A follow-up to our recent discussion on The Mockingcast of the (non-)virtue of niceness, a couple paragraphs from Mariana Alessandri’s fabulous essay “Cheerfulness Cannot Be Compulsory, Whatever the T-Shirts Say” that appeared on Aeon recently:

If you have to tell someone to be cheerful, they aren’t feeling it. Cheerfulness spontaneously felt and freely given is brilliant, but it is no more virtuous than acting courageously when one isn’t scared…

Cheerfulness conceived as a virtue – à la Boy Scout Law – instead of a spontaneous feeling is a pretense. It’s not an action but it is an act. Whistling while you work might be worth defending, but forcing yourself to smile when you don’t feel like it amounts to lying to the people around you. ‘Fake it till you make it’ has brutal consequences when applied to the emotions. When conceived as the attempt to trick others into thinking that you feel cheery, cheerfulness is far from a virtue. It’s a vice. It falls on the deficiency end of the spectrum of trust. Too much trust is called naïveté, and is a vice of excess. But cheerfulness is just as bad. It confesses: I don’t trust you with my darkest feelings; I don’t think you are responsible enough to handle my inner life. Forced cheerfulness is a denial of life. All experiences taste different, and if we force a smile through the sour ones, we are not living honestly. We might want to lock out certain people from our fragile hearts, but cheerfulness is an equal-opportunity vice; it keeps even my loved ones out of reach. Whoever gets our cheery selves does not get our true selves.

Cheerfulness also unwittingly cancels out the Christian virtue of faith. It says: you can’t handle the expression of my feelings, and I deny you the chance to prove me right. Since it is built on the certainty that others will disappoint, cheerfulness lacks faith. It denies possibility. In real life, others probably will disappoint us. If we show them what we are really feeling, they will probably screw it up. But given the emphasis on cheerfulness in the US, as etched into Boy Scout Law, it’s no wonder that they screw it up. Still, a botched attempt at compassion is better than being denied the chance to fail. Here’s an anti-cheerful but virtuous attitude: expect others to fail but give them the chance. Also, recognize when someone is giving you a chance to fail them. Vulnerability is a risk and a gift.

I’m reminded of the extremely sad irony of who co-starred in the video for Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy”… ht RT: