Archive | October, 2010

H-A-P-P-Why?

1 Oct

Happy people confuse me. That sounds bad, but I hope you’ll take my words for it that I’m neither a bitter old woman nor theposter-child for depression. I wouldn’t describe myself as an unhappy person. I like musicals and babies and puppies. I smile regularly enough. I sing to myself for no reason. Let’s be clear–I do not wish unhappiness on anyone.

Still, in the interest of being clear, I feel obligated to repeat: happy people confuse me. 

At work, there is one other intern besides me–let’s call her Joy. When I was hired, I didn’t know that they had accepted any other interns, so it was a surprise (and a bit of a relief) when I met my one and only peer.  Joy is a very sweet person. We haven’t gotten a lot of chances to chat and bond since we’re each given different projects and we spend our lunch time working but I’ve interacted with her enough to know that she redefines happy. When we were each assigned our own cubicle, she looked at me and squealed “eeeeee!” while shaking her fists like maracas. When we got to sit in on an editorial staff meeting she skipped to down the hall to the room. On our first day, she asked our bosses if it would be okay if she brought cookies or baked goods to work. (The only thing she likes more than baking is sharing goodies with others!) We had to take a proof-reading test on our second day. It took me 3 1/2 hours to finish and I still missed a lot of mistakes. Afterwards, I was sitting there feeling slightly miserable when Joy plopped down next to me with her lunch (which consisted, suspiciously, of all the major food groups). “Wasn’t that fun?” she asked. Big smile. Contented sigh. I started to feel like I was playing Captain Von Trapp to her Maria. And how do you solve a problem like that?

I’ve discovered that I don’t know how to act around super perky, perpetually cheerful, prone-to-squealing people. Have you ever watched someone who’s unfamiliar and uncomfortable with children when he/she is around a kid? There could be amused bafflement, mindless panic, painful formality. Well, it’s like that when I’m around a super perky, hyper-happy person. My personality doesn’t know what to do with itself. My close friends will tell you that my sense of humor tends to include a lot of sarcasm and facial expressions–neither of which seem appropriate when faced with a Mary Sunshine type.   

It would be fairly easy (and maybe a little satisfying in a petty sort of way) to hate her. It just dawned on me today who she really reminds me of–okay, I’ve likened her to everyone from Pollyanna to Julie Andrews but to really get where I’m coming from there’s only one pop culture icon you should bring to mind… 

Progressive lost me as a potential customer the second they signed on the spokeswoman from the planet Perky

There’s a catch though. I think Joy is actually nice, genuinely happy. (Unlike Progressive’s Flo, who couldn’t possibly be that inspired by car insurance. She’s probably got a flask hidden in that hair.) If Joy was faking the perkiness, if the constant good cheer was some sort of sinister plot to come out on top in the workplace, it would almost be my duty to hate her. But you can’t hate genuine happiness. Or you shouldn’t. You may complain about it to your family and friends. You might make jokes to those same confidants about how sometimes downers are downright necessary. But ultimately, if it is a sincere emotion or personality, you should recognize the value of that. Somewhat ironically, ehow.com has instructions on how to love and appreciate positive people. Number one, for those of you who are interested, is take a good look at yourself.

 Think about why you find perky people so annoying. Often it’s because you’re not perky yourself. Maybe it seems like things are never going your way, no matter how much you try. Or maybe you think people with such positive attitudes are not being honest with themselves and you resent the phoniness.

Fascinating. More than a little true. I hate syrupy, phony sweetness–probably because I’m not very good at it. Meanwhile, over at The Happiness Project, Gretchin Rubin seeks to undermine the myth that “happy people are annoying and stupid.” Studies show, she says, that “Happy people are viewed as friendlier, smarter, warmer, less selfish, more self-confident, and more socially skilled – even more physically attractive.”
 

 

Well that’s great. No wonder I don’t know how to act around such super-human creatures. It’s a little like the chicken-and-the-egg question, no? Which came first–the happiness or the confidence? The social skills or the fact that people find you physically attractive? The kicker is that it’s hard to maintain a cheerful, happy outlook when you’re not feeling very confident. And that is probably the key. I think I’ve been associating that kind of perky happiness with confidence–and why should Joy be that confident? I was so unsure of myself when I started that my lack of confidence prevented me from doing small, insignificant things like parking in the parking lot or drinking the there-for-everybody coffee in the lounge. Dumb, right? I have a parking pass, but somehow it felt wrong. Did I not deserve to park in the parking lot? I stuck to the street. There’s a never-ending supply of coffee and my boss made sure to let us know that it was up for grabs….and yet I couldn’t bring myself to grab a cup. I alternated between feeling overwhelmed and frustrated–how could I be perky and happy when I couldn’t park my car with confidence?

 

I’m just small enough that I would feel immensely better if Joy showed just the slightest chink in her happy armour. Just a sigh and a casual “that was hard” and I’d be set. Then she’d be human, and I wouldn’t be confused by happiness. But make no mistake–I have a certain admiration for her. Oh, I’ll never skip to a conference room or beam after a test or even have all the food groups in my lunch.  But today I parked in the parking lot, in an actual parking space. And that made the start of my day just a little bit happier. 

 

I can only hope I’ll confuse someone someday soon.   

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