Seems to me the amount of laughter and shouting, high fives and hoots is greatly increasing. Sometimes it’s not a choice, it’s a command from those around you. And it may be making you miserable.

Take a Zumba teacher I ran into recently. Not only is she constantly yelling encouraging phrases like “great!”, “good going,” but also she demands the class shout back at her. Whoops, yeah-hey, uh-huh. If the students aren’t sufficiently loud enough for her, she’ll lean in toward us, hand behind ear to encourage an increase in volume. These noises are accompanied with high-fives as she scoots between the rows as well as stomach bumps. She’s not alone in her approach. In my spinning class, the instructor’s claps and shouts and music are so loud, I’m forced to wear ear plugs.

Most visible are the personalities on television. Each news hour is replete with jokes between newscasters, calls for “best day ever!” As repartee leaps from person to person, the level of hysteria rises higher until I expect a report on a new tragedy, war, or disaster will be interspersed between guffaws. And for casual interactions between miscellaneous folks in a store or on the street, it’s common to be concluded with “Make a great day!”

I object to this trend. If I’m in a bad mood, if a friend has died, a check bounced, a daughter doesn’t call, the meal burns, a huge bill sent, a politician’s spouted another lie, why do I have to pretend everything’s wonderful?

I realize that humans usually smile or laugh when pleased or trying to establish a pleasant social interaction. And I do so frequently. Not just in public either. Last night I got the giggles as I read the latest Ladies #1 Detective Agency novel. I simply don’t want to manipulated into false gaiety like a ventriloquist’s puppet.

To me, people insisting on happiness, joy, smiles, laughs all the time are like substance abusers constantly searching for a high. They’re bound to drop into a destructive dejection eventually. There’s value in feeling emotion, every type of emotion, to its height and depth, but restricting yourself to the so-called positive ones can’t be great for you.

I’ve found people who agree with me. Danish psychology professor Svend Brinkmann from Aalborg University says forcing ourselves to be happy all the time could leave us emotionally stunted. Some believe trying to be cheerful all the time can actually hurt us, stunt creativity, set an unrealistic and ever-impossible goal, hinder our ability to relate to those around us. We evolved to experience a range of emotions, says Time magazine. To avoid the negative ones limits us and, surprise!, ultimately our personal satisfaction.

So if you, like me, feel forced to laugh on the inside while crying on the inside, do yourself a favor and fuhgeddaboudit. You’ll do yourself more good by experiencing the full menu of emotions.

Good Job! No Problem!

Recently waiters, clerks, even folks holding an elevator door for me have burbled “No problem” in response to my request for help.  Puzzling because I’m not sure my request would be a problem even under the worst circumstances.  Why does my call for a glass of water, or inquiry if a dress comes in my size, or a gasped appeal for a short delay in an elevator ride result in this response rather than “yes” or “sure” or a British-like “certainly.”  

I’m not offended, simply curious how the phrase caught on. Its users are almost always under the age of 30 or 35; they frequently work in a service industry. Do they mean they’d let me know if they have a problem with my bidding?  I can’t imagine anyone responding, “No, that’s a problem” and slamming a door in my face or refusing to refill my coffee.  

I’m not the only person who’s noticed this.  A commentator on a national news show feels wait staff are substituting the term instead of saying “you’re welcome.”  I think its usage is broader; it also functions as general fill-in-the-blank verbiage and as a synonym for “I hear you.”  

Perhaps I should be grateful for this small sign of language adapting to new needs.  It confirms the vitality of English and its speakers.  But it brings me to another phrase I DO have a problem with—good job!  I first heard this maybe 15 years ago, used by a mother of three young boys on an airplane.  I was very impressed by her calm demeanor and positive words to the trio.  I’ve learned to use the phrase with my grandchildren, and it’s become so engrained, it’s automatic.  

I was drawn up short recently in a restaurant when my waiter used the phrase on me.  I’d eaten every scrap, and he lauded, “Good job!”  My response?  “Does it look like this body needed all that food?”  He laughed, but I began to wonder if (1) I look as simple-minded as a young child, or (2) if I use the term too much?  Some child-rearing specialists are pondering this point themselves.  “Good job” may be too obviously reinforcing the adult’s desired behavior. . .it doesn’t encourage the child to make decisions on his own. . .is too judgmental.  (See http://www.alfiekohn.org/parenting/gj.htm)  

Food for thought, and certainly no problem.