my coworker is obsessed with us being happy all the time

A reader writes:

My coworker, Lenora, is the oldest person in our office. She is generally friendly, cheerful, and a hard worker. However, despite her genuinely sweet nature, she is about to drive us all up the wall. In short, she wants us to be happy all of the time, and she has made it her personal mission to make this happen.

She is constantly haranguing myself and all the other admin to smile, be more cheerful, etc. Conversations with her generally go like this:

Lenora: How are you today?
Me: Oh I’m just fine, thanks for asking.
Lenora: Just fine?! Surely you’re WONDERFUL, right? After all, we’re here and healthy and we have good jobs, so what is there to mope about?
Me: *awkward chuckle*

There are other things as well. When Lenora walks into meetings, she announces herself with, “Okay, now everyone turn those frowns upside down!”

She is constantly pushing us to use “more positive” language. For example, if we don’t do so well on a project and the client isn’t happy, we re-do the work. That’s normal for us. However, Lenora will tell everyone that we did GREAT on the project and it just wasn’t what the client wanted, but that’s not our fault! There’s certainly nothing wrong with encouraging people and being positive, but we need to be honest about our shortcomings so we can know where we need to improve.

She’ll also go up to people in the office and asks them why they’re not smiling. Then, when they say something like they were just thinking, she replies that it’s a beautiful day and there’s no reason to frown!

I could go on and on, but hopefully you get the idea. We’re not all a bunch of mopey curmudgeons here. This is a friendly, relaxed office and everyone does a good job. But we don’t sit here with smiles plastered on our faces 24 hours a day.

I also think Lenora’s comments can come off as very hurtful. We don’t know what’s going on in people’s personal lives, and pushing them to act extremely positive and happy can be detrimental to their mental and emotional health. I know I have suffered from depression in the past, and I couldn’t stand it if I were going through that right now and working with Lenora.

The thing is, we are all managed under one director of our department, and Lenora and the director are BFFs. I’ve worked here about three years, and I’ve never seen the director properly manage Lenora or scold her on anything, not even once. The director allows Lenora to do basically whatever she wants. That’s generally not a problem because Lenora does do her work, but it’s just this forced positivity that has gotten way out of control.

I’ve spoken with some other coworkers, and they are burned out with it also. We’d really like to just be left alone to manage our own emotions. Some days we are feeling a little down for one reason or another, and that’s okay. It’s part of life, and no one can be happy like that all the time (except for Lenora I guess).

I’m not sure if I should try to talk to our director, or if I should speak to Lenora directly, or what. But I think I might scream if I have to endure one more week of her reminding me to smile every time she sees me.

Before any screaming ensues, why don’t you and your coworkers try pushing back on Lenora in the moment? For example:

Lenora: How are you today?
You: I’m fine, thanks for asking.
Lenora: Just fine?! Surely you’re WONDERFUL, right?
You: Wow, that’s a really intense response. I’m fine.
Lenora: We’re here and healthy and we have good jobs, so what is there to mope about?
You: I’m not moping. I’m fine, and I’d rather you not try to manage my emotions like that.

Lenora: Why aren’t you smiling?
You: I was in the middle of thinking about a project.
Lenora: It’s a beautiful day and there’s no reason to frown!
You: Please don’t comment on my face — it’s very distracting when I’m trying to focus.

Lenora: Why aren’t you smiling?
You: You ask me that a lot! It’s distracting when I’m trying to focus, and I’d prefer you not comment on my face.

Some options for when she tells your team you did great on a project that wasn’t what the client wanted:
* “I think it will be more useful to focus on why we weren’t aligned with the client on what they wanted, and how we can avoid that happening in the future.”
* “I appreciate you trying to boost us up, but I don’t think we need a pep talk! It’s okay for us to be honest about where we need to improve.”

I’d try this for a while rather than going to your director. This is mostly an interpersonal issue, which your director would rightly expect you to try to solve on your own first. If you try this and it fails … well, it’s still probably mostly an interpersonal issue that doesn’t quite rise to the level of bringing it to your boss. Lenora has an annoying manner, and sometimes that’s just how it goes with coworkers. (The exception to this would be if she were hassling a depressed person or otherwise doing something that took this beyond Very Annoying. In that case, yes, talk to your boss.)

However, there’s a part of this that could fall outside of “interpersonal quirk for you to deal with on your own” — the part about how she tells everyone they did great on projects that your clients want redone. Depending on exactly how that plays out, it’s possible she’s actually undermining your office’s work and the likelihood of people improving. (For example, if she tells a junior person that their mistakes are nothing to worry about and they did great on a project that needs to be redone, and that person believes her and doesn’t put real effort into learning from their mistakes and improving their work — or worse, starts to think clients are unreasonable jerks who make unrealistic demands — she could do real damage to that person’s work and their professional growth.) So that part might be worth raising to your boss, framed as, “Lenora pushes very hard for everyone to be happy and feel good, to the point of telling people that work with mistakes is still great and it’s not their fault for not meeting the client’s standards. I’ve seen several interns blow off mistakes as a result, and I’m concerned her messaging it that way is doing them a real disservice and causing them not to take mistakes seriously.”

But mostly, the solution will be pushing back on Lenora in the moment. Right now it sounds like your office is capitulating to her tyranny of forced cheer, and there’s no reason the rest of you can’t say, “No, we don’t like this, please stop.”

{ 739 comments… read them below }

    1. Witchy Human*

      She makes my skin crawl. There’s something so horribly invasive about someone who thinks they’re entitled to dictate your emotions.

      “My mood is my mood.”

      “My face is my face.”

      1. ExcelJedi*

        This.
        ThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThisThis.
        Oh my god this letter feels like the prologue to a psychological horror movie.

            1. Alianne*

              She’s one (small) step above the customers at my former retail job who would prompt me to smile and/or act happy to serve them. At least LW has the option to push back.

      2. cheese please*

        My friend used to say “‘I’ve got a face. I make faces. ” when people would ask unwelcome questions like “you look upset” or “you look tired” etc

      3. Blooper*

        Yes, absolutely! One retort I have saved for a rainy day is: “It’s my face, I’ll do what I want with it, thanks.”

      4. AKchic*

        THIS. My gods, I would be deadpan and RBF and be direct “quit trying to manage my emotions. I’m allowed to feel however I damned well please” and leave it at that. If she continued, I’d be contrary as sin and say “no” and be extra RBF at her and just stare at her.

        I don’t owe anyone fake cheerfulness.

        1. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

          I’d totally be on board with this. I happen to have a very bitchy face when I’m not smiling, and often, I’m not even upset! Partially it’s because I’m quite nearsighted, and squint when I’m not wearing my glasses (I don’t wear them 24/7 because I don’t actually need them to see in the general course of the day, just for when something is too high up for me to see clearly, like a street sign or address, or if I were to drive. Otherwise, things are just somewhat fuzzy, but clear enough that I can avoid obstacles easily enough.), and it drives me NUTS when people tell me to smile and look pleasant for them! I’m always like, “Why? I don’t feel like smiling. Go away, you’re annoying.”

      5. BookishMiss*

        Yessss I have literally told people, “it’s just my face!” after they’ve commented on it for the jillionth time. They tend to lay off after that.

        Then again, when I get to the “it’s just my face” point, I make sure to properly glower while replying to their mood-management attempts.

        1. Spooncake*

          That was also my response when someone literally complained to my boss about my facial expressions. I hadn’t even realised I was making any that somebody could take offence at.

          1. whingedrinking*

            Someone *complained to your boss*?! Speaking of facial expressions, my jaw is hanging open.

            1. Spooncake*

              I’m pretty sure mine did too at the time! Needless to say, it wasn’t considered a legitimate complaint.

        2. KnowsWhereHerTowelIs*

          I’m so tired of my face being policed that I always just go full confrontation when that stuff happens and tell people awkward truths because they asked awkward questions and they deserve the awkward thrown back on them. “Why aren’t you smiling?” “The supreme court is deciding whether or not I can be fired for existing today so, ya know, a little bit rough” or “Well, my friend just found out she had cancer.”

          Turns out, there are lots of reasons to not be smiling.

          1. AnonEMoose*

            I once had a coworker (who I did generally like) tell me “it can’t be that bad!” I looked at her and said “I’ve just found out that someone I know passed away.” (Quite truthfully.)

            She at least had the grace to look embarrassed and expressed condolences, and didn’t do that again in my hearing.

          2. RUKiddingMe*

            “It cant be that bad!”

            Me: “My son died.”

            This was about two days after he died. I’ve used it again when I felt compelled to (my son would heartily encourage me) because…screw them. It *can* and *has* been “that” bad.

            1. pandop*

              I think I have mentioned here before that I have also done this. I was told by a stranger on a train to ‘cheer up love, it might never happen’ – I told him that my Dad had died and it had ‘just bloody happened’ (which was true, I was trying to get back to my hometown from university)
              He slunk off

      6. Quill*

        “You’re not allowed to be negative!” people, are, in my experience, also “No one is allowed to disagree with me!” people.

        So I second this skin crawling!

        1. Engineer Girl*

          I so agree with this statement. The concept of multiple viewpoints is lost on them, as well as agreeing to disagree (and remaining friends).

        2. Shoes On My Cat*

          AND it makes me wonder how f’d up their home life is that they have to put such an extreme gloss on their workplace by making sure COWORKERS are demonstrating happiness around them. It’s like an over the top version of the family that puts on the perfect presentation to the world but behind the closed front door is a horror movie

        3. Jennifer Juniper*

          Those people remind me of Dolores Umbridge. I’m always waiting for them to drag me to the torture chamber and try out all the instruments on me one at a time, and then all together, while lecturing me on why this is for my own good…

      7. FestiveMango*

        The best response I’ve heard was, “This is just what my face looks like.”

        (It was a customer service rep’s response to an obnoxious customer harassing him about not being friendly enough to her.)

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I also wonder if she realizes she’s becoming an energy suck. I suspect she thinks she’s upping productivity, etc., by “managing” the mood, but in fact she’s becoming a Case-of-The-Mondays Dementor.

      The passive-aggressive in me would want to drop a copy of Bright-Sided on her desk, but of course no one should actually do that.

      1. LadyL*

        I second the recommendation for Bright-Sided! Such a great book, it’s relevance only seems to be increasing.

      2. Weegie*

        I would like to give her a copy of Pollyanna – except I have a horrible feeling she read it as a child and has been taking it literally ever since.

        1. Clorinda*

          Pollyanna suffers hardship and learns some things. She’s still an optimist at the end, but no longer such a pill.

