This is another entry that deals with what I call “well-meaning lies”.
I want to clarify that I don’t believe that people who say this are lying, per se, it’s more that it’s been said so often that many people really and truly believe it, and want to help other people to believe it too.
If people believe this then they must have a reason, right?
The reason it’s such a well known “solution” for depression is that it works… or at least, it works relatively well in the short-term. If you’re stuck, if you’re trapped, if you just need to get through these last few hours until you can reach a safe place and break down, then this is the advice for you. Putting on a smile can help you look happy and confident, and when you look happy and confident then people treat you as if you are happy, and that can help you to hold back the breakdown for a little longer. Smiling can also click you into that mindset where it’s important not to let people see how sad you are. Again, this feeling of duty or obligation can help you to hold through where mere willpower wouldn’t be enough.
However, smiling when you don’t feel like it (and thereby tricking your mind into a more positive point of view) is a stopgap measure, not a solution to depression.
Why isn’t it a solution?
You might think “If smiling even when I don’t feel like it can get me through my worst moments of depression then why can’t it get me through all those other moments that aren’t quite so bad?” Well, as best I can describe it, smiling and looking at things positively doesn’t actually make anything better. All it does for you is put off the sadness and the depressive breakdown until you are better able to deal with it (ie. in private/ in sympathetic company/ not under deadline or other work pressures). You still need to feel that sadness and pain at some stage. You still need to let your brain process it before you can move on. If you try to live your life never admitting your pain then you will end up living your life without anything improving.
Do you use this phrase to others?
If so, then think about it before you use it. As I said, it can be quite powerful advice… if taken the right way. But be sure that you don’t use it in such a way that it can be seen as flippant or dismissive of people’s troubles.
Perhaps you could try to amend it for the situation? For example: “Smile! It will help you get through this [stressful situation] and then you can spend some time on you.”