Behind The Smile…

“Hi, how are you?”  “I’m fine thank you, how are you?”  “I’m fine also…”

Be honest… how many times have you heard those words, or said those words when you knew very well they weren’t true?  You shared the words because they just slide right out as the ‘right thing to say’ because “nobody really cares, do they?”  Why do we think that?  Is it because it’s true?  Or is it because we don’t really want to share what’s behind the fake smile we paste on our face?

So, let’s talk a bit about what’s behind the smile.

Clearly, none of us are exempt from heartache, from disappointment, from pain, from fatigue, from depression, from problems… the list continues.  So, the dilemma is… why do we feel a need to smile anyway?  Why do we feel a need to be less than honest and say we’re okay when we’re truly not?  What if we said, when asked the ‘how are you’ question, we said, “Well, it’s a really rough time for me right now, but thank you for asking.”?  No one said we had to share our difficult stories.

Do you know that psychologists have a term for this… it’s called ‘smiling depression’?  It’s a person who appears stable, perhaps even happy, internalizing that depression so that others will not think them to be less than ‘perfect’.  An article in the web magazine, Psychology Spot, shares about a study conducted at Michigan State University, where the impact of a fake smile was analyzed.  These psychologists followed a group of drivers for two weeks and found that while more smiles were pretended, the worse was their mood back home – a mood marked by irritability, anger and sadness.

How sad (and true) is that?  I’d like to hope that I can rise above this mindset, and be honest with both my words and my reflection to others.  I’d like to think that others really can be receptive and reach out with caring hearts when they hear someone share a burden.  I’d like to believe that good exists, that good people exist, that good can come from sharing our burdens.

Here’s a different example… I heard recently a story that came from Africa… friends that are doing mission work with young girls.  One shared that these girls, at a special celebration because they were graduating from a year-long program where others had been nurturing them, all had beaming smiles on their faces… truly beaming (I saw pictures!).  Yet, these girls, full of joy in the moment, still must go home to a life of poverty, a life of abuse, a life of being an orphan, and so much more.  Yet for them, the smile reflected true happiness… for those moments they could celebrate the care being given to them, and put their very serious life problems aside.  Real joy, in the midst of sadness and even despair!  I thought, while driving home, would there have been a smile on my face? Or would I be so engulfed by the sorrow of my life that I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, celebrate anyone’s kind gestures for me?  Hmm… how about you?

So, here’s my theory… I’ll look forward to hearing whether you agree (or disagree)… I think that if we are able to open ourselves up to be honest with others… that perhaps, just perhaps, that fake smile will turn into a real smile, and we’ll leave that conversation feeling just a bit better.  I think that instead of saying, “Fine, and how are you?”, if we were to say to others, “I know it’s been hard lately, how are you doing today?” that perhaps, just perhaps, that person will feel an open door and heart to share a bit of the burden they’re trying to carry by themselves, and maybe feel their load lighten just a little.

I’m willing to try… how about you?

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