          1. anonymous 5*

            oooooh…does that mean I could break into song with, “ob JECtion! What about [xyz]?” every time Lenora started pulling this crap…?

          2. Not A Manager*

            “Indeed, in this best of all possible worlds, how could I be anything other than cheerful?”

      3. A*

        This. I feel like this is the end result of someone being told early on in their career that one of their strengths is how they always bring positivity, keep a positive attitude, etc.

      4. Jadelyn*

        Sadly, I think you’re right – she sees this as a service, something beneficial she’s expending effort to do for people, and as a result I doubt she’ll take being shut down well. OP might want to be prepared for some huffy “Well I’m just trying to help”-type responses.

      5. Blessed with Flushable Turds*

        Speaking of case of the mondays, she’s 100% Karen from the recent FLS skit on The Tonight Show.

    3. LadyL*

      The “always be perky!” Thing is so pervasive and SO unhealthy. If you’re happy all the time it ceases to have any meaning, you need some lows to appreciate the highs. I try to appreciate all my moods (to a certain extent, obviously) because having more than one mood is part of what makes life a rich tapestry. Also, Lenora is a damn liar if she won’t admit to the joy of an occasional sour-faced surly funk.

        1. Jadelyn*

          That is so definitely A Thing.

          When joy becomes an obligation, it ceases to be actually joyful. #blessed

      1. Tequila Mockingbird*

        Pollyannas who are PERKY! and HAPPY! 100% of the time are – in my experience – completely fake individuals. They’re just as toxic as people who are negative all the time.

        1. Massmatt*

          I always wonder what they are REALLY thinking, and sometimes they snap and you find out and OMG they can go PSYCHO.

          1. Miranda DeVille*

            YES they will turn and when they have something terrible happen, they will be quick to express it and act like they’re the only ones anything bad has happened to. AND it can be competitive – don’t you care feel bad about X because their problem Y was so.much.worse. than anything you can imagine.

        2. Arts Akimbo*

          On the flip side, I have been accused of being fake because I happen to be happy most of the time. I cannot help this, anymore than anybody can help having RBF. I have as much right to my own emotions as everyone else. I never try to tell anyone else how they should feel, though, so maybe that’s the difference.

          1. TrainerGirl*

            Your being happy isn’t the issue here…it’s the coworker’s insistence that everyone else be happy. If someone is happy and cheerful all the time but doesn’t insist that I or others do the same, more power to them.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              We had someone start a couple of years ago that my sarcastic hard working coworker refers to as “the happiest person at $job” and she flat out says he makes her smile when she doesn’t feel like smiling. His attitude rubs off on all of us, even though he cajokes no one. No surprise to me that he has been promoted already.

      2. Veronica*

        What bothers me about such people is they are disrespecting our existence as humans by telling us we aren’t allowed to feel normal feelings. To me it seems very narcissistic – the message seems to be “I demand everyone be cheerful all the time so I won’t feel bad, and I don’t care how you actually feel or what’s going on with you.”
        *Shudder*

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          I think there is yet another layer of narcissism there: the idea that if you’re not *performing* happiness, then you must not be happy at all. Kind of like “just by looking at you, I can tell exactly how you truly feel and you can’t keep anything private.” Super creepy, even if she were guessing people’s emotions correctly (which she clearly isn’t).

      3. Phoenix Wright*

        People with this mentality definitely need to watch Pixar’s Inside Out. That movie is a wonderful allegory of the importance of being in touch with one’s full range of emotions. It even touches the topic of fake happiness at one point.

        1. Elise*

          Yes! I loved how that movie depicted fake happiness, and how aggressive Joy was toward Sadness. So true to life.

        2. Tinuviel*

          I was just thinking of this. The lesson is that forced happiness is not always helpful or valuable. Sometimes it’s OK to be sad.

      4. Salymander*

        I agree. Very unhealthy, and seems like a kind of power play. Leonora isn’t just happy, she is is being happy *at* people, and trying to force others conform to her preferred emotions/thoughts. It sounds like a showoffy performance on her part rather than a genuinely upbeat personality. Being a cheerful person does not actually require haranguing others for failing to be properly grateful or demanding that they display a particular emotion. Leonora sounds like a nightmare.

        I have, when the occasion demanded it, just stared at these Smile Dementors with a totally smile-free face. I use my best and most intense Kubrick stare, looking right in their eyes, and just let the seconds tick by without saying a word. The discomfort grows. I let them feel the full awkwardness of the moment. SmileDementor usually edges away uncomfortably. Then, I pivot back to whatever I was doing as if nothing happened. This works pretty well most of the time, and has the advantage of denying Dementors any of my (alas much more fun for me) snarky comebacks that they can report to the manager. I might say something like, “I really need to get back to work,” if it seems like I should soften my reaction.

      5. Jennifer Juniper*

        I’m guessing it’s mostly aimed at women, the disabled, the poor, and minorities, right?

    4. MechanicalPencil*

      Lenora: “Well why aren’t you smiling”
      Me: “BECAUSE I WORK WITH YOU”

      Don’t. But that was my imagined response reading the OP. She sounds positively exhausting, and I would hide in my cube as much as humanly possible.

      1. Crocheted familiar*

        My imaginary conversation is:

        Lenora: We’re all healthy!
        Me: No. No, we’re not, and you don’t know what people are going through that they haven’t told you.

        OP, probably don’t do this one either, not least because she’d probably start hassling you about your own health (even if you’re perfectly healthy) and start on the ‘have you tried yoga?’ question pretty much all Disabled people hate. And it’s kind of blunt. But it might help to imagine it sometimes.

        1. AKchic*

          “No, no we’re not. You refuse to allow anyone to manage their own emotions or allow them to have any emotions other than false positivity, therefore we are NOT actually healthy.”

          She needs a wake-up call and people need to push back on this.

        2. OutAndUP*

          I would sacrifice a medium-to-largish mammal to be able to do yoga again, because it legit helped with some of my chronic pain issues when I couldn’t do any other form of exercise.

          1. Quill*

            I need to go back now that I have a more flexible schedule, yoga was good for shoring up my bad joints…

            1. OutAndUP*

              And strengthening my stomach and back, which also helped with back pain and such. Stupid bloody health issues! >:c

              1. run runaway*

                If you have access to getting physical therapy, I highly recommend it. I just went through for my back pain, after suffering with it for years, and the PT gave me a bunch of exercises that didn’t stress or strain me, but doing them incrementally over the last few months has really helped. Because, yeah, my body ain’t doing yoga either. Or walking a mile. Or… well, lots of stuff.

                1. OutAndUP*

                  Thanks, but part of the back issues are scoliosis and partially-herniated discs; yoga -was- the physical therapy. Now I’m in the middle of a very bad rheumatoid arthritis flare and can’t do a dang thing and a lesion on an ulnar nerve is playing merry havoc with, well, everything.

                  Sorry, not really meaning to vent. I’m used to being very active and so not being able to do much more than walking a couple of times a week is quite depressing. :p

                  Middle-Eastern dance and weight-lifting are the other two activities I miss so very much.

              2. Seeking Second Childhood*

                I’m that way about swimming…. stupid traffic that means my trip takes 20-30% longer if it starts 1 hour later. I miss the 6am lap swim but not rush hour.

            2. Seeking Second Childhood*

              I’m that way about swimming. I’m thinking about adjusting my schedule so I can make the 6am lap swim again…but then I add 20% travel time to my drive because of rush hour.

        3. Nutmeg*

          I actually wonder if there is value in at least pointing out that sayings “we’re all healthy” is making a pretty big assumption. Obviously OP shouldn’t do that if it will lead to more haranguing but if it will at least get her to stop saying that part of that that might be a minor win?

        4. Jadelyn*

          “We’re all healthy, huh? Can you please tell my malfunctioning spine that, then? It doesn’t seem to have gotten the message and continues to cause significant issues for me. But if you say I’m healthy, well you would know better than I would, of course.” Followed by a very pointed stare.

          (Again, don’t actually do this – it’s overly combative and unlikely to get you anywhere. But it can be nice to fantasize about the things we’d like to tell That Type.)

          1. Kat in VA*

            I’d love to answer, “The half pound of titanium in my neck disagrees with the ‘healthy’ notion.”

            Or the fact that I’m running along at level 5-6 pain every second of every day and some days, I’m just muscling through until I can get home and get on the heating pad.

            That and I have an absolutely Biblical case of Resting Bitch Face™ when I’m concentrating…these would probably drive Miss Polly up the wall.

        5. FormerFirstTimer*

          Honestly, I would seriously list every time thing that was wrong in my life if Lorena asked me why I wasn’t smiling. And I would do it every.single.time. Might not solve the problem entirely, but I bet she would leave me alone at least.

          1. Jadelyn*

            “What is there to mope about? Glad you asked! Let’s see: my chronic pain level is higher than usual today, my cat threw up on the stairs during the night and I stepped in it with sock feet when I got up this morning, I have tens of thousands of dollars in debt that I’ll quite frankly probably never be able to finish paying off which causes me chronic stress and gives me insomnia so I’m running on about 5 hours of sleep right now, I saw a post about great dads on FB this morning that really upset me because my father was abusive and that just reminded me of it, the line at the Starbucks drive-through took literally 25 minutes to get through, I broke a nail a few minutes ago and the edge keeps snagging on stuff, my car needs new tires and that’s going to be like $500, shall I keep going?”

            See how long it takes before she starts avoiding you entirely.

              1. Gail Davidson-Durst*

                Haha, yes! What was it, her cat had Munchausen-by-proxy or something ridiculous? Among so many other things of course!

                1. AKchic*

                  When Evie and Colin went on the dinner date she told the waiter that she had Munchausen-by-proxy and claimed that *he* had things to get pity, and then he admitted that he would eventually end up getting whatever she said he had and nobody believed him because they all knew she had originally lied because they knew about her MbP.
                  The waiter asked if they’d like to eat now and they both did the creepy smile and said “we already are”. I just rewatched the episode (which is what prompted me to remember her).

          2. Salymander*

            I really wish that worked with my most recent Lenora.

            I have some brain damage, which happened in my early 30s. I had to relearn how to do almost everything. I still walk with a limo when I am tired, and I forget how to say words sometimes. It can be hard to smile because I can’t always control my face. My last Lenora asked why I was limping, whether I was injured and could do my job. I explained very briefly, and told her I could do the job. She then lectured me about how I was nothing special because “eventually we all have brain issues when we get old enough,” so I should suck it up and do the (volunteer) job. And I should be grateful that I didn’t have any really serious health issues (!). Then she told me to smile. I just stared at her for a minute and then walked away.

