Social skills for autonomous people: The darker side of a happy affect


 Some people seem to be happy all the time.

Some people never seem upset, and never seem to mind anything that happens to them.

This is often praised, especially when it’s the affect of people with severe disabilities (intellectual or otherwise).

But, it really isn’t a good thing

Stuff bothers people sometimes. Stuff *should* bother people sometimes.

And if someone seems to be be happy all the time, it means that they’ve been taught that they’re not allowed to be upset, and they’re not allowed to object to anything or mind anything that’s done to them, ever.

It means that, not only are they not allowed to say no, they’re not allowed to even want to say no, or give any indication that they’re not ok with something.

If you spend a lot of time interacting with someone, and nothing seems to bother them, and they never say no to anything, then you should assume that something is wrong and start actively looking for ways to make it possible for them to say no to you and express preferences to you.

This is really good advice. Also, people do not realize how absolutely maddening it is to try to find out what they want if they won’t tell you and everything is fine and absolutely no that’s okay it doesn’t matter really no that’s good it’s okay it doesn’t bother me…

Trying to work without information is hard.

That said, I feel I should point out that I’ve never heard of anyone seeing the Dalai Lama look particularly sad, and I don’t think it’s because he’s been horribly abused. Some people really are a heck of a lot happier than others. I am nearly always happy, very little particularly bothers me, but I am totally aware that I’m allowed to say no or to dislike things. I just rarely have occasion to because I am unreasonably lucky.

Yes, it’s awful. I’ve been on both sides of this.

Successfully consensual interaction requires work from everyone involved.

yeah, and I sometimes do the happy mask thing because it’s actually an effective coping mechanism for me— forcing people to express or delve into their personal psychic pain isn’t always good for them, and it can be really scary and invasive to have people insist that you express sorrow, fear, or anger or talk about things that hurt you without turning them into jokes or being really vague/flippant. I don’t think forcing or pressuring people to affect a kind of cheerful stoicism or a passivity (tbh these can be different things that don’t have to coincide at all) is good, and I absolutely think that it’s dangerous to take that kind of demeanor at face value all the time…but I also think that forcing or pressuring people to vent or act out trauma or deal with negative emotions by dwelling on them or talking about them can have equally damaging and toxic results.

and I do think that there are people who just are unusually calm or cheerful, just as there are people who just are a little sullen and grouchy most of the time. it doesn’t necessarily point to psychological problems or an exceptionally tormented past or that they’re hiding or repressing something.


I’m not talking about invasively trying to make people express their feelings or work out trauma or anything like that. That’s really, really bad. It’s a horrible thing to do to someone. This post is vaguely related, but that’s something I really ought to address directly at some point.

I’m more talking about things like - if someone never says no to anything, and always seems happy no matter what happens, it’s a red flag for consent problems of the type I describe here.

And that considering that possibility, and taking the happy and passive demeanor with a grain of salt, is a good idea. *Especially* if that person is from a group that this is often done to - adults with Downs Syndrome who live in group homes, women in fundamentalist religious circles, people with physical disabilities that require a lot of physical care by other people – it’s a red flag that folks should take seriously.

I agree that there are people who are unusually calm and cheerful, but there’s an extreme version that goes beyond that, which often gets described as a positive thing even though it isn’t, at all.