Growing up, I was always that girl who smiled a lot. Ask any of my childhood friends. I was mostly always happy, always smiling. I had a very frustrated 5th grade classmate once ask me if I ever cried, to which I replied of course I do. I was always compliant. I always said yes. I had a friend who, in 7th grade, wrote down in her planner this day when I strongly told her “No!” I wasn’t going to buy her a peanut butter sandwich. She marked it in her planner for a few years after that – “the day that Ro said no.” I’ve always had this genuine desire to be happy and for things to be harmonious.
Whenever my grandma would pick me up from school, at least once a week, she would ask me how my day was, to which I would always reply “good!” Of course every day wasn’t good. But there was always some silver lining of goodness. I don’t particularly remember ever feigning or hiding behind my smile. In my child mind, there was a reward to my happiness. People usually responded to me with the same demeanor. People seemed to like me better. In the Midwest, one of the most celebrated qualities someone can have is usually their kindness. We’re mostly a bunch of extroverts that just want people to be nice to each other. (I realize this is a generalization but look at http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB122211987961064719)
I realize the world is made up of all kinds of people. Some places, people want you to be nice. Others, they just want you to stay out of their way. And this is the way the world works. So I also realize happiness comes with a stereotype sometimes. That because I’m a young woman and nice and generally cheerful, people can assume I don’t know very much. I can tell by the way they call me sweetie or the way they feign their own happiness to make fun of me. And if I was cold and hard and aloof, people would think I was smarter, more educated, more cultured. I would never win a contest in “who’s had the hardest life,” but I wouldn’t win “who’s had the easiest life” either. It’s like they’re saying to me if you aren’t trying to shut this crazy world out, then you’re a damn fool, girl.
But the thing about putting on that armor is nobody can hurt you.
You don’t get to let anyone in when you do this. No one gets to see any intricacies of your heart and what could make you smile. And when you’re friendly to strangers, there’s always the possibility of getting your heart broken. If you invite someone into your home, they could come back to take everything inside. Sometimes wearing a smile is like holding a target saying knock me down to your level.
Happiness hurts when the exchange of kindness isn’t reciprocated, when you’re just getting Monopoly money, when it feels like a shady exchange just went down. Happiness hurts when you gave your best and the other person didn’t give anything but still came out with the upper hand.
Believe me, there have been fickle little periods of my life when I’ve decided I’m going to try pessimism on. I try not to believe in anything and see the world as stone cold. But it doesn’t fit, doesn’t look good on me. Because even though happiness can hurt me, I still find myself believing at the core of my being that people really are good and kind and honest at the heart of it all. And as truly uncool as that is, I’m owning up to it. And I guess I didn’t write this to try and sway anyone to one side or another, but to be a permissionary of sorts, and say, hey. I’ve figured out I’m one of those happy people that has to believe in something or it just doesn’t feel right. And it hurts like hell sometimes. But it’s me, and I can’t be anything different.