Friday, November 12, 2010

Smile, dammit. Friday, November 12, 2010.

"Are you annoyingly happy? Despondex could be right for you." - The Onion

How did it escape my notice? Last fall, Pfizer – the world's largest research-based pharmaceutical company, which brought us Zoloft and Xanax – introduced a new medication to the market: Despondex.

Despondex, a “depressant,” has been shown to be effective in treating excessive “perkiness,” as the TV commercial shows. The advertisement sounds promising: “Are you annoyingly happy? Despondex could be right for you … If you have a persistent positive outlook on life you should ask your doctor about Despondex … Now you too can waste a night sitting on the couch with your friends or family watching a TV show no one enjoys.”

Bwaa-haa! Yes, Despondex is a joke, brought to us by America’s Finest (satiric) News Source, The Onion. But Despondex has taken a life of its own. A Google search on “Despondex” results in 23,400 hits, including references in dozens and dozens of blogs (soon to include my own). You can even buy a Despondex T-shirt or coffee mug!

So why is the idea of Despondex such a hit? Because even though your mother told you no one wants to be around a sourpuss, it’s also hard to be around super-duper happy people – particularly if you’re depressed.

If a friend, co-worker or relative has ever told you to “Smile! You're on Candid Camera!” or “Cheer up!” when you’ve been down, you know that nothing sinks your mood faster. Some people seem to have been birthed by the Good Luck Fairy. These are usually the same people who tell everyone else, “Be happy!”

Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with happiness in and of itself. It’s the self-centeredness of the “perpetually perky” that gets to us. Have you noticed that people who are inordinately happy all the time don’t really know what’s going on? Do you think their ignorance protects their mood?

One excessively cheerful acquaintance of mine doesn’t watch television or read newspapers. When discussion touched on the misfortune of a mutual friend who was laid off, he was surprised to hear that we are in a Recession. Something about that doesn’t seem fair. The rest of us have to live in the Real World. Why not him?

The same folks are also unlikely to ask you what is wrong if you’re not smiling enough for them. That’s because, quite frankly, they don’t want your mood to bring theirs down.

And I’m not assuming that you are like Eeyore – with an exhausting, consistently negative attitude and your own brand of self-centeredness. Nope, I’m thinking that you might be feeling down for a legitimate reason. Your father dying of cancer? Your son in trouble with the law? Your job being downsized? Don’t approach one of these people hoping for support. He’ll quickly change the subject to something a little lighter – like his own recent good fortune.

There is a different kind of happy person. This person has a positive outlook on life as well, but she’s been on the other side – and she hasn’t forgotten that. This person is thankful for any good fortune she may experience, but also realizes that many others are not so fortunate. She wants people around her to be happy, and if that means getting her hands a little dirty – providing volunteer help in her community, or a sincerely empathetic ear for someone in pain – she’ll do it.

Has someone ever made you laugh when you were crying? That’s the kind of person I’m talking about. She doesn’t just instruct you to “Be happy!” so that you don’t bum her out. She wants you to be happy because she knows life can be hard, and she sincerely cares for you.

“Despondex” is not for her. She’s the kind of happy friend you want to hang on to.

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