            The TMI method sounds like it could at least be a stress relief. Like an extreme version of returning the awkward back to sender.

            1. MJ*

              Telling someone that they shouldn’t be unhappy because someone else has it worse makes about as much sense as telling someone they shouldn’t be happy because someone else has it better.

              1. Jennifer Juniper*

                MJ, you just defined advertising: the art of telling you that you shouldn’t be happy because someone else has it better!

        6. pray for mojo*

          Yeah, honestly, I would have a shit fit if someone tried to say “we’re all healthy” to me. Not only am I very much not healthy myself, but I’ve had multiple deaths in my family this year. I know that others in my office are going through similar things. Ugh. I want to shank this woman.

          1. Hollyweird*

            Yeah, this instantly reminded me of a time I was lectured by a guy in the office I didn’t know well that I should smile because “you got out of bed this morning and are alive, what do you have to be sad about?” I had just gotten off the phone where I found out my aunt died unexpectedly. My boss, who had been there when I got the call, and I just side eyed each other and I had to walk away. Was tempting to tell him exactly why he should mind his own business but I didn’t have the capacity to deal with it.

            1. Anon for this one*

              +1 billion to Hollyweird. I worked through my husband’s recent cancer treatment, and there were days when if someone asked me what I had to be unhappy about I would have… not responded well. It took every ounce of energy I had to get through the day sometimes.

              So please, please push back on this woman, because there may well be someone who really needs her to leave them alone but Just Can’t with her shit right now. (Hell, you may prevent someone from pushing her down a flight of stairs. I kid, but you get my point.)

          2. Curmudgeon in California*

            Yeah. I lost my father in before last Christmas, my BIL after Christmas, and one of my roommates last week. Two others of my roomies are recovering from the flu, and I have permanent hemiparesis. I’m not chronic smiling.

        7. Nestlay Toulhouse*

          I am chronically ill and am SO SO VERY TIRED of “Have you tried yoga?” “Have you tried essential oils?” “You should totally try the things I’m selling through my MLM scheme it will change your life” or my other favorite “It can’t be good for you to be on those medications like that …”

          1. 1LFTW*

            OMG with the “all those meds can’t be good for you” people! They make me so stabby. I went to an eye doctor once who asked if I “really need” to be on “all those medications” because “they’re really not good for you”.

            I badly wanted to tell her “You’re right, I admit it! I don’t ‘really need them’ … But the side effects are JUST SO MUCH FUN!”.

            I found a new eye doctor after that.

            1. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

              That eye doctor really needs to stick to examining eyes and leave the rest to someone else. Ugh.

          2. Anon Accountant*

            Don’t take advice from me because I’m mean. Last time a coworker questioned if I should be on my anti-seizure meds and why didn’t I try acupuncture or essential oils because “it’d be better than taking those harmful meds” I said “practicing medicine without a license is a crime you know”.

            She didn’t mention it again. #I’mMean

            1. AKchic*

              I love your response. My go-to is “I don’t believe I’ve asked your expert medical opinion. When did I hire you on as a part of my medical team? When did you graduate from medical school and why are you still working here?”
              If it’s family, a friend or random person, a simple “when did I schedule an appointment at your medical clinic?” shuts them up.

          3. Crocheted familiar*

            That kind of thing is exactly what I was referring to. I’m literally forbidden from doing yoga and yes, all these medications ARE good for me because that’s literally what medicine is! Medicine! Ugh. Oh and yeah, I did do yoga for like a year before my joints got super bad and no, it did not help anything. But anything beginning ‘have you tried…’ from someone without a similar illness/disability just comes across as seriously condescending. Yes. I have. I have tried everything you can think of. I’m still ill. It’s chronic.

            Leonora sounds like a ‘have you tried…’ person, which is why I didn’t recommend actually saying this. OP , if you feel like you don’t have much at stake to point out that people might not actually be healthy, it might be worth doing, but if you know it’d feel fraught or high-stakes for you, I wouldn’t.

          4. KoiFeeder*

            “Dying would be worse for me, but thank you for your concern.” is my go-to. Or, if I’m feeling vulgar, “My current diagnosis is should not be alive, so I think I’m well and truly fucked regardless.”

          5. ClinicallyDistracted*

            I’m severely ADHD with a side of clinical depression – and I am pretty sure I’m going to punch the next person that tells me I just need to work out more/eat better/do yoga.

            GUESS WHAT?! Yeah, working out, getting outside, etc DOES make me feel better. But you know why I can’t do all that stuff? Because my brain literally won’t let me. I DO NOT HAVE THE SPELL SLOTS for those kinds of activities.

            Medication gives me extra spell slots so I can DO THE THINGS that help me feel better. It gives me that little nudge I need to take care of myself better.

            1. Jadelyn*

              For me it’s severe depression with a side of ADHD, lol. My father used to give me shit about “happy pills”, until the day I got tired of politely deflecting and snapped “Dad, you like me being alive, right?” And when he said “Well, obviously,” I continued “Those “happy pills” are what keeps me that way. If you want me to stay that way, shut up about my meds.”

              Sometimes a whack in the face with a clue-by-four is the only thing that helps.

              1. Oranges*

                I actually call my pills “happy pills” so I’m assuming that there was an undercurrent of “you just take those pills because you can’t handle things” vibe?

                1. Jadelyn*

                  Oh, very much so. I actually do call mine happy pills these days as well – but coming from him it was in the context of “people who give up and take happy pills instead of dealing with their problems”-type rhetoric.

          6. Oranges*

            Oh… I HATE those people. Anti-depressants are over-prescribed -> You take anti-depressants -> You don’t need anti-depressants. RAGE!!!!

            My favorite response was in college when my best friends said “You haven’t seen her off her meds. She needs anti-depressants” in a flat tone.

          7. Jadelyn*

            Pretty Sick Supply has a shirt (and mug, stickers, etc) I absolutely adore that says “Yes, I’ve tried” with a checklist like “yoga, essential oils, acupuncture” etc. with everything checked off.

            Then below that, it says “Have you tried…” with a checklist offering “shutting up” and “minding your own business”, with neither of them checked off.

        8. Arts Akimbo*

          Kind of makes me wonder if Leonora is a cancer survivor. Some self-help types prey on cancer patients, selling them “positive thinking” as a spurious mode of warding off cancer. My MIL tried one of these, and the course tried to make her accept blame for every bad thing that had ever happened to her, including the death of her cat from kidney failure. SHE was to blame for her negative thinking, according to these bozos! The philosophy was that if she took responsibility for all the bad things, then she could positive-think her way to being forever cancer-free! It was truly repugnant. And of course if any of the course members ever had a recurrence, it was THEIR fault for not thinking positively enough!

          I have heard of these types feeling the need to surround themselves with only positive people, so maybe there’s something like that going on. Not truly wanting the people around her to be happy for happiness’ sake, but to ward off negativity for the sake of whatever she thinks negativity does.

          1. Oranges*

            Ahhh… the “Just Universe” thinking should go in a corner and die. Seriously it’s the worst.

      2. many bells down*

        I’m in the middle of a very stressful personal situation and I’d be very tempted to unload the whole thing on her.

    5. Lynca*

      I love my mom but she is basically Lenora. Yes she will suck every ounce of energy out of you and wonder tearfully why you are ATTACKING her for trying to cheer you up.

      1. AKchic*

        Yup. “Well, Ma, because saying ‘cheer up, it’s not *that* bad’ isn’t actually cheering anyone up” doesn’t actually get through to that type. I’ve done the “well, does me saying “cheer up, you have your health” cheer you up?” and they look at me like I’ve grown two heads. And they still don’t get it.

    6. Deranged Cubicle Owl*

      She is like a “Happy Dementor”, sucking all the energy out of people trying to uplift them but failing oh, so hard.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I remember an episode of classic “Doctor Who” with Sylvester McCoy (the 7th Doctor) that involved a place that had “Happiness Police,” and it was against the law not to be happy all the time. People like this remind me of that.

        1. pamela voorhees*

          There’s also a video game appropriately named “We Happy Few” in which being a “Downer” is flagrantly against the law, and everyone is required to take “Joy” (some sort of euphoric pill) that makes them constantly, blindingly happy, to the point where they literally can’t see or remember anything upsetting. Lenora seems like the sort of person who reads the synopsis and thinks, “what a great idea!”

          1. Gumby*

            Also the Lego movie. Aaaand now I will have “Everything is Awesome” stuck in my head all day…

        2. Nephron*

          They had an episode with Capaldi that had a similar idea but with messed up AI that fixes unhappiness by killing you.

    7. Archaeopteryx*

      Seriously- why is she so afraid to be neutral? If she’s expecting cheer at all costs she undermines the genuine article.

    8. btdt*

      UGH! I try to keep in mind that people like this are usually the most unhappy individuals. It’s super annoying behavior and definitely worth trying to stop but pushing back on it may be more upsetting to her than you might expect.

    9. Aphrodite*

      Try working under one. Ms. Pollyanna-on-Steroids (aka “C”) was a former interim supervisor and I am so glad she did not get the position. She’s working on something else that I have nothing to do with. She is so over-the-top excitedly happy all the time and for those who are not she is completely exhausting. What is worse is that anyone she works with has to be too. She has no understanding that being a happy person comes in many different forms and therefore takes anything less than her bounce-off-the-walls attitude as depressing to be around. Funny how I once thought she’d be a good friend before she became my supervisor; she is really upbeat to be around but she is so intolerant of others’ natural levels that when given supervisory powers she went mad.

      Thankfully, I got out from under her. My current, truly fabulous, boss loathes her as much as I do and stays as far away from her as he can.

    10. JSPA*

      “It’s funny. I almost always have a really solid internal sense of happiness. The only thing that dents it is when someone stomps all over it by micromanaging my facial expressions. I promise I’ll be happy almost all the time–inside, where it counts–if you can restrain yourself from doing that.”

      “It’s funny. My internal sense of self-worth is just fine, even when a project doesn’t work out the way we hoped. The one thing that makes me a bit anxious and blue is when I’m forced to act like someone who’s fragile and overcompensating, by crowing about how excellent things are, when actually, there are specific, concrete problems to fix, and limited time to fix them.”

      (Neither of these things are at all odd or funny, of course. You’ll quite probably get others chiming in. But even if not, you’ve named the problem and opted out, in ways that don’t make you out to be the grinch or the downer.)

