Because we didn’t have other plans on Thanksgiving, we decided to eat dinner early and then see a movie. I’d been wanting to see Happy-Go-Lucky since I heard that Mike Leigh had a new movie out, and the rest of the family agreed to see it.
The film focuses on Poppy, a 30 year old woman who seems to have an unending amount of good nature in all situations. Near the beginning of the film, when she discovers her bike has been stolen, simply says something like “I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye.” The film goes on to show Poppy with friends, at work, jumping on a trampoline, taking Flamenco dancing lessons, taking driving lessons — all with a smile on her face and good cheer all around.
Of course the film is much more than that — it’s a Mike Leigh movie after all. Behind Poppy’s happiness are other emotions. Behind the faces of others in the film are more emotions. It’s not really a lighthearted movie, nor necessarily a “feel good” film — and possibly the kind of film you’ll need to see more than once to appreciate (I plan on seeing it again sometime this week).
I’ve been thinking about happiness for a while now — way before I saw this film. Maybe it started back when I posted about the woman with the dog who was laughing, but I suspect it was before then.
Back to Poppy — in Happy-Go-Lucky, Poppy, when encountering someone who doesn’t laugh along with her, often asks, “Having a bad day, are you?” They invariably reply that they aren’t. I’ve got a feeling that if I met Poppy, she’d end up asking me if I was having a bad day.
See, I don’t smile much. So much that people often think I’m having a bad day or in a bad mood or angry at them. I suspect that I’ve been like this since I was very young. I remember being the kid in my classes — it might have been around 3rd grade — who always wanted to be the good one. Always wanted to be the kid who didn’t laugh at the antics of the class clowns. I remember forcing my facial muscles into a frown when they wanted to smile. In 3rd grade. I didn’t want the teacher to see me laughing. I wanted the teacher to know I was on her side.
This tactic served me well until I got older and lost friends, or at least the opportunity of friends, because I looked so stern. People often ask me if I ever smile, and more times than I can count, someone tells me I have a nice smile and should use it more.
I lost at least one job opportunity because I didn’t smile enough during the interview. I know this because the interviewer asked me why I didn’t smile during the whole interview and said that the students at that school needed someone who showed positive emotions.
My daughter has brought this up many times — and tells me that I’ll feel better if I smile. Maybe she’s right — it just feels unnatural. I think it’s like posture. I’m used to frowning like I’m used to slouching. Standing straight feels strange as does smiling.
Last night, as I got ready for bed, I thought of something amusing. I noticed that, even then — in a dark room and basically alone (my husband was sleeping) — I forced the smile that wanted to erupt on my face down into a frown. Why was I even keeping a smile from myself?
It’s not that I am not a happy person — I think I’m as happy as the next person, but I refuse to show it. Am I afraid I’ll get into trouble if I laugh occasionally? From whom? Myself? Don’t I deserve to be happy? If so, why not?
Maybe I’ll take a cue from Poppy. And the laughing stranger. And even Marcia — I don’t really remember her being unhappy — she was always good-natured. Maybe that’s how I’ll celebrate her life — and my own, by changing an aspect of my own and smiling more.
I’ll work on the laughing bit later.