). So now, what I’ve worked so hard to try to express is lost in the fact that I must be unhappy and have poor self esteem because I’m not smiling and staring you straight in the eye while I say it.
Here’s the deal. When I’m really happy, I smile. Really big. Big enough and often enough that people comment about how smiley I am, how friendly I am, how my whole face, eyes and all, smiles. When I’m really sad, I look very sad and depressed. When I’m thinking, I look serious. Serious enough that people want to know what’s wrong with me. (The answer is NOTHING. Actually, I feel quite happy inside when I’m thinking seriously about something.) I don’t consciously think about any of those looks. If I do start thinking about how I look, who knows what I look like then? Probably self-conscious.
Sometimes, like the commenter above, I’m feeling or thinking something so profound (to me) and deep and internal, I really am oblivious to my outward expression. But if I start trying to remember to look happy or whatever (to “make my mood and affect congruent”, in med-speak), what I was feeling or thinking gets lost in the effort.
Mainly, I can’t help the expression or look on my face very much. I mean, I do try to work on it sometimes, but then I’m not really feeling whatever I was feeling. All I’m feeling is, “Keep looking pleasant.” And I can’t handle that kind of fakeness very long. So, I might not smile as much as some people want, but WYSIWYG. The look on my face is genuine me, even if it is a little confusing to you. (At the same time, I do appreciate the value of a pleasant facial expression out of consideration to others, as a sign of connection and a way of saying, “I’m glad to be in your presence.” It’s just that sometimes it doesn’t work that great when remembering to smile is my focus.)
Certainly when I’m thinking deeply, I look very serious. But in some of my happiest, most contented moments, I have also been awed into facial blankness.
Anyway, hooray, hooray for people letting it be known that there is more to life than facial expressions. Or that there is more behind the facial expressions than always meets the eye. One other comment I read mentioned that it is important to remember not to judge a person who naturally smiles a lot as “fake”. And I think that is important. They key, either way, I think, is to be in relationship with a person before you start judging them (and then, when you’re in relationship with them and start to know and understand them, it’s not so easy to judge anyway).
I’m glad for the perpetually happy people in my life who help me see the light when and where I don’t always see it. And I’m grateful for the people in my life who are very serious and who are okay lamenting with me, being sad and serious about the way things are that are not as they should be.