Laughing on the Outside

smiile            I learn a great deal about human behavior from television news. The actual facts and events are almost irrelevant. Instead I observe the talent. I’ve noticed over the past five years or so that, like the plummeting content of print publications, newscasters convey less and less news. Grins spread over their faces constantly. I recently saw three anchors spend five minutes of prime time on attractive cats and jokes. The weather reporter had local kids doing guest spots, and each of them ended with a variation on “It will be an awesome day.” Even when the broadcast is tragic—a massive fire, a shooting at a school—the cast’s expressions are neutral but still congenial.

Does this mean we have fewer tragedies in the world? That the number of wars, attacks, rapes, murders, falling stock markets, epidemics, droughts have plunged? No, it just means we’re trying our best to ignore them.

One refrain, not limited to TV, is “make a great day.” Commanded at the conclusion of emails, spouted when conversations are drawing to a close, this phrase assumes we have control over the pleasantness, good will, and productivity we’ll experience. As if a day’s atmosphere can be constructed like a brick wall—one brick for feeling healthy, another for a good meal, still another for a pleasantry from a companion. On the inside of that wall are the good, nice, successful, pleasant people like ourselves; on the other the failures, dying, poor, whatever. We can block them out of our consciousness.

Why do we have to be happy all the time? Why, if I’m not animated and grinning, do passersby chastise me, “Smile!”

While this situation feels and is artificial, I’ve read about studies that show people who head for the fantasy side of existence rather than reality actually are happier. Perhaps it’s not important to know which individual hates you or dwell on the work assignment you flubbed. I knew a man who was convinced he was a great public speaker even though others cowered when he approached a microphone. A woman beautiful in her youth and edging toward old age still believing she was a knock-out despite her sags, fat, and wrinkles.

As for expressions on the human face, other studies have shown if we smile, we feel better; and certainly those around us or seeing us do, too.

So if we’re wearing rose-colored glasses, it’s ok. And if television news reporters spend the greater part of the time telling jokes, grinning, laughing and spouting “Make a great day,” perhaps there’s nothing negative (pun intended).

If we’re in the mood for moans and cries, we’ll have to go to reality shows, like the Bachelor.  I saw more sadness and tears there than I’ve seen in the news in a year.

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