  1. Her name is Anne she has no other*

    “You know, if you were happy every day of your life, you wouldn’t be a human being. You would be a game show host.”
    — Heathers.

    1. JediSquirrel*

      Entirely this. People are entitled to have a bad day every now and then.

      If Allison’s advice doesn’t work, I would be seriously tempted to have a come-to-Jesus conversation with Lenora and impress this point upon her. She needs to realize that just because you are smiling, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t miserable on the inside.

      1. Airy*

        And constantly telling people they’re not happy enough and should be more happy does not make them happier! The sense of obligation and failure to be happy makes people who are otherwise okay ill with anxiety. There’s a good book about it called The Happiness Trap.

    2. Elbe*

      Exactly.

      I think a lot of people have a need for balance in life, and so people like Lenora can actually spark negativity in otherwise content people.

      I mean, look at the comments here. When you demand cheerfulness from people, it brings out their inner Wednesday Adams in full force.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Oh how true. I mean I was happy until I started reading about Leonora, the Happiness Police.

    3. Archaeopteryx*

      It’s also a pretty shallow definition of being happy. You can be enjoying the deep happiness that comes from a life of honor, kindness, and intellectual growth without feeling (or emoting) the “I just played with a puppy” kind of happiness.

    4. AngryAngryAlice*

      I’m 100% certain that if Lenora met the same fate as several characters from Heathers, *that* would definitely bring more smiles to the office than what she’s doing now.

  2. Daniel*

    Lenora sounds exhausting.

    First thing to try is to mention it during the conversation, for sure, but if it’s as intense as it sounds, I don’t know how effective that’s going to be, and Lenora being friends with the director makes that more awkward. But I think it’s necessarily the first thing to try.

    MAYBE you’d be able to find an opening to have a big-picture type conversation with her, but that’s not as easy as doing it in the moment.

    1. Maria Lopez*

      Maybe ask Lenora why she is trying so hard to make everyone around her appear to be happy. I think she is trying too hard, meaning I think she is probably depressed.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        Thank you for your suggestion. That’s a great way of showing compassion and empathy and maintaining positive relations in the workplace while getting your point across.

  3. GrilledCheese4Lyf*

    OP, expect confusion, push-back, and even indignation on the part of Lenora. This will likely get worse before it gets better. Folks who are set in their ways and try to control the folks around them (even if it’s with good intentions!) do not immediately react well to boundaries being placed. You might have to deliver Alison’s suggestions several times before it sticks.

    I had a coworker who would come by my cube every day to tell me I looked tired, and tell me to perk up. It took about a month of me setting boundaries before he stopped.

    1. Mockingjay*

      Good point. Sometimes coworkers are like toddlers: you have to repeat the lesson many, many times.

      1. GrilledCheese4Lyf*

        It’s funny you say that — while I do not have children, I have read a few parenting books as all my friends have kids and I like babysitting. I have used several of the techniques I read there on coworkers, and in one very notable and public moment, on my immediate supervisor in the middle of a meeting with the higher-ups. I just wish I could have sent him to his room… ;)

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      WHY WON’T YOU LET ME LOVE YOU!!???!!
      You mean like that? Yeah. I’d lose my mind.

    3. Tinybutfierce*

      Yeah, I’d put money on Lenore pushing back about how the OP is just a negative Nancy who’s trying to bring her/everyone down.

      1. 2 Cents*

        Which is why I hope OP can convince her coworkers or model for them what pushing back looks like. If I wasn’t brave enough to do this myself, I might be if I saw OP doing it.

      2. LilyP*

        1000%. I would prepare to “lean into the neg” as Capt Awkward sometimes recommends if she tries that on you. “Sure Lenora, I’m a huge Debbie downer, but I still need you to stop commenting on my face.” “If holding my face in a neutral position while I’m focusing makes me the office wet blanket then I guess I’m doomed to be the office wet blanket forever!”

        It also might help to pair the boundary-setting with an extra dose of good will — sort of consciously channel your actual good moods in her direction. Maybe make a point of telling her when you do have a great day or smiling at her when you pass in the hallways. It makes it harder for her to maintain a narrative (in her own head or to others) where you’re the office Eeyore who is deliberately bringing everyone else down. You’re not obligated to obviously, but it could smooth things over a bit. (People are going to call this “rewarding bad behavior” which, sure, it is. If you want to be the Karma Police and Punish Lenora For Her Rudeness, you totally can. But if you want Lenora to stop telling you to smile but also still like you, you catch more flies with honey)

        1. Jadelyn*

          I think you’re misunderstanding the concept of “rewarding bad behavior” and the problems with it. It’s not about being the “karma police” or “punishing” the person – it’s that humans, like any animal, will continue to perform a behavior that produces rewards. If you reward bad behavior, you reinforce the behavior. Which, if the question at hand is “How do I make this behavior stop?” is counterproductive, to say the least.

          The other issue that is often being referenced when people push back on finding workarounds for stuff like this, is the fact that it’s entirely possible to redirect the behavior so it no longer bothers you, while still reinforcing the underlying beliefs, attitudes, and interpersonal patterns of the behavior.

          In this case, Lenora most likely does this exhausting Obligatory Positivity thing out of a belief that it’s always best to be overtly happy, and in the process she’s making a lot of problematic assumptions about people’s “health” and what makes people happy or should make people happy. Those are all things that have the potential to be harmful, no matter how they’re expressed – whether as part of Lenora’s exhausting positivity campaign or elsewhere. Redirecting Lenora’s behavior in order to stop the Reign of Positivity Terror without pushing back on the fundamental assumptions beneath it doesn’t really stop the problem – it just makes it someone else’s problem.

          And sure, sometimes that’s all you need or all you can realistically hope to do. But I know that for me, often when I insist on pushing back on something/someone in the name of “not rewarding bad behavior” it’s less about “punishing” and more about “I’m not okay with the underlying causes of this and I’m not willing to let that pass in the name of keeping the peace.”

          1. Close Bracket*

            You can frame it as “rewarding bad behavior” or you can frame it as “meeting Lenora halfway on things that I can do in order to make our interactions less stressful.” You get to decide.

            1. Jadelyn*

              Have you got this little spiel set up as a hotkey combination on your keyboard or something? You’ve used literally this exact same wording multiple times before, and it’s not actually addressing a single thing I’ve said, so I fail to see how you think this is helpful or does anything for the conversation.

            2. Spencer Hastings*

              You can also frame it as “setting the precedent that your coworkers are inherently entitled to knowledge of your private emotions”, which (and I may be projecting here) the LW probably doesn’t want.

            3. TexasRose*

              Umm, actually, when you speak to Lenora BEFORE she speaks to you, you ARE rewarding the behavior you want: her NOT telling you how to act. The fact that you have to address the Positivity Police at all is irksome (hence some folks’ reluctance to do so), but hey – sometimes any control is better than no control.

          2. LilyP*

            That’s pretty reasonable in general, although I think in this particular situation if you held a strict line of “it is fundamentally problematic for you to value positivity and want your coworkers to be happy” (outside of the specific overstepping behaviors) it would come across as odd and unusually negative. I also definitely don’t think OP should reward any specific annoying behaviors (if she tells you to smile, absolutely do not smile!), because you’re right that that would reinforce them. But often I think people here cast any attempt to meet an annoying or rude person in the middle or channel them as a bad idea *just because the annoying person is getting something they like* and I don’t find it productive.

            1. Jadelyn*

              If I thought Lenora’s actual motivation was valuing positivity and wanting people to be happy, that would be one thing, but that’s not what’s happening here. She’s valuing the performance of positivity. OP wouldn’t be holding a line of “it’s problematic for you to value positivity”, they’d be holding a line of “it’s problematic to demand performative emotions out of people”.

    4. That's a Yes from Me*

      I’m going to take a wild guess that you’re a woman and he’s a sexist ageist jerk.

    5. Kat in VA*

      People like Leonora usually whine, “I’m just trying HEEELLLP you…”

      To which a great response is, “Help is the sunny side of control. Please don’t.”

      (I’m crabbier than usual. The weather has turned and very single place I’ve had orthopedic injuries/surgeries – which is six of them – is yelling to beat the band, so even the thought of having to deal with Leonora is pissing me off.)

  4. Eve's Husband's Mustache*

    Oh dear. I’m in such a grouchy mood today (at work, of all places!) that my immediate knee-jerk reaction to this letter was “well obviously you have to murder Lenora.”

    Please don’t murder Lenora. Just know that I would understand if you wanted to. Try Alison’s far more professionally appropriate advice instead.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      I had a visceral, animal response to this letter.
      I’d strongly consider job searching over this.

    2. C in the Hood*

      And I felt bad for wanting to punch Lenora in the face! (just kidding!) This is just so emotionally invasive!

    3. RobotWithHumanHair*

      I had the same reaction as you three. I’ve been really low energy at work this week and as goes my energy, so go my moods. Someone like Lenora in my workplace today would put me over the edge.

      1. Triumphant Fox*

        One of the nicest things anyone did when I came back from maternity leave was let me have all the emotions, all the time, on my own face, in my office, without comment. They asked about the baby, about life, about work, whatever, but I never felt like they were questioning my sanity or my happiness – and I would have been in a really, really bad place to react if they had. I was so sensitive to everything (I cringe now at how I behaved with some close family – such tunnel vision!) that this woman would have seriously made me feel like work was not a safe space.

    4. AnonEMoose*

      You’re not alone. While reading this, I was thinking that, in the OP’s place, I’d be pondering body disposal options. But no, please don’t murder Lenora.

      More realistically, I probably would have given in and snarled at her to back off by now; please take Alison’s advice before your patience is exhausted.

      Setting boundaries with her isn’t going to be easy, but your sanity and comfort matter.

      1. TexasRose*

        At one point, I had chemical sensitivities to the point where I was having asthma attacks several times a day, every day. [Such sensitivities included bad reactions to the ozone in the air in Texas when it gets over 90 degrees. Fun times, folks.] So the doctor put me on steroids.

        I couldn’t sit still. It was hard to concentrate. And even with the steroids, I felt like I had a charley horse just under my sternum. All day. Every day. I wanted to punch the walls. (Did I mention steroids?)

        I also had an ex who had frequently demanded that I “Smile!”

        I fear that, had I met Lenora at that time, I would have commenced a LONG lecture about (a) the limits of professionalism, (b) you do NOT own me, and (c) by the way, have you heard the good news about the Americans with Disabilities Act and what reasonable accommodations are?

