On being … enthusiastic

By Ingrid Sapona

I’d rather be around people who are upbeat. Of course, I realize many people have problems and challenges that are way more difficult than I can even begin to imagine. There are lots of very real reasons someone might not be particularly upbeat, and I do understand that. But there are also people who have comfortable lives who rarely smile or show excitement about anything. I’m not talking about folks who are certifiable grouches or curmudgeons – I’m talking about otherwise normal folks who seldom have a smile to share and who rarely let on about having a good time.

Lately I’ve noticed an even more puzzling behaviour: people who seem to feel the need to purposely act unenthusiastic. Here’s an example: the other day I was speaking with someone who just returned from a short holiday to England. When I asked how his trip was, in a fairly serious tone he said, “Oh, it was awful”. Taken aback, I asked what had happened. His explanation was that they had had terrible weather every day but the last day. I teased him and said I thought he should have expected that, given the time of year and the destination.

Then I asked more about the trip and once he realized I truly was interested, he elaborated. As it turns out, he and his wife had gone over for a relative’s wedding and it was one of the most lavish affairs they’ve ever been to – complete with a lengthy private fireworks display. As he spoke about the trip, eventually he let his guard down enough to admit how good a time they had. Afterward I wondered (to myself, of course) why he couldn’t just start off by telling about how spectacular the wedding was and that the trip was fun, despite the weather.

Long ago I realized that some people are uncomfortable showing enthusiasm. But, I’ve also noticed that if I can make them feel safe enough “to let on”, then they let a glimmer of enthusiasm shine through. When that happens, the conversation can be quite delightful. But man, it can be a heck of a lot of work to get to that point. Frankly, sometimes I just don’t have the energy.

I really don’t understand why so many people feel the need to hide their enthusiasm. I know that in high school it was considered cool to feign disinterest and to seem blasé about things, but I figured most folks would grow out of that. I guess not…

Another odd thing I’ve noticed is how some folks feel uncomfortable around even the slightest display of animation or enthusiasm. The other night there was a tribute to Carole King on PBS. She was being honoured for winning the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Price for Popular Song. The tribute, which was held at the White House, featured performances of her songs by a number of different artists. King, who was sitting next to Obama, was clearly delighted and every time they showed her she was nodding to the beat, mouthing the lyrics, and smiling.

The day after the concert, a friend who had also seen the show commented that she thought King’s behaviour seemed out-of-place. I certainly didn’t agree and I asked her to explain why she thought that. She hesitated and basically said she felt King was a bit too enthusiastic.

I saw King’s behaviour as just a manifestation of her happiness and, given the honour that was being bestowed on her, it seemed perfectly natural to me. My friend agreed that King’s behavior wasn’t over-the-top, but she criticised it and said that watching King’s reactions made her somehow uncomfortable. When I pressed her about why she found it uncomfortable, she hemmed and hawed and mumbled something about showing more decorum at the White House and being more subdued. The way I see it, what better time to express your excitement than at an event where the President is presenting you with a tremendous honour?

The struggles of daily life are very real and for many people there’s little to be enthusiastic about. But when there is something to smile about, or to take joy in, why would you expend any energy tamping down your happiness or reining in your excitement? The way I see it, even if you’re around someone who has less to be enthusiastic about, hiding or downplaying your happiness doesn’t help them – it only lessens your happiness. Indeed, I think that sharing enthusiasm can actually help spread it. 

So, even if I’ve not convinced you to always let your enthusiasm show, I hope I’ve persuaded you to at least do so around me. After all, I like being around upbeat people.

© 2013 Ingrid Sapona


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