Several years ago I wasn’t in the happiest of places. It wasn’t necessarily what was going on externally that was the issue. I had a job, I was living in a new city, I had friends, family, money – all the things in life that allow you to live a peaceful existence, and yet I felt trapped inside my own skin.
At the time I was working in a busy café in Melbourne and had chosen the profession of barista, ten years prior, as it allowed me to stand behind a coffee machine and look all day at coffee, rather than people. Unfriendly, I know, but the truth all the same. Each day was a challenge as I was confronted with cheery faces and an immeasurable number of people wanting more than anything to strike up a conversation with their stone faced local barista.
It was brought to my attention, quite rightly, by my boss that I actually had to smile at customers when they walked into the café. I was horrified by the suggestion. Idle chit chat petrified me and was a simple concept that was completely foreign to me. I was so accustomed to personifying resting bitch face that I was unaware what it felt like not to have it.
For those of you who aren’t aware, resting bitch face (or bitchy resting face and I feel qualified to call it this having been blessed with it my whole life and having been in an 80s dance troupe called Real Hot Bitches) is a phenomenon that occurs whereby a person has a look on her face, as she moves throughout the day, like she wants to put a hole in you. It is rather a hilarious phenomenon and one in which I demonstrated, on and off, for the last 32 years. There have been some hilarious articles, memes and videos made about this which you can read here and watch here.
I will never forget the annoyance I felt every time my high school English teacher’s voice echoed down the corridor with “Smile!” It made me want to hurt things. I thought I was smiling. It was only when I happened upon a mirror that I saw resting bitch face staring back at me and this was a regular occurrence: people telling me to smile when I thought that was exactly what I was doing. It wasn’t just my face that exhibited such an uninviting hue, my language was responsible for this too.
The most common sentence to exit my mouth as a young adult was “That’s so annoying.” Partly because everything was extremely annoying and partly because my tolerance level was pretty much non-existent. Little did I know this one word was shaping my reality. I had made a choice to perceive life through a lens of annoyance and by uttering these words daily, scrap that, hourly I was creating my annoying reality.
It wasn’t until my boss informed me of my need to be friendly and open with customers that I happened upon a lightbulb moment:
I had been limiting my capacity for connection by approaching the world with resting bitch face.
Some may say resting bitch face is not a choice, and they may be right. All I know is when I began smiling at people because I had too, which I’ll have to admit at the time was akin to licking chewing gum off the bottom of my shoe, people started smiling and talking back. Not only this, the simple act of smiling and changing my physiology, simultaneously changed the outlook I had on life and, shock horror, things weren’t as annoying as I had originally believed them to be.
I had been focusing on the fact that life itself was annoying and in doing so was magnifying the annoyance I experienced each and every day. Through my language and my physiology I was getting irritated by every little thing.
When I chose to focus on the beauty that was around me it too began to magnify. I noticed the friendliness of strangers, rather than the smiling weirdos. I noticed the beauty in others, rather than their annoyances. I relished in the quirks and imperfections of others and in doing so it made my heart soar.
I can still experience days of resting bitch face and that is okay too, but today I know it is a choice. Abraham Lincoln captured it perfectly when he said “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Indeed Abe, to smile is to change our reality.