Are People Who Don’t Smile Unhappy?

Kids are rarely more happy then when they get candy.  Second might be hanging out with friends.  Somewhere near the top would be dressing up.  This explains why Halloween is so fun for them.  They’ve got endless sugar, lots of activity, costumes, friends, and plenty of running and yelling.  All while parents seem uncharacteristically relaxed (at least if they’re smart and brought a flask).

My kids love it.  You can tell immediately by looking at my oldest and youngest.  But my middle daughter might stump you.  She does not smile on Halloween.  She doesn’t giggle or chat about the candy she got or the decorations she sees.  She stares cold-blooded and steel-hearted and proceeds to the next house with ruthless efficiency.  There are severed heads, knife-wielding creepies, witches, ghosts, and reapers galore on October 31, but perhaps nothing is more frightening than my daughter as she mechanistically says the magic words, “Trick or treat”, and, “Thank you”.  Watching her can be a deeply unsettling affair.  She is on a mission and will not be denied.  I fear for any who impede her progress.

I ask her if she’s having a good time and she immediately, stoically replies a single syllable.  “Yes.”  I believe her.  I’ve known her since day one and this type A girl is intense when she’s loving life.  She can be as goofy as the next kid, but her form of pure bliss is very different from visions of cherubic tots bouncing about with constant smiles.  She is solemn about fun.  She has goals.

It’s no surprise that by the end of the night her candy bucket is 2 or 3 time as full as the others – even though her older brother has five years on her and can run faster and farther ahead and hit more houses.  She doesn’t break the rules.  If she’s told one piece she takes one piece.  If nothing is stated she takes a handful.  If she’s told no walking on the grass she doesn’t.  If it’s unclear she takes the shortest distance between two candy sources.

It took me a while to appreciate this manifestation of joy.  She’s not happy in the simpler, cheaper, more common sense of the word, but she seems to be experiencing a deeper delight than the others.  She anticipates and mentally prepares for it in advance.  She pursues it with intention.  She revels in it longer (in no small part because her candy buckets lasts a lot longer afterwards).  She’s more deeply upset if she’s stymied.  It’s been good for me to learn that, though she’s not always smiling, it doesn’t mean she’s unhappy.

She’s now the stuff of legend in my mind.  My favorite part of events like Halloween has become watching her intensity and single-minded pursuit of the prize.  I love her matter-of-fact affirmative response when I ask if she’s having a good time.  It’s less immediately rewarding as a parent when your kids don’t wear their jollies on their sleeve, but it’s fulfilling in a different way to see them take pleasure seriously.

The big challenge, now that I know lack of a smile doesn’t mean anything’s wrong, is figuring out when something is wrong.  It’s easy with visibly happy people.  With the more stoic, focused types you can’t always tell.  I’m still learning.