        (Yes, the steroids did the trick, and I moved into a more rural area that has less spiky pollen. [Oak and grass rather than juniper, for enquiring minds.])

      1. in the air*

        i’ve seen this style of comment on a couple posts lately — fantasizing about committing acts of violence against someone whose behaviour is merely frustrating or annoying. and i get that it’s meant to be lighthearted and funny (and maybe supportive of the OP), but when you get a whole thread of people talking about wanting to punch or kill a person, it starts to really tip over into something more disturbing.

        1. Jadelyn*

          I find it screamingly ironic that in a thread on a post about dictating other people’s levels of positivity and how aggravating and inappropriate it is, you’re…dictating other people’s levels of positivity (or at least not-negativity).

          1. Emi.*

            Oh, come on. “I find it disturbing to hear you joke about violent and/or deadly assault” is very different from “Everyone has to smile all the time.”

            1. Jadelyn*

              I’m not saying they’re exactly the same, just that they grow from a similar root, and I find it funny that something would finally be said about it in *this thread*, as opposed to coming up in any of the other threads about irritating coworkers that produces this sort of response in comments.

    5. T3k*

      Same. I’m a naturally low energy, standoffish person, and my first reaction was to be brutally honest on why I’m not having a good day, down to the minute details (I also start using dark humor when I’m especially grumpy so I’m sure that would be interesting). But please don’t do that, just take Alison’s better advice instead.

    6. Seifer*

      Oh my god saaaaaaaaaame. After the first exchange OP wrote about I thought to myself, “well clearly she has to be forcibly removed from the workplace. By murder.”

      It’s just so much. But yeah don’t listen to us, be professional.

    7. RussianInTexas*

      Oh good, I am not the only one.
      She sounds terrible. I don’t care how good she is in her job, she is just the worst.

    8. LadyL*

      Oh I feel the same way.

      I really resent the idea that constant perkiness and happiness is by default a better way to live. It’s absolutely not true. I have anxiety and issues with emotional regulation, feeling neutral most of the day *is* healthy for me and something I have to work hard on maintaining. I mean, I don’t try to avoid joy or anything, but I spend a lot of time reminding myself everything is normal, everything is average, no need to freak out because today is just as mundane as yesterday was. Psyching myself up to feel uber-positive for no reason is exhausting and really throws off my mental balance. Why must I perform happiness for you when I’m perfectly content feeling neutral?

      Also? I *like* complaining, and ranting about things sometimes. Maybe I’m a terrible sour person but so be it, I enjoy the dark side of life sometimes. My favorite questions on this site for example are often the ones that evoke a strong negative reaction in me (like this one!). I understand not everyone else likes that so I try not to do my fun complaining around people who don’t appreciate it, so all I ask is the same courtesy: don’t force your wall of positivity on me.

      1. Honoria*

        If you can’t say anything nice, come sit next to me
        –Alice Roosevelt Longworth (probably badly paraphrased)

    9. Johnny Tarr*

      No jury would convict you. Lenora seems to be in the rare category of “nice but absolutely unbearable.”

      1. Veronica*

        IMHO it’s not really nice. It’s fake nice. It’s narcissistic controllingness with a veneer of nice.

        1. Salymander*

          Yesyesyes +1

          This kind of fake nice is often a kind of power play. A “Look at me, I’m so awesome (and better than other people)” kind of showoffy horribleness. Signaling to others that “I am better than you, and I will be your mentor in the art of being like me!”

          I am not surprised that OP’s manager is friends with this person. Folks like this often kiss up to authority figures and try to get them on side.

    10. Jef*

      Oh me too! Not that you should do that, obviously. I do a really good cheshire cat smile (aka super disturbing). I would definitely be tempted to pull that face out every time she came near me. Tiring for me, but if she is going to make me wildly uncomfortable, I will return that malarky to sender. (especially since I look ok but have a couple chronic conditions + depression & anxiety)

      1. beckysuz*

        My 14 year old daughter can do that smile and it’s honestly super disturbing. She mostly does it around the house to be funny but I’d love to see it deployed against someone as annoying as this coworker

        1. SusanIvanova*

          Like Wednesday Addams in the second Addams Family movie, after the perky summer camp counselors tried to make her perky too. Come to think of it, the whole movie theme was “enforced perkiness will lead you to a bad end”. Embrace your inner Addams. Debbie would’ve been so much happier – real happiness, not Malibu Barbie happy – if she had.

            1. AnonEMoose*

              If you guys haven’t seen the “Adult Wednesday Addams” series on YouTube, check it out. My favorite is Wednesday dealing with cat callers, but they’re all pretty funny.

              1. Anonymeece*

                Wait, that’s back? I thought it got taken down due to (unsubstantiated) copyright issues!

    11. Parenthetically*

      I HOWLED at this, so thank you for that moment of levity in a day that has thus far included a tantruming toddler and a bunch of annoying (but routine) tests/blood draws/horribly sweet glucose drinks.

    12. AKchic*

      Psh. I’m not in a bad mood, but that was kind of my reaction too. I don’t like people who try to manage my emotions. It is so patriarchal. It is so my mother. “Smile. The boys need to feel happy visiting the office/house! They need to feel appreciated when they come to see you/us!”
      Blow me. They are getting paid just like you and me, and we all have a job to do. I am not paid to smile or act like an emotional conduit.

    13. Goldfinch*

      This is where I land. I was going to congratulate LW on Lenora still having a pulse.

      I’m caring for the second parent in a row with a degenerative, incurable disease while also having my own invisible health problems, and Lenora’s mindless “We’re all healthy!” BS would have me spitting glass. I would legit be afraid of getting fired from the vitriol I would be tempted to spew at her stupid, assumptive, smug face.

    14. anon24*

      Yeah, my life hasn’t been great lately and my reaction upon reading this letter is that if someone said that to me, professionalism be damned, I’d turn to them and be like “You know what, fuck off,” and then go back to working like nothing happened.

      1. London Calling*

        That is actually probably the best reaction – snarled as snarlily as you can. Either that or what I’d do which is a long Paddington hard stare over my glasses at her and then getting back to what I was doing without acknowledging that she’s spoken to me.

      2. Veronica*

        I’ve had good results by saying exactly what’s going on with me and how I feel about it, without raising my voice but making perfectly clear how I feel about their presumptuous questions.

    15. Aurion*

      One of my volleyball league teammates was like this, and my god, I wanted to kneecap him so many times because of it.

  5. Totsy Turvey*

    I feel like she is over compensating for issues in her own life and trying to push happiness outward and on everyone.

    1. Heidi*

      I also got this impression. There’s something about the relentlessness of her behavior that comes across as desperate and brittle. Conversely, it doesn’t seem to me that truly happy people will feel compelled to force other people to be happy.

      1. beckysuz*

        Yeah this sounds like some kind of maniacal desperation to her pushy “happiness”. Who is she trying to convince, the others or herself?

        1. PossiblyEnoughDetailToBeIdentified*

          There is a woman in my office who laughs almost all day. Except it’s more of a cackle than a laugh, each preceeded by what I have previously (and possibly a little cruelly) described as the screaming goat (you know, the one they parodied Taylor Swift’s Trouble with?). And it’s loud – it carries down the entire length of the open plan office.
          On limited occasions it’s not bad – usually when someone new hears it for the first time – but most of the time, when we’re all desperately busy concentrating, it’s more a case of “Nothing is that funny Lara.”
          But here’s the kicker – even if you leave out the screaming goat, the rest of the laugh just sounds so *forced*. Like if she didn’t laugh she’d be a sobbing mess on the floor. She actually seems to laugh “ha ha ha ha”.

          I’m not saying I feel much sympathy for Lenora (or Lara for that matter), but I do wonder if there is more going on there than meets the eye and she’s handling whatever it is not well enough to avoid annoying her colleagues.

          1. Oranges*

            I have a laugh that is more evil cackle. It usually comes out once a month and the new people always go “WTF?” the first time they hear it, everyone else is used to it.

      2. Jennifer Juniper*

        Slightly off-topic: Is it impolite to be extremely perky? If I am happy, I will clap my hands and say “Yay!” Do I need to modulate my emotions to be more neutral? I don’t work, so professionalism doesn’t apply here.

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Perhaps the OP could suggest that to Lenora while setting a boundary, “Lenora, your relentless cheerfulness, and attempts to force everyone else into performing Carefree Cheerfulness along with you is concerning. I hope you are okay and this isn’t an unhealthy masquerade for your own problems, but I need you to let me manage my own emotions and facial expressions.”

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      My assumption was that Lenora has just discovered the whole positivity/gratitude movement and is overdoing it and simultaneously pushing it on people with all the zeal of a new convert.

      It’s been really pervasive the last few years; in and out of the workplace. I left a FB group that is supposedly a post-breakup support group, when I commented that I have not been able to do positive affirmations, they sound contrived to me when I do them, and to my shock the owner/admin herself replied to my comment with something like “tHeN wHy aRe yOu EvEn In ThIs GrOuP?”

      I have really had it with toxic positivity and cannot wait for it to go out of style.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yep. And for some people this is sort of an offshoot of their religion–they think $Deity wants them to be like this.

      2. JeanB in NC*

        Isn’t it super great when support groups tell you you’re doing it wrong? I was in a group for people who have lost someone to suicide, and they froze me out after I revealed that I was an atheist. (This was in Texas, but still!)

      3. Le Sigh*

        Wait, did they type it in the dElIa’S sTyLe FoNt?

        Cause that really takes it to a whole new level.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          No, it was my attempt to convey the outrage that my statement caused in the group.

          They did get to me somewhat, because the morning routine I now have is, I get up, look out the window, and say: “Today will be… a day.” This is my positive affirmation. It works. Never fails, either. It always ends up being A Day.

          1. boo bot*

            I love this, you’ve given me something to do if I’m ever forced to do affirmations.

            Today will be a day. Events will transpire. I will affect the world around me and be affected by the world in turn. The day will end, one way or another.

            1. Jaydee*

              I actually find neutral statements much more affirming than relentlessly positive ones! Extreme negative self-talk tends to be kind of dehumanizing, but I think relentless positivity is too. I think neutral statements do a good job of reminding me of the human experience, which is a beautiful, frustrating mess of ups and downs, successes and setbacks, that is both universal and unique – we all experience it, but no two people have exactly the same experience.

