Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Happiness Bully

As a secretary, I see the UPS guy a lot, probably several times a week.

Our regular UPS guy is one of the most annoying human beings in the history of humans, and I'm including Gilbert Gottfried in that list.

He is relentlessly, single-mindedly optimistic.  But, not in a good way.  He is a one-way trainwreck of false positivity - so assertively happy that you end up thinking something has to be seriously wrong with him.

For six years, I've been having the same conversation with this man.  He hands me his device to sign for a delivery package and says,

"Isn't this the best day you've ever had?"

At first, not knowing him and as a polite person, I would agree.  "Oh, yes, it's lovely."

And, he would say, aggressively, "Lovely?  No, it's the very best day in the history of days, isn't it?"

Being a normal social being who wasn't going to argue about what day might be the best in history, I would say, "Yes, it's a great day."

Occasionally, he'd vary his patter, "What a great day.  Aren't you happy to have a day like this?"  And, I'd always say yes, but that wasn't good enough.  He'd challenge. "You'll never have a better day, isn't that right?"

The man is a happiness bully.

After a year of this, I decided to try and see if he could take another human being's feelings into consideration when pushing his Best Day philosophy.  "Yes, it's a fantastic day, but I have a terrible cold."

"Aren't you happy to have this day with a cold?"

"Isn't this rain the best you've ever seen?"

"Isn't this power-outage the most wonderful one that ever existed?"

He never smiles.

A few times, I'd ignore his happy-day question.  But, that wasn't acceptable; bullies don't allow you to let things go.  He would repeat his question, insistent.

"I said, isn't this flood the best flood that ever happened?"

After a while, I started to avoid him.  When I saw the truck pull up, I'd grab the phone and pretend to have a conversation so that I didn't have to talk to him. I'd rush to the bathroom and let somebody else sign.  I'd act engrossed in paperwork and not look up.

Eventually I accepted a promotion at a school not on his route, and I didn't have to see him again.  I was relieved.

When I again got a promotion, this time to high school, I was back on his route.  My heart sank when he walked in.  Despite my remembering him, he, naturally, had absolutely no idea who I was.  People are not important to him, except for their usefulness in validating his philosophy that every day is the best day ever.

The other day I was back to work after chemo and feeling a bit tired and cancerish.   I saw his truck pull up, and I sighed.

Really?  Now?

I decided to try an experiment.  I was going to extract a glimmer of feeling from that guy - a tiny speck of humanity that showed he knew that not every day is the best day of a person's life.

I was going to play the cancer card.

The guy came in and recited his line,

"Isn't this the very best day you've ever had?"

I shook my head sadly.

"No?  What do you mean?  This is the greatest day ever; the best you'll ever have!"

"Well," I said, looking downcast.   "It's looking like I won't have that many days left."

"What does that mean, there are always more great days!"

"Well, no.  I have cancer."

He hesitated.

"But, you are going to be cured, right?"

"No. I've just been diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer.  I am going to die."

Will it work?  Will he get it?  Will he show a glimmer of compassion?

Will the idea that bad news can happen, that not every day is a perfect jewel, sink in? Will he realize that it is okay - even human - to experience and accept the downside of life, and that it doesn't mean you are vulnerable or there is something wrong with you?

Will he say, "I'm sorry you got such bad news"?

Will he be humane?

What do you think?

Here's what he said upon finding out I had terminal cancer:

"Well, they have great treatments now and don't you think this is the greatest day - ever?"

Cancer card - Fail.

Reaching the human heart?

Fail.

Being ADD, being me,  I live each day as it is.  I don't plan much, I never have.  I don't worry about the far future.  Nobody has ever had to teach me to smell the roses.  Every day, I walk outside and see something beautiful, and appreciate it; the light shining through a leaf, the curve of my son's cheek, a baby laughing.  Sometimes I'm sad, sometimes I'm scared, sometimes I'm angry, lots of times (my family will attest) I'm irritated.  But, each day does have value.

He's right.  We only have one day.  But life,  in all its infinite beauty, has sad moments too.

Is every day the greatest day ever?

Not on your life.  And, there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that.


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18 comments:

  1. susan.kranyik@yahoo.comJuly 2, 2011 at 11:21 AM

    He sounds like he is (chose one):
    a. high functioning autistic,
    b. high functioning aspergers,
    c. high functioning insane asshole,
    d. high functioning spray can huffer

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  2. He sounds like one of those "little pricks" to me.

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  3. Some people will never 'get it' no matter what. He sounds like one of those. Maybe the next time he comes in and asks you if it's the best day ever, you should smile and say "No God damn it, it isn't!" I wonder what his reaction would be. Or maybe you should not waste one single second on this guy! And I absolutely agree with you that there is nothing wrong with acknowledging the bad days. The whole excessive positivity thing drives me crazy.

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  4. I'm surprised he hasn't told you that if you'd just get a positive attitude, your cancer would go away.

