In my day job, I do a lot of zoom meetings, and every time, I’m struck by how similar people look on zoom.
You can get 20 images, side by side in a big grid. 20 faces looking back at you. And they all frown. Every single one.
Granted, I’m from Sweden and Swedes are a bit of a dour people. We don’t have that compulsory, smiling thing that they do in Japan, or that big “I love everything in the world is great”-thing they do in the USA.
But still, I’ve spoken to people from other countries on zoom, and they don’t look much happier than I do.
That’s another thing. In zoom, you get to see your own image, and I am frowning just as much as everybody else.
That says something about you, about everyone.
For most people I do zoom meetings with, the older they are, the more they frown, the corners of their mouth permanently locked into downward grimaces as if they were eating bad omens all the time.
Our lives can’t be that bad, can they?
I mean, most of us have some kind of a job, or at least something to do during the day. Most of us have some kind of income, somewhere to live, people around us who, even if they may not like us, at least tolerate us. People to talk to. Nobody will hit us physically. Nobody will berate us randomly or without reason. Nobody will hurt us.
This is unique. Throughout the history of the world, and the human species, the world we’re living now is as close to paradise as humanity has ever seen. And yet, everyone’s frowning.
I think there’s something fundamental missing from our experience of life.
It hasn’t got to do with material things or safety. It hasn’t got to do with how much food you get, or what freedoms you can buy. It hasn’t even got to do with friends or social groups.
It’s got everything to do with meaning and appreciation.
If our lives don’t have meaning, they feel empty no matter what we fill them with. They feel lonely, no matter how many people we surround ourselves with.
My theory is, that there is little intrinsic meaning in our day-to-day activities, and it’s all the fault of our parents.
We, or at least I and everyone I know, have been brought up to take certain things for granted. For me, it’s the fact that I should have a job, that I should earn money that I will then use to pay for ever-nicer places to live, ever more expensive items to fill my house with, and ever more jealousy-inducing trips or time-saving gadgets.
Then, everything will be great. Except that everyone frowns. It’s a social disease, consuming us in consumerism.
But if we somehow can find meaning in what we do, what we experience, we can create the values that make us appreciate the world around us, see it in a different light.
Then we don’t frown. We laugh.
I get that sometimes when I’m writing and everything is going just great until I’ve typed that last full stop and stretch the kinks out of my back and everything feels amazing. As if I’ve run 1000 miles and won the Olympic gold medal and everyone in the room is just giving me standing ovations even though I’m all alone.
I have created something and that brings me joy.
But then I’ve got other days where I create stuff, but it’s hard. I struggle with it. And my frown deepens.
That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
I loved writing. I love creating. But I’ve got a monkey on my back that says, this stuff is bad, this stuff is hard. You’re never going to amount to anything. That monkey is making the frown. My very own frown monkey.
I have no idea what sort of monkeys, you’re carrying around. I hardly have an idea of the monkeys my family is carrying around on and I live with them 24/7. But I know that if you are frowning as much as I am, then there is something wrong.
For me, it is when I’m too tired, too drained, too, hopeless, to create. I’m getting better at getting past that resistance. But whenever I give into it, the frown is there, waiting for me.
I’d love to say that I’ve made a decision that I wouldn’t frown again. I would just do the things that make me happy. Not the short term, going to a party things, but the long term, creative, exhilarating things.
But that would be a lie.
Of course, I’ve made that promise, dozens, hundreds, thousands of times. It just isn’t something I can keep.
Instead, what I try to do, is forced myself to smile. Now and again, I just stretch. Look around. Look at all the great things I have in life and try to remember why I appreciate them.
It’s a hard thing to do, because my brain wants to take everything good for granted and show me all the crap that’s going on. Were made that way, most of us. I certainly am.
But you can still look at the good things in your life, and force a smile.
I can look at me being able to write and create and people actually liking what I write, and force smile. Glue it to my face even if for a few seconds. So that I am the only smiling person in that big square, zoom-meeting grid. And maybe if you smile, too, there can be two of us.