              1. TexasRose*

                I find the Louise Hayes-style of over-the-top affirmations to be infuriating. However, I have found that carefully realistic self talk can help combat the catastrophizing and either/or thinking that characterized a lot of my depressed thinking in past decades.
                I volunteer with teaching math, and teaching writing about math. Many of the high school kids who have grown up with Common Core have NEVER actually had an essay that was corrected, and which they were expected to REVISE.
                So, each day I sit down with essays to mark, I start by reading my “affirmation”: Most* of these kids are good kids; they’ve simply never been expected to DO anything that had a wrong answer.
                * “Most” is particularly true because the I-can’t-be-bothered kids didn’t bother to turn in an essay.

          2. Paxfelis*

            My current favorite affirmation is the “F**k That” meditation on YouTube. If you haven’t encountered it yet, it may amuse you.

          3. Anon for this one*

            This is perfect, thank you. For those of us who do “Worst Case Scenario” thinking, it could be really useful. Today is going to be A Day. Probably not the best or the worst, but A Day, and that’s fine.

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          I actually tried it when I was depressed about six years ago. All I did was scare my friends and make people go “Are you OK?” I didn’t even realize I was depressed because I was so busy thinking up stuff to be grateful for. I forced myself to post to Facebook every day with something new to be grateful for. I was not allowed to EVER repeat the same thing.

    4. Elbe*

      This was my gut feeling, as well. Maybe Lenora’s constantly pressuring herself to put on a happy face, so she doesn’t understand that it’s strange for other people to do that.

    5. Manon*

      Eh, I don’t really see it that way. Some people are just have a lot of pep. It’s not much use speculating why.

      1. LadyL*

        I think having a lot of pep is different than forcing pep onto other people. There’s nothing wrong with being a perky person, but Lenora is actively policing other people’s emotions. I do tend to find that when someone is so invested in forcing/convincing others to feel/think/act like they do it’s usually a sign that something’s amiss. The content people I know don’t seem to feel the need to control what other people do.

        1. SimplyTheBest*

          Eh, I agree with Manon. I’ve come across plenty of people who are aggressively positive for no other reason than that’s who they are. And speculating on whether Lenora’s behavior is because she’s naturally positive or because she’s actually dead inside doesn’t really change the advice one way or another.

          1. LadyL*

            I think it might matter, because for me it reminds me that it’s ok to assert my boundaries but that I should be compassionate. Thinking to myself, “This person probably is trying to exert control over me to compensate for something going on with them that isn’t great” helps me keep my temper in check.

      2. Arts Akimbo*

        I mean, *I* have a lot of pep. It is remarked upon by lots of people. One thing I never, ever do is try to force pep or happiness or any other emotion or performative expression onto any other human. That’s what separates a peppy happy person from a Lenora.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yes. I’m not a peppy person (OK, sometimes I can be, but only sometimes). I like peppy people who accept that not everyone is like them. I loathe peppy people who don’t accept that.

  6. juliebulie*

    Take her to see “Joker.” She’ll never tell anyone to smile again.

    I’m kidding (I think). Honestly, I would be shaking with rage. It sounds like Leonora has personal issues that she thinks she can solve by fixing other people’s issues which she doesn’t actually know or care what they are.

    1. Witchy Human*

      I would probably deploy my best frozen, dead-eyed smile.

      The trick is to keep your big, insincere smile absolutely still and your eyes blank and then slowly turn your head. I actually won a creepy-smile contest once.

      1. M. Albertine*

        My favorite response to “Smile” is the one from Broad City, where they both manually turn up the corners of their mouths with their middle fingers.

        1. AES*

          Haha I was just coming down to the comments to advise people to google this GIF. (“broad city smile gif” will get you there.)

      2. JustaTech*

        I was going to suggest this as well. I have a friend who can give a not-smile that makes you certain she’s about to rip your throat out with her teeth.
        A less-confrontational approach would be “I’m saving my smiles for the people I love”. That’s so sappy it’s hard to argue with.

        A more analytical approach would be “Why is it so important to you that I smile all the time?”

        1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          “I’m saving my smiles for the people I love.” While I like this, it’ll probably come across as really passive-aggressive hostility because of the subtext that you obviously don’t love Lenora — which is appropriate for a coworker relationship to be sure, but Lenora will feel the sting. It’s about the level of saying “bless your heart,” and is likely to get Lenora worked up.

          1. Jadelyn*

            True, but to be fair, Lenora’s getting everyone else worked up, so maybe tit-for-tat is appropriate.

        2. AKchic*

          “I don’t get paid to smile” or “Smiling is not in my job description”.
          Maybe even a “I understand, you really don’t like my face, but you’re going to have to deal with that on your own and quit trying to make me alter it to something more pleasing to you” would shock her enough to stop.

          1. 1LFTW*

            I … really, really like this. The Positivity Police need to confront the fact that they’re not bringing sweetness and light to the world, they’re straight up telling people “I don’t like your face!”. Hardly a “positive” sentiment, is it?

            1. bulie*

              Oh but you have such a PRETTY face, if only you’d just SMILE!!

              There, now it’s positive. Arrrrrgh

        3. Outlandishly*

          Read chapter 14 in Diana Gabaldon’s “The Fiery Cross” (though of course not if you’re not far enough into the Outlander series and want to avoid spoilers). I never fail to laugh when Claire asks Jamie to “…look Happy, damn, you!” and he “assumed an expression of benevolence one degree short of outright imbecility”.
          Keep up with that “rictus of amiability” or “white-toothed insincerity” while staring straight at Lenora.

    2. Scott*

      Inside Out would work much better in this case, I think. All cuteseyness aside, that movie does a great job of illustrating the advantages of allowing yourself to experience a full range of emotions without always trying to feel happy every moment of your life, and does so in a way that just about anyone can grasp.

      1. Eve's Husband's Mustache*

        Oh man, excellent call.

        I went to see that movie alone in Paris, completely unprepared. I was there for research during a massive heat wave, and you know what’s one of the few places in Paris with reliable air conditioning? The cinema! I didn’t know anything about the movie except that I was seeing the original version (English with French subtitles) because I liked all the voice actors. It was packed, I was by myself and a bit homesick, and I SOBBED MY FACE OFF in front of all those Parisians.

        Afterwards I staggered off alone into the sweltering French evening, completely gutted – but okay with it, because the movie taught me it’s good to feel the heck out of your feelings, even the sad ones!

        1. carrieuoregon*

          That movie COMPLETELY changed the way I parent. As a naturally happy person, I’d want to rush my kids though any negative feelings, by encouraging them to be grateful, look on the bright side, etc.
          It helped me understand that it HURTS people to try to ignore their feelings and fake happiness. Soon after seeing the movie, my oldest daughter had a disappointment (not being cast in the role she wanted in a musical). I just let her feel sad. And she did. And then she felt better. Thank you Pixar.

          1. Le Sigh*

            I should really watch this movie.

            And I’m glad you really took those messages to heart. I totally get why parents or loved ones or even our partners want to rush us through the bad, but yeah, it can feel super invalidating, like they want to paper over the bad to avoid their own feelings of bad. It really helped me as a kid when people just talked to me on my level and didn’t force me to feel differently.

          2. Alexander Graham Yell*

            I probably should have had my old roommate watch that. I used to have a tendency to ignore all bad emotions, take whatever lesson I could, and just push on to be cheerful again (never made other people do that, to be clear – just pressured myself not to feel “bad” things). As I learned to sit with more challenging emotions and do things like be sad when a guy I was seeing ended things pretty abruptly, she tried to kind of push me to stop feeling bad and start finding something to be grateful for/a way to move forward and I lost it a bit and snapped, “I just need to be allowed to FEEL my FEELINGS, okay?!” When really, Inside Out and a box of tissues could have accomplished the same thing with added bonding.

    3. Marthooh*

      Or burst out singing “Happy Happy Joy Joy”! Give her at least ten verses. Follow her around the office singing, if necessary.

  7. Jellyfish*

    “We’re here and healthy and we have good jobs, so what is there to mope about?”

    We’re here and we have good jobs maybe, but the healthy part is pretty presumptive. I’ll take the OP’s word that Lenora is a genuinely sweet person, but take that line of thought too far and you end up with people who insist that negative thoughts cause cancer.

    1. Justme, The OG*

      The whole rest of life is something that we can mope about. I have a good job and good health but that doesn’t mean that everything else isn’t a dumpster fire.

      1. Jellyfish*

        Right? There’s no telling what’s going on in someone else’s life, and demanding they perform Happiness at work won’t magically improve anything.

    2. Lygeia*

      Yeah, as a disabled person, I’m never actually really “healthy” even though my disability is generally invisible. That’s a big assumption to make about someone.

    3. Mazzy*

      Good point about the being presumptuous. Yeah, I’m relatively healthy but feel like crap some days because of very minor health issues, so yeah, don’t assume anything. Even minor pain is going to override any happiness hormone

      1. Dahlia*

        The weather’s changing drastically tomorrow so I’m probably gonna have a migraine. Not looking forward to that.

    4. LCH*

      Right? I’d be tempted to respond to her “maybe” and not elaborate. I have some amazing RBF and want to be sicced on Leonora so bad.

    5. Rusty Shackelford*

      I’m waiting for the day someone says “actually, I was just diagnosed with cancer, but thank you for accusing me of moping about it.” On the other hand, she’d probably insist that positivity cures cancer, so. Maybe not.

      1. Salymander*

        Or she would say that negativity caused the cancer. Serving up your plate of toxic positivity with a heaping side order of blaming the victim. Yummy.

        I say that because a dear friend had cancer and went to one of those dodgy support groups where they did this. Years later, they have recruited her to the “cause” as well, and she pays $$$$$ for all their other workshops and getaways. The group founder has a massive mansion where he held a workshop. When my friend saw his house, she commented that it was really nice. Group founder said that he had nice things because his enlightened positivity attracted wealth, and that my friend was poor because she was not positive enough (And she had cancer because of her negative thinking. And the cancer meds were killing her). This, after giving this guy $$$$$$ for his advice.

        Maybe Lenora is naturally peppy, but I doubt that her temperament is the issue. Weaponizing positivity is not the same as being naturally cheerful.

      2. Jennifer Juniper*

        Or she’d say cancer is a good thing, because it would shorten the time you have on this sinful earth and bring you home to Jesus. No, I’m not kidding. No, I’m not exaggerating.

    6. Dagny*

      Presumptuous beyond belief.

      Even if you are healthy and have a good job, your family could be dying, abusive, or estranged. Your cat could be dying. Your spouse might be job-hunting and your “good job” doesn’t quite cover enough of the monthly bills and you’re worried about telling your kids that they can’t go to college.

