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Unpacking Unhealthy Things I’ve Read Online: “True Friends”

Because of The Smile Project, I’m incredibly tapped into movements for Happiness and kindness both locally and across the globe. As such, I spend a lot of time reading and seeing motivational quotes and thinking about how we push joy into the world.


I’ve written before about how I try to be mindful, in this work, of avoiding toxic positivity, which—according to BetterUp.comis the pressure to only display positive emotions, suppressing any negative emotions, feelings, reactions, or experiences. 


This was something I had to spend a lot of time figuring out. I’ve been recording my daily “Happiness is” since I was 17. I’m now 30. I’ve spent a lot of time being identified—whether I wanted it or not—as the “Happiness is girl.” In my late teens and early twenties I felt that pressure deeply. 


I’m proud of the ways The Smile Project has shaped my views on the world and I’m also proud of the ways I’m unafraid to lean in to the darkness and to sit with painful or less than happy emotions. It’s all part of life, anyway. 


And that’s why—despite running a nonprofit called The Smile Project and despite kindness being a core value of my life, or perhaps because of this—I feel the need to call out the unhealthy versions of kindness, happiness, etc. that we so often promote as a social space.


I read something a while back that said: “Someone once told me ‘only the people who care about you can hear you when you’re quiet’ and that hit hard.” 


I instantly recoiled and took a screenshot and mental note to come back later. So now I’m here and I’m having just as strong a reaction to it. I first try to lead with the benefit of the doubt. Surely there are inspirational quotes I had taped to my bedroom walls at 17 that would make me cringe with embarrassment now. But the more I think about the quote, the more I struggle to find a redeeming quality. 


“Only the people who care about you can hear you when you’re quiet.” Now I’m not a psychologist—a line I also tend to tread carefully with my work in The Smile Project. But I’m old enough to know that this… isn’t healthy? 


I suppose I understand what they’re going for. They want to talk about those people you can sit with in silence or the friends who can immediately tell when something’s wrong. That’s all great and valid. But the idea that a friend doesn't care about you because they can’t read your mind is kind of toxic.


If I’m having a bad day but I don’t tell my partner, there’s no world where it’s okay for me to be upset at him for not noticing. The same thing goes with our platonic friends, our colleagues, our family, and loved ones. 


It’s nice to think that we’re always tapped into the needs and emotions of another. But I don’t know that that’s realistic. In the midst of a busy week, I might not immediately notice a different texting pattern with a loved one that might make me pick up on something being wrong. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about them. It means I’m doing the best I can with the information I have available. 


I don’t want to expect someone to read my mind because I don’t want to be expected to read theirs. What I hope for in my relationships is the openness to talk about what’s on our mind instead of assuming the other doesn’t care because they didn’t notice a behavioral change. 


I’m not saying to not pay attention to your friends. I’m not saying to not check in. I’m also not saying that it’s their fault for not expressing their troubles—that can be, sometimes, a difficult to impossible charge. 


What I’m saying is perhaps we owe a little grace to ourselves and the people in our lives. Perhaps things aren’t as clear cut as “true friend or not.” But maybe one good thing we can do is strive to be the kind of friend that others can open up to. And to show patience and love at every opportunity.



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