“Smile,” the stranger tells me from his side of the cereal aisle. “Life’s not so bad.”
While I’m sure he means well, I don’t want to smile. I don’t need to smile. There’s a problem swirling around in my brain that I’m trying to solve and even that tiny effort to smile to make a random stranger happier, is too much.
Don’t get me wrong, smiling and being polite is always the best choice when it comes to intended interactions with other humans. The poor cashier doesn’t deserve the full brunt of my resting “problem solving” face (you know what I mean…) so I’m more than happy to smile and be pleased with them. But, I’m not going to wander the aisles wearing a silly grin in case the shelf stocker sees my face.
It’s all about being authentic and giving yourself permission to embrace emotion at the moment. Society and social media have done the world a disservice by showing us hoards of happy smiling people doing better and more exciting things than what’s normal. It’s led people to believe that if you’re not happy all the time, there must be something wrong. It’s okay to not always be happy. Forcing fake happiness day after day instead of solving a problem that’s causing grief is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. This isn’t an excuse to take out your feelings on someone else. Instead, it’s permission to be real with yourself and those around you who you trust to support you.
Try radical acceptance on for size
If you often find yourself in the camp of pretending to be happy even when you aren’t, or you tell yourself that you aren’t allowed to feel a certain way, then radical acceptance is for you. The basic idea is that you face the full brunt of hard feelings and difficult emotions when they happen, instead of pretending you’re okay and then hiding somewhere later to have a good cry.
If you’d like to try some small-scale radical acceptance right now, take a moment and assess how you really feel. Are you tired, frustrated, stressed, or anxious? If you are experiencing a negative emotion, assign a reason why you might be feeling that way (the kids were little brats this morning) and what you are going to do to help yourself to return back to a peaceful state of mind (I like to take walks). Tell yourself that it’s okay to feel negative emotions as it’s much healthier than hiding them away.
My first brush with radical acceptance
For the better part of my life, I was taught that if I wasn’t happy, then clearly there was something wrong with me, or worse, I was harboring some secret unresolved guilt. What I didn’t know was that I had issues with anxiety and ADD which I didn’t know how to cope with, so I always misread social cues, misunderstood directions, or didn’t hear because I was stuffed in my own headspace. I was in the wrong all the time and it made me hugely unhappy. But, because I was supposed to be happy, I’d try to pretend everything was fine.
Then I met Annie. Annie had no problem stating the truth when she saw it and sharing how she felt about different things. The first time I met her, it startled me so much that I wasn’t sure what had happened. Annie practiced radical acceptance. If something made her angry, she’d say something like, “That makes me angry because I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about it.” If she saw something that impressed her, she’d say something like, “Hey, that’s really cool, I like how they did _____.”
The best thing about it all is that she radiated this genuine sense of honesty that made me immediately trust her and value her opinion. Her honesty also gave me the permission to be honest back when talking to her.