      That of course assumes that you are, in fact, mentally and physically healthy, which is a big assumption.

      Frankly, I would pull her aside and say, “Lenora, one day, you’re going to say that to someone who just miscarried a child, lost a parent, is on the verge of divorcing their spouse, or whose child just got diagnosed with cancer. I would advise you to cut the crap before you wind up with your butt in the seat of HR meeting, brought in by a person who is struggling to hold it together and doesn’t need your crap. Park your mouth in the ‘off’ position.”

      1. GooseTracks*

        Yes. Don’t assume you know about other people’s life situations. I had a colleague complain to me about how I had it so much easier because I have a spouse and she doesn’t, and it’s so hard to make ends meet on your own. (We earned the same exact salary.) I was sympathetic to her problems but it was an uncomfortable conversation for me because at the time, my spouse had been unemployed for months and money was a constant worry. No one knew because I didn’t talk about it at work, and for people to assume my spouse was effortlessly supporting the family while my income was just a nice bonus was really demoralizing at a difficult time.

        1. Dagny*

          If you’re a woman, it’s also a very sexist assumption – married women don’t really need their salaries, or don’t need to earn more money.

          1. LeahS*

            Hmm… I don’t know. When I had a major health crises earlier this year and ended up out of work for months and in the hospital for one of those months, it made me acutely aware of my singleness. I hadn’t been at my company long enough to qualify for short term disability and it was really scary because my income is the only income… and it was gone. I would have felt that way as a man or a woman- there was simply nothing to survive on. Then again, I also didn’t have to worry about keeping other humans alive during that time, and those with partners may have children as well to support. I also don’t go around telling other people they have it so much easier because they’re married, so I guess it’s a moot point.

          2. Bagpuss*

            I don’t think that pointing out that living in a 2-income household means you’re better off than being in a 1-income family is inherently sexist.
            Of course, spouse=second income isn’t always accurate , but I don’t see any assumption that the wife’s income is unnecessary

      2. yala*

        Honestly? That sounds like a really reasonable thing to say. Like, maybe soften the end of it a wee bit (I wouldn’t want to, but for tact’s sake), and it feels like something you could actually straight up tell your coworker that probably wouldn’t get you in trouble.

        Pointing out to her that she DOESN’T know all the things going on in people’s lives, and that sometimes folks want to keep bad things PRIVATE could almost be seen as “friendly advice” out of ~concern~ for her.

        1. Dagny*

          Yeah, good point about toning the last part down – perhaps “It would be in your own best interests to stop, promptly.”

    7. Tinybutfierce*

      Yeeeup. I’m outwardly healthy physically, but I deal with three co-occurring mental illnesses that sometimes make average days a struggle and a half. Having someone like Lenore badger me to be happy while in the middle of a major depressive episode would nooot go well.

    8. Parenthetically*

      I dunno, I’m juuuuust pedantic enough that I think Lenora would get a, “Girl, come on, you cannot possibly know about all of everyone’s health issues, just think for two seconds about invisible disabilities and fertility treatments and chronic illness and depression and anxiety and freakin’ celiac disease, would you cut it out? You’re making people straight up lie to you because you won’t stop with this Mood Enforcement Squad thing. People are allowed to be however they are.”

    9. JustaTech*

      What is there to mope about?
      Climate change
      International relations
      Refugee crisis
      The giant construction site right outside my window

      Like, look, Lenora, I get that you mean well but if you can’t see that the whole world isn’t unicorns farting rainbows then you’re the one who needs some perspective, not me.

      1. JustaTech*

        The more I think about this the more I would make a list so every day when asked what I’m “moping” about it would be something like “the loss of honey bees. Do you know how important bees are to the food system?”
        “The great Pacific garbage patch. No one’s figured out how to clean that up.”
        “This loss of songbirds in North America. Don’t you love the sound of a warbler early in the morning?”

        1. yala*

          that was honestly my first instinct.

          “I miss Fall. We used to actually have autumn when I was a kid and it was nice.”

      2. Tib*

        I like this approach. Turn every irritating Lenora comment into a mini-lesson on one of the many, many ongoing tragedies in this world.

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          Unfortunately, I have been scolded by people for being too positive. Whenever I mentioned I was thankful for a nice spring day, she’d talk about climate change. Ugh!

    10. AKchic*

      Maybe that’s the way to go about it.

      “How presumptive of you to assume your statement as a whole is truthful. Quit trying to manage my emotions and trying to dictate the way I feel and how I present my own face.”

    11. Jadelyn*

      Even “good jobs” is presumptive. Even if the company is great, coworkers are awesome, someone might be stuck in a role that’s an awful fit for them – they’re competent enough, but they’re unhappy.

    12. Lalaith*

      Yes. This, exactly. I might just mutter “uh-huh”, pull out my pill case, down my morning handful of pills, and go back to what I was doing, hopefully all while she was still standing there watching.

    13. Bagpuss*

      Yes, I would be tempted to reply to the ‘we’re here, we’re healthy and we have jobs with’ “We’re here, yes”

      ‘Healthy’ isn’t obvious to the observer.
      I don’t talk much about my health at work, so most of my coworkers wouldn’t know that I suffer from chronic pain.

  8. Voc Ed Teacher*

    This hits home. My boss is all about “positivity” all the time right now. If you ask a question or raise a concern, its instantly met with compartmentalize it, I’m sure its a one off, or people just need to find the good in the situation. Its exhausting to try and manager your reactions to always being positive when there are times when things just aren’t that positive.

    1. Mazzy*

      That is ridiculous. My department exists to find and fix problems. If we ever run out, we report on trends of problems or fix luxury problems. Why fear problems?

      1. Jamie*

        Mine too – all problems aren’t inevitable but that there will be some is. One thing for is pretending there are no problems will just make all of them worse.

    2. LadyL*

      Suggest he try reading Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich. That mentality is one of the things that led to the housing collapse in 2008.

    3. Oh So Anon*

      It’s exhausting, yes, but I kinda think that positivity performance with your manager is a different sort of thing than when dealing with peers.

      Like, my manager needs to be confident in my having the resources to get my emotional needs met without interfering with the work or the team. Also, if the concern I raise is related to other team members or departments, my manager needs to approach the situation in as diplomatic a way as possible, which doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll get a response that will make me feel heard or validated.

  9. Jennifer*

    I think Leonora is faking it, like the employees in the letter last week on Fake It Fridays. She is BFFs with the director and wants her to see what a great, positive employee she is. Nothing ever goes wrong at work. She loves her job so, sooooooooo much and wants the world to know how great she is. I know the type.

    I agree that it’s better to just push back in the moment because this is just one of those things that we as adults should be able to handle on our own.

    If she doesn’t change after you speak to her, I think you’re better off ignoring it and going on with your day. Venting to your fellow coworkers or a friend or partner outside of work may help you deal with your frustrations.

      1. Jennifer*

        Same here. It’s a much easier problem to fix. “Please stop making those noises while I’m on the phone,” as opposed to “Stop being you!”

  10. boo bot*

    Noooooo.

    Alison’s responses are great. I’d start there, and if those don’t work, I guess I’d maybe try summoning something from the nether realms?

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Ohhh, I loved that book! (which I believe I saw being recommended here on AAM.)

  11. Engineer Girl*

    I had a parent like this. I disagree with Alison’s advice. Mainly because this type of emotionally shallow person will retaliate if you push back.
    So by all means, use the script. But Lenora will most likely get angry (with a smile) and say or do something mean or nasty. Especially if you are the only one doing it.
    I’d actually suggest going to the director as a group and telling her that what Lenora is doing not OK and draining. It’s also exceedingly disrespectful. You’re allowed to have whatever emotions you have, as long as it doesn’t interfere with work.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Maybe, but parent/child dynamics are often very different than coworker dynamics, which come with a remove that you don’t get at home. In a work context, I’ve seen oppressively positive people respond reasonably well to the suggestions I made in the post.

      1. MicroManagered*

        I think this is an interesting discussion. So many of your answers come down to simple boundaries or using one’s words, and yet I think a lot of people are afraid to do that because of the parent/child dynamic you just described!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Absolutely. The things we learn from our families of origin affect so many things long into adulthood (and forever, really, unless we actively work to rewire ourselves) — how we see the world, how we do or don’t interact with people, what we expect from those interactions.

          I think where it differs from what Engineer Girl is describing is that the work interactions aren’t as emotionally charged (usually, not always) so it can be easier to set boundaries at work when you set out to do that deliberately … because the situation isn’t all mucked up with the weight of “this is my parent/child/sibling.” The issues we carry are still there and affect how we present and interact, but they’re not quite as hard to unravel when we tackle them in that context (in most cases).

      2. Lance*

        Not to mention, if they do retaliate, there are still other people around, there are still people directly above them. There are routes to take to try and solve this that can’t be taken with parents, if speaking directly to them doesn’t work.

      3. Engineer Girl*

        I see your point, but I’m also going to disagree. The OP has already pushed back to some extent and Lenora doubles down. That usually means there is a struggle ahead.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Based on the letter, she hasn’t really pushed back. She’s said stuff like “I was just thinking” but she hasn’t directly told Lenora to stop. That’s the next step.

        2. WorkIsADarkComedy*

          That pushback was not direct. Alison’s suggestions are very direct; “manage my emotions” could not be clearer.

          I agree that Lenora will not be happy being told what she’s doing, but unless she has more power than was discussed in the letter (i.e., she can get the boss to come in and defend her), the likely “negative” result is that Lenora only communicates with OP on business issues.

          That would be a big win in my book.

            1. Parenthetically*

              Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean OP shouldn’t push back. It might mean she needs to pre-empt Lenora’s complaints by going to the boss and giving her a heads up about their plan.

            2. WorkIsADarkComedy*

              That’s why the power dynamics matter. OP should know whether Lenora would be enabled by her management (rather than simply not controlled). Lenora complaining to her management might actually be the thing that gets management to finally, well, manage.

              If OP does think that management would intervene on Lenora’s behalf, or if OP actually likes Lenora otherwise, she could say the same thing in a less confrontational way: “Lenora, I understand that you want people to be happy, but when you [name the behavior] what you’re actually doing is managing my emotions. I understand you mean well, but it’s important for me that I process my emotions in the way that I determine to be appropriate.” Etc. etc.

            3. GooseTracks*

              And? Nothing will change if she doesn’t push back at all. None of Alison’s wording was rude, so Leonora doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on. Even if she is BFFs with the director, if OP and her coworkers are all having the same issue, it’s likely that some pressure (even if it’s just social) will be brought to bear on Leonora to adapt her behavior.

