Monday, January 7, 2008

Don't Mind Her, She's Just Happy

Why is it that in our society, if someone asks "how are you doing?" and you answer "not well" or "I'm crabby" or any other number of answers indicating a fairly negative moment in your life, most of the time, the asker says, "oh" or some other lame, half-hearted acknowledgment?
Why is it that in our society, if someone answers, "Awesome", "I'm happy" or "today is a good day" to that same question, the asker usually says something like, "why are YOU so happy"? Often, the tone of voice that goes along with that question implies that something is amiss with the idea of happiness.
Why, if someone spontaneously laughs "for no reason", those around them crane their necks and stretch their eyes to find an explanation. Or, they surreptitiously, but quickly, look away in the opposite direction with that "I don't hear you" look of a three year-old who has been caught drinking out of the toilet. As if spontaneous laughter is a sign of insanity or some odd communicable disease or just plain mischief. Sometimes, a rude "what's so funny?" is grunted toward the laugher. Is the impulse to find the source a way to reassure ourselves that there is no craziness afoot, or is it a longing to be included in the laughter?
I remember vividly the first time that anyone ever hugged me as a teenager (besides my mom, and even those were few and far between). I was 15 and at a church camp in Tennessee called "Mountain Top". I was walking down the path toward my cabin, passing several small groups of people, when someone from my church stepped away from his group and wrapped me in a embrace. I had NO idea what to do. I distinctly remember not returning the hug, looking at him blankly and asking him, "what was THAT for?" (Yet at the same time I was jumping for joy and laughing inside my head.) Don grinned and responded, "No reason. I just felt like it." I thought he was crazy, though later we became very good friends and his hugs helped me get through depression and an angry teenage hood.
Here's another thing: I used to be amazed if I'd go into a public place and the person I was with looked everyone in the eye and greeted them enthusiastically. It always blew my mind when I'd find out that my friend and this random restaurant patron didn't know each other, yet greeted one another like old friends. I remember the first few times, I was with my friend, Lizette. I was 22 years old, shy, and embarrassed in an odd sort of way that she was drawing all of this attention to us. I got used to it after a while.
Then, I had a job (the worst job of my life) in which one of the requirements of my employment was to look every customer in the eye and greet them: "Hi, how are you?" (short pause) "Is there anything I can help you find today?" (And later, of course, I would have to try to talk them into getting whatever piece of crap that they bought engraved.)
Through this humiliating ritual, I learned something that I never suspected: I like people.
I also learned to go ahead and force myself past my shyness. (It felt crippling sometimes, to be that shy.) Now people laugh at me when I tell them that I'm shy. I can get up in front of a crowd ans speak. I can shake hands and look "strangers" in the eye. I can smile at someone I don't know. I can ask for someone to tell me their story and really be present with them in the moment of their telling. I can walk into a party of strangers and introduce myself to some of them instead of standing in the corner, observing.
Even while doing all of this, I am able to refrain from saying "would you like that engraved with a special message for only 50 cents a letter?"

Looking back at the beginning of this entry, I remember now what these rambling words were meant to say:
*Allow yourself to feel happy at least once a day, for no apparent reason at all.
*Laugh out loud when you least expect it. Writers like Robert Fulgum, Douglas Adams, Fanny Flagg, Neil Gaiman and Erma Bombeck can sometimes help with this exercise. Try reading one of these authors while you are riding public transportation. Watch people watch you each time you burst out in laughter. It's a fascinating experiment.
*When you aren't in a good mood, accept that and be grateful that it is only temporary.
*Know that joy is our natural state of being. No excuses or reasons are needed. (Yes, I'm telling myself this more than anyone.)
*Greet each stranger as if they are a friend that you haven't met yet.

Question for the day: What are some "happy songs" that you can't help smile, tap or sing to?