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    • Maya Stiles Parsons Spier

      Columnist, Editor-in-Chief
    • June 22, 2014 in Columnists

    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.



    • Ironic…. you write this, just as I’m trying to figure out how to detach from my own depression and negativity and inertia!
      It is true – without dark, light has no context. The same is true of sadness/happiness.

        • Maya North

        • June 22, 2014 at 12:39 pm
        • Reply

        There’s a difference between situational reactions and long-term depression. Too many people want us to tidy up our feelings so they won’t be burdened with them — these are the same folks who are likely to say “Your husband died three weeks ago — get over it!” If it goes on too long, we must do something about it. I tend to be suspicious of big pharma meds, but there are people genuinely helped by them. Others of us learn different coping mechanisms — that is the part we choose. But real, authentic feelings are what they are and take the time they take to come to terms with them. Big hugs and nose smoochies!

    • This is so good. We do not “choose” or bring it to ourselves. Your observation that it is Facebook driven is accurate. Thanks for getting it said.

        • Maya North

        • June 22, 2014 at 12:42 pm
        • Reply

        There are an awful lot of people who either can’t or simply don’t want to honor authentic feelings about things that are authentically difficult to catastrophic. The fragile ones have my sympathy. The indifferent ones make my blood boil — you’ve met them, I’m quite sure. They’re the same ones who told my brother-in-law, who was weeping because he put his beloved dog down for kidney failure, “It’s just a fecking dog. Why the feck are you crying? Get over it.” It’s all I can do not to go all Stephen King’s IT on their asses… <3

    • I understand this feeling but my thoughts are somewhat different. Many, many years ago I had global anxiety which brought on depression. I feared for my kids growing up in this fucked up world and also worried about future grandchildren. It colored my days and I knew I needed to do something. I went on meds and it worked for me. My anxiety driven depression went away. I think we can choose to make choices and decide how we want to live our lives. I was always happy but always anxious and this medicine has worked for over 20 years. I think sometimes people get stuck in their negativity and learn to be victims and enjoy drama and pity parties. That is who they have become. I also feel that with the right help someone can change the “victim” mentality and learn to feel and become more centered. It is not about always being happy but it is continuing to dwell in what they have become comfortable in. People notice and eventually drift away from those whose constant negativity permeates their world. Sometimes you have to realize they like the drama. It is who they are and really don’t want to be anything else. I also believe that they can’t find options and any suggestions made to them, they find a reason not to do it. They like where they are and this is their persona. Sad to see this when it happens as they are so stuck they feel all options don’t apply to them. But with the right therapists and maybe medication they can see a world outside their own. Just my two cents.

        • Maya North

        • June 22, 2014 at 12:50 pm
        • Reply

        I’m not talking about people with chronic, medical depression or anxiety. That’s in a whole other class. I have another friend who’s been helped tremendously by meds. I’m also not talking about drama queens and wallowers. You absolutely cannot help those people. I’m also not talking about things that would be helped by therapy (I’ve sought it out myself when the issue was big enough — like my brother’s death from AIDS). But people do have authentic issues in their lives — bigger than the things where it is reasonable to sigh, grab at cheer again and move on quickly. They’re not big enough to pay thousands to a therapist or to be worth dealing with the side effects of pharmaceuticals. ( I have another friend who was brought to his knees by inappropriate meds — he would’ve weighed 715 lbs by age 37 (we calculated it) if he hadn’t gone to his doc and said “hey, no way, this needs changed.”) People have a process for dealing with the issues that come up and that process needs to be supported and honored. Being intolerant of that because they’re introducing a slug into one’s dandelion garden is neither kind nor helpful — they’ll figure out how to remove the slug either on their own, or, better yet, with a little love and support. Sometimes, as my daughter points out when I do it, that means just listening when she vents rather than me trying to fix it (because I’m a fixer and it’s what I tend to do). Big hugs!

    • I think it’s important to always be grateful. I have taken on this attitude in my own life. I don’t need to be Suzy Sunshine 8 days a week but even when the shit it hitting the fan, I try to and admonish those around me that I love to reach for the silver lining to the cloud. HOWEVER, I am also a chronic problem solver. I have to make everyone OK around me to the detriment of myself. I’ve really leaned back off of this the past month or so and literally become a *listener* versus a *solver*. Kick ass column as par usual !

        • Maya North

        • June 23, 2014 at 6:17 pm
        • Reply

        Thank you so much and I agree — I’m a tremendous believer in gratitude, although I can’t say I’m grateful for ongoing hurts — it’s like, y’all, I’ve learned my lesson from this — can we stop now? Honestly, there are people you just can’t decently walk away from — plus I actually love them. I have learned to help people but only if they’re already helping themselves. Rescuing people from scratch never seems to work — they just drag me down for the third time right with them. So I’ve learned to walk away from a few folks just out of self defense. Oy. Humans.

      • Theresa Klein

      • June 23, 2014 at 1:59 pm
      • Reply

      I did not send you anything. lol Just so you know. I at least would have the balls to let you know if it was me. Good article. I agree everyone has to take their own time to heal from things that have happened. I also believe for the most part, one can be happy more than sad. Reason is I control my emotions. Yes I go through the stages one has to go through to heal, that’s just what a person needs to do. If someone does something I don’t like I make the decision to be pissed about it or say to myself, that’s just the way they are, and move on. It is sad that some people just can’t move on from things that have happened in their lives. Hugs

        • Maya North

        • June 23, 2014 at 6:22 pm
        • Reply

        Ovaries, darlin’ — them’re ovaries. Balls, as we all know, are fragile. Ovaries 😉 Eventually I get a grip, but on initial impact, it’s just going to be what it is and in those first moments, at least for me, there’s no deciding going on — I’m just feeling it. After I’ve wrestled with the feelings and analyzed as much as I’m able to, I can make more rational decisions as to what I’m going to do with and about whatever it is. I will say again, though — it’s a heck of a lot easier to move on when whatever is is not ongoing (eye roll). Hugs!

    • Oh what a carefree life the ignorant lead. I envy their oblivious plight! You are right maya. I have fought the dark side my entire life. A couple of times I lost the will to fight and was nearly taken under. It the battle of the most positive forces you see because they can only combat the negative with the positive. I try to force feed myself positive information daily. I need too, it is survival.

        • Maya North

        • June 25, 2014 at 10:23 pm
        • Reply

        Yeah, we do have to fight it, but on our own terms, at our own pace. If we try to force ourselves into anyone else’s time schedule, we will be devoured. The patience shown by others will be well returned by us when we return the favor. In the meantime, part of the effort is to reach for joy and to find the blessings hidden in the mire. You’re right. It is survival. <3

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