My son who’s 7 was sat at the table eating lunch when he said “Mummy, it’s really important to smile!”
I said “Yes, it is but it’s even more important to show others how you’re feeling. You don’t always have to smile!”
“But I learnt it at school!”, he replied.
And sadly, this is what society encourages. Smile, even if you’re feeling like crap. No matter what crap you’re dealing with, eat it up like a good person. School is a place of rules. You follow the rules to get a good education, get a good job, and hopefully be a good person. But it is this perception of being ‘good’ that’s twisted. Just like the perception of what is a ‘good’ job is also questionable and largely dependent on the individual.
Somewhere along the way we get taught that it’s ‘good’ to hide our emotions. To smile. Always smile. And as we get older we internalise these feelings as ‘I’m a bad person if I show the truth’, ‘People won’t like me if I show how I really feel’. But, in fact, it’s the opposite. People are more attracted to those who are authentic because it makes others feel like they can also be authentic around that person. It allows feelings to be shared and connections to be made. True connections.
Don’t get me wrong, I know there are times it’s important to be able to smile when you don’t feel like it. For example, if you really want that job and are attending an interview, or if you’re running a business and serving customers.
But it’s also okay to not be okay. It’s okay to not always smile. It’s not okay to always hide your feelings. I know it’s not easy. Some of us have been taught by our families that it’s not okay to have feelings. Feelings are forbidden and woe betide anyone who breaks that unspoken rule. Thus we end up hiding our feelings as a survival tactic. For daring to show our true feelings would mean our families may reject us, or even worse, hurt us emotionally or physically.
But look around you. We’re in the biggest ever midst of a mental health pandemic. The Covid pandemic and the lockdowns have only made it all worse. Yet still, we’re taught by society to soldier on like a good boy or girl.
I’m writing this now to tell you that you don’t always have to smile. Not all rules are conducive to a happy, healthy society. They’re just there because they’ve always been there. At some point in time, somebody made that rule, and sometimes rules like these become ingrained in the fabric of society and people don’t stop to question it.
Unless your life is at risk, don’t be that person who unflinchingly follows the rules of solely in the name of being a ‘good’ person. Be the one who asks questions and breaks taboos, especially where mental health is concerned. Only then can change happen. And only when you’re true to yourself can you reach out to others who will reach out to you. Be authentic. Be real. You’re important.