*Photo by Just B Photo*
Nov. 21: What is the one thing you wish people better understood about something in your life?
One of the biggest misunderstandings people have about me is my happiness. I am an optimistic person, and I do have a generally happy-go-lucky personality. I firmly believe that this positive outlook is contagious and self-fulfilling. That said, there’s nothing that bothers me more when people use my optimism against me.
It started when I was in school as just a kid. If there were ever a day where I would be quiet to myself, I would get bombarded with “Jenna! What is wrong! Why aren’t you smiling?”
Nothing. I’m just … tired. I’m just .. thinking.
But those were never acceptable answers. When people label you a certain way, they expect you to behave that way all of the time. Suddenly, being the happy girl came with an expectation that I always had to be “on.”
It carried into my twenties as I had the INSANE PRIVILEGE of getting out of Ohio and moving to Hawaii after college. Oh yes. It was paradise. And yes, I miss it every single day. But, truly, like any place that you call home, your challenges and struggles don’t just vanish. You still have tough days. Here, not only was I supposed to be happy because I was the happy girl; I was also supposed to be happy because I was in paradise.
On top of it, there are some – not all – but some people who paint military spouse life as nothing short of glamorous. The uniforms, the Pinterest-y homecomings, the care packages and letters, and – oh boy – the discounted grocery shopping. With three deployments under our belt and many more ahead, there is nothing that irks me more when I confide in people about military life only to be told some form of “Smile through it! Only x more days to go!”
Then when I became a mom and welcomed the most beautiful little blessing into the world, my heart has never felt so full. Oh, but there are off days. Days where I am so touched out and exhausted that I just need to sit down in silence and take a break.
And since becoming a mom, I’ve shared these moments with other moms. Moms, who, for once, didn’t tell me that despite my feelings I should just be happy. Instead, they just responded with a form of, “I hear you, and I’ve been there.”
This. this is what we need more of. Because telling me to be happy when I’m sad, to be “on” when I’m off, or to be grateful when I’m frustrated completely devalues my feelings.
I am happy, and that’s not mistaken. But I also have off days and quiet days, whether I’m in paradise or not. I can find the strength to get through a 7-month deployment, but that doesn’t mean I always want to be strong. And I whole-heartedly love my baby to the ends of this Earth, but that doesn’t mean I love every second of motherhood.
Being optimistic is an outlook that guides me; It doesn’t fend off the raw and wide-ranging emotions that life brings. Being happy is not marked by how often I cling to joy, more than it is treasuring joy in the moments I find it.
The idea that happiness is something we must actively work towards is widely understood. And the idea that happiness would not be as sweet without experiencing sorrow is widely understood. But for some reason, people hold optimistic people like myself up to a standard that is unrealistic. I desire a valid space to process my feelings just as anyone else.
I am happy, but that doesn’t make me superhuman. So please, don’t tell me when to smile.