On a flight to Mexico, sitting in an aisle seat, a stranger once put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Cheer up, buddy. Things will get better.” Walking the dog in the morning, I’ve been told by neighbors that I’m rather stand-offish. And friends recently gave me a tee-shirt with the imprint: Grumpy Old Man.

Okay. I’ve come to accept it. I must appear naturally unhappy. Even though that couldn’t be further from the truth. Inside, I’m practically exuberant. Okay—maybe that’s a stretch. How about, calm.

Unfortunate resting face?

This must explain my childhood photos. Barely a smile anywhere. Because smiling doesn’t come naturally to me. I know. That’s just impossible. Then think Victorian England. Turn of the century America. The Amish. Any cover of Time Magazine. No smiles.


Smiles are a Kodak invention. Not real life. We can’t always be having fun, running around with a ridiculous grin on our face. I doubt I’m the only one who has suffered through a family photo when the photographer has yelled, “Hey, you. The one on the end. How about a smile?”

My facial muscles just don’t work that way. Try as I might, I can’t achieve a smile on demand. I’ve tried practicing. It’s impossible.


So the next time you see someone with an unhappy expression, consider that they may not know the look they’re putting out to the world. Offer them a bright, cheery hello. But for goodness’ sake, if it’s 6:00 a.m., don’t expect them to actually talk to you. You know—there’s only so much anyone can stand in the morning.

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  • Jack Dermody says:

    I really enjoyed this perfectly written post. I happen to be the opposite, an uncontrite grinner. Ironically, at my age, I think I’m grinning but my facial muscles are not obeying the happy feelings in my head. Strangers occasionally ask if I’m unhappy about something. I often question whether my need to smile is a pathetic need to please people.

  • Brad Graber says:

    Hey Jack –
    Thanks for the kind feedback. I hadn’t considered that sometimes the need to smile is driven by the desire to be a people pleaser. I think you’re absolutely right about that. And that can be exhausting in itself.

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