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  5. The man is in denial. He is always "happy" for a reason: his life is exceedingly miserable, and he denies it. Take comfort in that.

    The cancer card wasn't a failure; the uppity UPS guy is.

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  6. He probably feels like he is making a difference, cheering people up. It's his own little way of trying to make things better.

    I will say, in the department of making the world a better place, well, he sucks hind tit.

    Am I allowed to say that?

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  7. Yowser I got irritated just reading about him. Yikes.

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  8. Not to go all UPS guy on you or anything, but here's a positive read that might give you a different perspective on your prognosis:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/27/health/27case.html

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  9. Oh, boy. I think I would have done this guy serious bodily injury by now.

    I'm going to link to this, mostly because of what you said about playing the cancer card. I only do that sparingly, because I prefer to fly under the radar when possible (my vet doesn't know that I have cancer, for example).

    Anyway, here's a "cancer card" story. I was at a bead store where they know me, and one of the staff said something to me about my cancer (That's actually a no-no, we have an agreement that they don't ask unless I bring this up, but it was October ....)

    Anyway, another customer overheard and asked me what kind of cancer I had. I told her "metastatic breast cancer," and she replied, "Well, thank goodness it hasn't spread!"

    Long silence while I contemplated my options, then I said something like, "No, metastatic means it HAS spread and cannot be cured."

    Red face. Muttered apology. I just walked away. I think asking a total stranger what kind of cancer she has is outside the box of civility.

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  10. Donna,

    Yes I have seen that bunches of times. I have emailed with Kathy Rich and was even planning on interviewing her for this blog. Then I read her book and it was so beautifully written I lost my tongue. :)

    The difference between us is she had it in her bones only. It's a different thing when mets are in your organs.

    However, I don't want to give the impression that I'm giving up. I only have two mets in the liver and if this chemo works and they shrink, then they can zap them out and maybe they won't grow back for a while. I might get years after that, just like Kathy has.

    But, she's one in a million. I intend to be two in a million. However, it does nobody any good to pretend like what is reality doesn't exist. I do look forward to my life and I plan to see my grandchilden, my son go off to college, have a vacation with my husband, all of those things. I'm not changing by view of my life - just acknowledging reality. As that UPS guy needs to do.

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  11. Ann,
    I absolutely agree that this UPS guy suffers from some kind of happiness disorder. As another reader shared, I don't think your cancer card failed. I think this guy failed to pass the minimum "polite" test and is socially clueless. It would be easy to dismiss him if you didn't have to see him every day. That's a total drag. I hope you can move out of his territory again--and soon. Or he is fired for his positive attitude disability. Great post!
    Jan

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  12. Sounds like Mr. UPS needs a reality check. Not only is life filled with an occasional bad day, sometimes an entire year stinks. It's OK to be cheerful, no matter the kind of day/year we are having, but to refuse to acknowledge that the world is filled with sorrow and grief and pain is a sign of a shallow person.

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  13. I'm saddened to see all the negative comments...It IS totally possible that this man is an adult with high functioning Asperger's (or other non-verbal learning disorder), and he doesn't need to "get it" or a "reality check". Happiness IS his reality. He isn't ABLE to check into other people's feelings. He just isn't capable of acknowledging grief and sorrow, etc, and that doesn't make him a shallow person.
    Just be polite back....all he wants/needs is a little comfirmation, acknowledgement. I'm an optimist, but I can acknowledge other's side of things....but I still look for the good stuff....sure it's a terrible flood, but you're safe and sound and anything on your second storey is safe.
    I'm so sadden to read all this. But I guess it takes one to know one.

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  14. This guy sounds like an SNL skit. Unbelievable. I'd turn it around and start asking questions in response. Why? What? How? Make him dread running into YOU.

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  15. You are an excellent writer. I can't wait to read more. :)

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  16. There's a clerk at one of our big-box stores who must be this guy's brother. He once asked me how I was, I said ok or just fine, & he replied "only ok? I'm so sorry." I wanted to slap him or read him the riot act that sometimes ok or fine is as good as it's going to get. I just pretended not to hear him & now avoid getting in his checkout line.

    valleycat1

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  17. I started following your blog about a week ago, and couldn't stop reading, but I was really grateful to see this entry... People who refuse to talk about ANYTHING negative: "Look on the bright side" .... "Only see the positive" .... "Isn't everything good and nothing bad?" ... Can I just say that I am tired of the all the Pollyannas out there in the world who refuse to see anything but positive? because really all they are doing is avoiding sadness and subconsciously refusing to provide any compassion for people going thru hard times. We can still be positive and have our tears, but sometimes we just need to sink down into the depths a bit, so that we can come back to the surface renewed. I would love to hear a Pollyanna truly acknowledge this.

    I am also ADD (and I have breast cancer), so I get it, Ann! Thanks for your humor and your honesty...

    -- Cheryl from Pleasanton

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