Do you ever feel compelled to smile when walking past a complete stranger, even if you really don’t feel like it?
One day I became conscious of the fact that I was doing this. It was as if I automatically felt it was my responsibility to try to make random strangers feel good.
So I asked myself, when did I learn to do this? And is this a habit I want to keep?
Now perhaps this is an American thing. Or perhaps it’s even more granular than that because I live in the South and it’s quite pervasive here, especially.
I decided to try to take notice of each time I felt compelled to smile at a stranger, and then would only smile if I truly felt like doing so.
Interestingly, quite often, I didn’t feel like smiling, so I didn’t.
The result was surprising.
1) I felt like I was being more like my authentic self. Somehow it felt as if a burden was lifted off of my shoulders.
2) People seemed to look at me differently. Not in a bad way, just different.
3) A few times, a random man has asked me why I wasn’t smiling, or even told me to smile (so weird!).
I realized there was nothing wrong with not smiling. To me, it felt quite empowering to be free to just be me, without worrying about the reaction, or feelings, of anyone else.
It didn’t mean that I wasn’t a nice person.
And it didn’t mean that I wasn’t feeling good or that I wasn’t a happy person.
I’ve also noticed that male strangers almost never initiate a smile.
However, women do quite often.
I’ve even heard a woman complain when another woman didn’t smile back at her when she initiated a smile. But men weren’t held to the same standard.
Again, I wondered, why is that?
So, I did a bit of research. Here is a quote I found from the book “Why Smile?” written by Marianne LaFrance, Ph.D.
“Though smiling is generally a positive characteristic, it falls to women to do more of it because we want to make sure women are doing what we expect them to do, which is to care for others.”
Why is it a social norm that women are expected to bear responsibility for the needs and feelings of others?
No wonder why so many women feel so exhausted and burned out all the time.
To me, I feel like smiling, or trying to make someone else feel good, should be a choice, not an expectation.
Not that I think there’s is anything wrong with smiling at random strangers.
I still do it all the time.
But now I do it when I feel like smiling, from genuine happiness, rather than it being an expectation (either from myself or from society) to make someone else feel a certain way.