The cult of cheerfulness — putting authentic feelings into a clown suit
Glad this. Glad that. You have to be glad about everything? What’s the matter with you anyways?
Angelica in the Walt Disney movie, “Pollyanna”
Someone anonymously sent me a book about never thinking anything negative. Ever. Ever. Ever. Ever. Ever. I don’t know whether to be touched or insulted, especially since I feel that Pollyanna should be shot on sight. I find that if I speak of something other than relentless cheerfulness, I am assumed to be chronically depressed and constantly negative. I deeply appreciate the thought, but I am not actually in need of repair.
Oy. And furthermore, vey.
The cult of cheerfulness in this country makes me crazy. It’s like “I know someone shot your dog and raped your teenager and you’re getting evicted and/or foreclosed on and you have terminal rectal cancer and your relatives are all assholes, but smile smile smile!” All to the accompaniment of a death’s head grin.
I find those Pollyannaists difficult because there’s such an element of judgment to it. They’re the same ones who will announce that a) you must have called it all to you with negative thinking and b) you choose how you feel about absolutely anything. And given it was anonymous, I have nobody to thank/smack.
I’ve found quite a few of these cultists of cheer on Facebook. For the most part, I love them, because they put their philosophy into action in their own lives. I just get irate when they feel I need fixing, because I don’t.
Maybe it’s because I was raised by a Jewish father (which makes me an interesting Jew, indeed — adopted, coverted, with the Jewish maiden name of Spier and memories of my father’s anguish over a cousin lost to the Shoah) — we fecking know better than to have this witless optimism.
It’s not that I’m not actually happy and even joyful. I am, but I don’t think that being joyful and witlessly optimistic are the same thing. You can be joyful in the face of certainty that life will be uncertain, scary and painful some of the time — and that it will hurt. I’m joyful an incredible amount of the time, actually, but when I’m not, I allow myself to feel it and experience it and learn from it. I have lots of difficult stuff in my life and a whole lot of good — I’m strong enough to survive my real feelings. I don’t have to stuff them into a clown suit.
I’ve also had enough stuff in my life to know it can turn for the worse in a heartbeat and you won’t just shrug it off.
The husband of someone I love with all my heart dropped dead at 36. She chose that? She should just smile through it gratefully because at least she had him for a little while? She was devastated. Two years later she’s started to date, but for that first year, she was in full on mourning mode. She’s a strong, wonderful woman and she knows she can’t live there, but to everything there is a process and if we — like I said — shove it in a clown suit, how do we learn and evolve? We certainly don’t get stronger. We get stronger by shouldering it until, essentially, the salted earth is cleansed and flowers can grow again (although what the heck sort of metaphor that is I’m sure I don’t know ).
I will give the Pollyanna crew this much – down the road, after we’ve reacted authentically and processed what we’re dealing with, we do get to choose what we do with it. We can allow something devastating to drag us down, or we can use it to fuel change, evolution and progress. We can find the blessings in what hurts or challenges it and use our gratitude for those blessings to stave off bitterness.
But should we be relentlessly cheerful in the face of anything? I don’t think so. I think it’s as much a tyranny as any other and we need to stop it and honor people’s authentic processes. They – we – will come back to joy in our own time.