Friday, July 12, 2013

Behind the Smile

"I wanted you to know, I love the way you laugh, I want to hold you high and steal your pain away" - Seether ("Broken")

Somebody smiles, and that means they're happy. Not always. How many times have you seen somebody smiling, but seen sadness in the eyes?

I plan to explore what really lies behind the smile. Not easy, but I think a necessary thing to understand in order to make sure that the people in your life truly are happy. I believe that a person's eyes are the key to how a person truly feels. When I look into my wife's eyes, I see love and happiness - most of the time. I look into my wife's eyes a lot, she has such beautiful eyes, I've thought so since the moment we met. Sometimes they are full of mischief, others they are full of adoration. At times though, looking into her eyes I can see that she is troubled. That is when the love and happiness have been replaced. That's not to say that she is not happy, or that she does not love me, it means that something, somewhere inside her is holding them at bay. It means she is worried or concerned about something, troubled. I can see immediately - the sparkle and peaceful light that is normally there has gone, to be replaced by dull vacancy (in a good way!) that means her mind is elsewhere.

9 times out of 10 when I ask my wife if she is okay, or what the matter is, the reply I get is "I'm fine". I know that's not true. When she is ready and has gone through her thought process, she will tell me what has been troubling her, and we can discuss it. This helps put things out there and hopefully sort the troubles out, once that's done I see the sparkle return to her eyes, they light up and become vibrant. She smiles, and the corners of her eyes crinkle, and I know the smile that I see is genuine. In turn, the sparkle returns to my eyes, and my smile is genuine - because when my wife is troubled, then so am I, but when she is smiling, my smile joins in.

But what about the people on earth, who have to spend their days alone? Their smiles are genuine, right? Maybe some of them, but in the UK 12% of the adult population will suffer from depression in any year (think about it, that's 4-5 people on every full bus) add to this the fact that the UK has the highest rate of self harm in Europe (400 per 100,000 of the population) and then think about the children - 10% of whom will suffer from depression at some point during their childhood. These are frightening statistics, and all will be explored in future articles. But we are looking at smiles - what I am trying to show is that on average 1 in 4 people who show a smile are not feeling it on the inside.

We see comedians, they make us laugh. In order to do that they must be vibrant people, always happy on the inside, life and soul of the party etc. Not true! So many great comedians have been manic depressives - Stephen Fry, Tony Hancock, Jim Carrey - but why is this?

A joke: Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world, where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says the treatment is simple. The great clown Terrifini is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up. Man bursts into tears: "But doctor... I am Terrifini."

Sums it all up. The reason I bought up the comedian thing, is because they exhibit the 2 extremes - on stage in front of the camera, they are vibrant and funny, but off duty they are miserable. They put a front on when they turn into their alter ego, "Funny Man"! A lot of people do this. They put a front on and don't let their true feelings show through. Maybe they are private people, who don't want to share their personal feelings or maybe they just like feeling sad. I have personal experience of people who are bi polar. When you see them they are full of energy and happy smiley - the life and soul - but the smile is just a front, inside they are anxious, unhappy that they are on their own. This is the same whether they are 20 or 50 - nobody wants to be alone.

So, how do you bring the smile out in someone? That's not an easy one to answer. It depends what makes the person smile. For some people its a silly face, it could be a joke, it could be a reassuring smile from you, it could be a comforting arm and understanding, it could be letting them have space to think through whats troubling them or it could be a sympathetic non judgmental ear. Listen to whats troubling the person and offer words of comfort. If its someone you know who's alone, then let them know that they aren't - just knowing that, although you don't share their home, you share their life and their smiles and if they need someone then you are only a call away. Evey one is different, and you have to work around this to successfully cheer somebody up. A manic depressive cannot be cheered up though by all of this, they need understanding. You have to go with the flow with manic depressives, enjoy the high times, and understand the low times. I am notoriously hard to cheer up, once my smile has gone its not there for a long time. My wife has learned that I need space to think, at the same time as her reassuring gestures, and genuine sparkly smiling eyes showing me she loves me - with this combination the smile soon returns to my eyes and I come alive. For this understanding I am eternally grateful, and never have I been so truly understood.

With children its hard - you know when your child is unhappy. You need to find out why. They may have a teacher they don't like, they may be being bullied, they may have issues that they don't understand or don't know how to deal with, they may feel alone like nobody understands. You need to be sympathetic and understanding, remember how you were when you were young - leave them to sort it out in their own mind. When they've had time, approach them gently asking open questions that will help them understand, get through it. Give them some time, occupy their minds with fun things - allow your child to express themselves, and by the time they go to bed hopefully they will be smiling real smiles. If your child is a teenager, you know when they are most open to being approached and talking. Let them strop, let them be moody, and when they get to the point that you know is openness (it may be the next day) approach them and let them talk - be a non judgmental ear. Help them to sort things out, you will not only get closer, but the smile will be back in their eyes, the eyes that when they were born you gazed into and made connection with. Keep that connection there, and be a conscious parent.

Smiles linger, long after the happiness has gone. Smiles remain, where happiness doesn't. These are the smiles of fiction - so called "reception smiles" - a smile that is there despite the inner turmoil. The eyes betray the smile, and the inner turmoil shows through. So next time you look into the eyes of somebody you care about, look and ask yourself are they truly happy? If you think not, then just remind them that you are there for them - a gentle touch, a smile, a friendly gesture, remind them your ears and mind are open to receive. The rewards you get are infinite - happy people around you with sparkling happy eyes, who bring out the real happiness in you. If your eyes sparkle then so will those of the people around you. Reward yourself, by smiling a true smile!

(C) Copyright Dale Preece-Kelly March 2010

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