Do We Have to Wear a Happy Face?

It's okay to be different

This is a true story. In the 80s, my first wife Glo and I were members of a new thought church, the Center for Positive Living. At some point, Glo suffered a debilitating depression which resulted in her not participating in the Center for several months.

Upon Glo’s return to the Center, she was greeted by a friend who commented, “I used to think you were spiritual, but when I learned you were depressed, I realized I was wrong.”

That comment reminds me of my own experience of clients who have reprimanded me for my encouragement that they feel those unhappy feelings lurking just beneath their forced smiles. More than once I have been asked, “Why would I want to do that?”

Dark feelings and thoughts are seemingly taboo. Consider that there are 30 million Zoloft prescriptions, and Zoloft is just one of a shelf of other anti-depressant drugs including the once almost universal Prozac. Yes, such drugs do provide a very important aid to persons who are acutely depressed. However, how many persons receiving such prescriptions would be better served by taking a closer look at themselves and how they are choosing to live?

Even in the trivial, the happy face mentality shows itself. When asked, “How are you doing?”, how often have you smiled and replied, “Fine, thank you,” although in fact you may be having a lousy day? As for myself, it is almost always true when I reply, “Good enough”. (As an aside, when a person replies to me, “Not bad,” I josh him by asking, “Do you mean, partially good?”)

Here’s the rub for me… We experience dark feelings like anger, worry, or sadness, for a reason. The feeling itself is the truth of the matter. It exists whether or not we approve. A zealous whitewashing of the feeling with luminous positivity will not address the reason, and is a denial of truth.

Also the transformation of our darkness results from our being with our feelings, not ignoring them by jumping over them as if they were not there. Transformation results from keeping company with our experience as it is with a sense of curiosity – not twisting and turning it, kneading it like bread dough. Ignoring negative feelings and thoughts only buries them more deeply in the psyche and body.

Also quite important, dark feelings, indeed life crises however severe, are often threshold experiences which initiate us into a hero’s journey of self-discovery leading to wholeness. Yes, the journey deserves a frightful respect of its trials, but its rewards are life-fulfilling.

In my opinion, a happy face life is not an authentic life. Dark feelings and thoughts are part of a human life. Do you love life, or only the happy part of it? Can we discard the happy faces within us, and simply wear our own faces?

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