        3. Dot*

          I agree with Engineer Girl. I’ve worked in more than one office where the given responses would be taken as very rude, particularly from a woman. They’re NOT rude, but I would not be able to use them in my industry without getting a reputation for being a non team player or “not nice.” That’s something that could easily lead to layoffs or “we don’t need you anymore.” Any pushback against the director’s best buddy like this would create an unpleasant ripple effect. I guess I’m a little relieved to hear this isn’t the norm in all offices, but this environment specifically is the reason I became a freelancer.

          And my family of origin is not like this–at all.

    2. twig*

      This is interesting to me. I’ve only recently figured out that I was not “allowed” to have negative emotions growing up. Any anger/frustration and my folks would try to talk me out of it/downplay it.

      Just happened this weekend: My parents tried to downplay my anger about White Identity Extremists flyering the campus that I work on (and leaving swastika graffiti everywhere) They tried to play it off as bored/confused teenagers or something.

      Anyway, since figuring this out, I’ve been working on actually feeling and processing my anger instead of repressing it.
      (sorry for the off topic-ness. feel free to delete)

      1. Joielle*

        Same! Although in my case, the only negative emotions allowed in the household were my mom’s. The rest of us were just whiners who should stop complaining because we don’t have REAL ADULT PROBLEMS.

        Having negative emotions invalidated is more damaging than people realize! Having them invalidated every day at work would be unbelievably draining.

        1. JimmyJab*

          Woof, I had this dynamic with my mom too. Luckily, she is VERY understanding now (that I’m an adult). It is HARD and had a real impact on me (and still does).

    3. hbc*

      But if she does something mean and nasty at work, that’s usually something you can hang your hat on with higher ups, no? “I told Lenora I didn’t feel like smiling and she called me a [bad word].” It’s a lot more actionable than a group meeting where you all have to admit you haven’t asked her to stop.

    4. voyager1*

      Engineer Girl,
      Everyone is hanging on your comment about your parent, and missing the important part about going as group to the director. I think you are right on that part with one point. I think you might be right on Lenore doubling down too.

      I think the LW need to be direct with Lenore once about the smiling/face thing. Basically give Lenore a chance to knock it off.

      While I think AAM is right about being direct I think some of her actual scripts are weird sounding, especially the face one. I would be very direct with: “Just because I am not smiling or appearing happy doesn’t mean I am not happy. I am at work and that requires me to concentrate and do work. There will be times I not be smiling because I am working. Please allow me to manage my own emotions.”

      But saying don’t comment about my face. There is no way I could say that without laughing or it sounding really forced.

      I could see Lenore doubling down too since she is friends with her boss. It may really may come down to if Lenore is “all happy” is an act or it is really her personality. If it is the later, then yeah things might get really weird.

      But really the LW knows these folks better then all of us, she is going to have to go with her best judgement in the end on how Lenore may react.

      1. Zillah*

        I think that this is something where YMMD – I’d probably feel most comfortable just saying “please don’t comment on my face.”

    5. Not So NewReader*

      I do agree that there will probably be some reaction from Lenora. In part because it has gone on a while and no one has said anything directly. So probably at first she will think the person is joking. Then when she realizes it’s not a joke she may try to minimize the impact that others are feeling such as, “Oh, I am just making conversation.” Then why does it feel like an edict? (no. do not say that. But thinking it is okay.)

      Or it could be that she feels her message of joy defines who she is and her purpose on this planet. You will know if you hit this particular nerve because you will get a substantial reaction. You can encourage her that she is free to feel happy on her own without others around her also being happy. She does not need to be surrounded by people drunk on happiness to be able to maintain her own level of happiness.

  12. Laurelma01*

    She’s interrupting people focusing on work to “demand a smile.” I would hate working with her, my response would be, “I cannot smile on demand, and you’re interrupting my train of thought. If you do not need me, please stop interrupting my work asking me to smile, etc.”

    To me, she’s a disruption.

      1. Caitlin Burrows*

        “I’d be wonderful if we stopped this conversation, put my earbud back in and finish this data entry.”

      1. AKchic*

        I was thinking the same thing.

        If this were a man demanding smiles, we’d be having a different conversation. Let’s treat it the same way. Nobody owes anyone a performance.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yeah, I keep thinking of this, “You know that even if the speaker is a woman it still has sexist connotations to tell another woman to smile. I am not here for your entertainment.” (Sorry cannot get that line out of my head.)

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Perfect! The “smile, baby” catcall thing is the first thing that came to my mind, and I’m surprised it took as long as it did for someone to point that out.

    1. T3k*

      If I was feeling really petty, I’d get one of those cheap masks you can hold up with a stick that has a smiley face on it and hold it over my face each time she asked for a smile. Just, no.

      1. Laurelma*

        My horns would be coming out with this one. The manager should be handling this as an interruption at a minimum.

    2. Quill*

      “This is my ‘doing math’ face. I cannot possibly do math while reminding myself to smile every 30 seconds.”

    3. Blunt Bunny*

      I would call her out and say that “if you really cared about how I feel you would accept my first answer rather than demanding me to be happier.” It is ok to not be ok a problem shared is a problem halved and all that if she wanted you all to be happier she would listen to your concerns rather than brush them off. Just because she smiles doesn’t make her a nice person, if she bristles at you pointing out that she is being insensitive than she has shown her true colours. I used to give rude customers the biggest fakest smile because it pisses them off more and they can’t complain.

  13. Jamie*

    I would rather share an office with someone who chews tin foil than work with Lenora.

    Beside my sympathies for the OP, I have a question. Why do people do this. I’ve worked with Lenoras …they are everywhere in the wild. As annoying as it is I’m fascinated by the motivation. I cannot imagine what they get out of the relentless cheerleading for life.

    1. juliebulie*

      I think people who do this, who demand positivity and good cheer at all times, are trying to convince themselves that everything is fine, and they want you to help sustain the illusion.

      Or, could be a brain tumor. I think I saw something like that in an episode of House.

    2. You can't fire me; I don't work in this van*

      I’m no mental health professional, but I think Lenora is the type of person who believes that being Super Positive all the time makes her life easier and better and assumes everyone is the same way.

      It’s related to the type of person who upon hearing you make an offhanded remark about not bringing a date to your cousin’s wedding will immediately launch it to the story of how they landed their spouse in 1993 and everything you should be doing to try to meet someone.

      1. Scott*

        As a single person, I can honestly say this kind of thing drives me up the wall. The number of unsolicited “This is how I met my SO, everything will work out great for you!” stories I’ve smiled and nodded through is maddening.

        Also, this person has the greatest commenter username on this website.

        1. Quill*

          Single, not looking, constantly on the defense for these sorts of people who think I need to find a “nice boy” before my “biological clock” “runs out.”

          I don’t want a man, Karen, I want a triple chocolate ice cream.

    3. Purt's Peas*

      Is there anyone in your life who you’re super attuned to and you have the impulse to check, check, check what they’re feeling and worry about them? I’m sure you do even if you have the tools to deal internally with that attention and anxiety.

      My sense is that people like this are extra attuned outward to everyone’s moods, but instead of using internal tools and coping mechanisms to understand that other people’s feelings aren’t their problem, they’ve gotten in the habit of using external tools for reassurance. If they say, “it’s a beautiful day!” it’s actually pretty likely that most people will reflexively smile in response, and then they get a shot of anxiety relief and the habit gets strengthened.

    4. Oh So Anon*

      Some of these types of people demand positivity so that they don’t ever feel obligated to perform any sort of emotional labour for people who are struggling.

    5. Aquawoman*

      The thing that came to my mind was children of abusive parents. Sometimes they think that keeping things light and calm and happy will stop their parent from going into a rage.

  14. ACDC*

    I recently heard a podcast about a topic called “toxic positivity.” Sounds like Lenora is on this wavelength.

      1. Mazzy*

        I’m seeing this now with regards to the economy. Many signs are pointing to a recession but people think I’m being negative when I point it out. Alrighty then…I guess don’t save money and then act shocked when you get laid off, even though you had two years notice from the media. I guess that’s the loftier stance?

        1. Jennifer*

          Maybe they already knew since it’s been widely reported and are already saving money? Or maybe they have a different take on the story? Or maybe they are just trying to have a fun evening out when you bring it up? Context can make a difference.

          1. Anonny*

            I mean, I’m sufficiently broke that the state of the economy means nothing to me. I can’t really prepare for a bad economy because no matter what, I’m always in a bad economy.

            1. Jennifer*

              Same here! It doesn’t mean I’m in denial. I know we may be headed for a recession and there’s not a whole lot I can do about it.

      1. ACDC*

        I listen to quite a few podcasts and I genuinely cannot remember which one it appeared on. Let me do some sleuthing and I’ll share!

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Oooh, the first paragraph reminded me of the meeting my mom and I had when we were checking my dad into hospice with very late-stage cancer back in 2013. There were like half a dozen people in a meeting room with us, and they were all saying “oh he could still get better!” “he might improve enough to come back home!” “He could go into remission!” (He passed away three days later, before they could even finish the check-in process. He’d had the cancer for years by then.) I finally said “OK can we all agree that this is not Breaking Bad, this is real life and he isn’t getting better and coming home?” Like why? why even waste everyone’s time in the meeting with all that fluff, when we had real things to discuss?

          1. run runaway*

            Ugh yeah. There’s a reason why “give it to me straight, doc” is a stock phrase. Whitewashing medical issues is not the most helpful thing.

          2. Libby*

            Oh, god, you just brought up repressed memories of my grandmother’s death. She was almost 100. She had surved a lot, and then had a medium severe stroke, and just seemed over it. Then she had a super severe stroke when I was alone in the room with her. She never spoke or ate again. My uncle and a ton of his friends kept talking about how she was going to beat it, recover, get back to herself. She’s 98 and having ever more severe strokes and has stopped eating-it’s okay to deal with the fact she’s dying!

    1. The Original K.*

      Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a book called Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America. I thought of it when I read this letter. Ehrenreich writes about her breast cancer diagnosis and how the overwhelming message was to stay positive. She said it made her feel like if she wasn’t cheerful about having cancer, if she didn’t get better, it would be her fault for not being happy enough. But … cancer is horrible, and it’s normal not to be happy about having it, but that wasn’t the message she got at all.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I was thinking the same thing! This plus the Toxic Positivity article are really helpful ways for reframing how oppressive or obsessive positivity can be incredibly harmful.

      2. JayJay*

        I thought of this book immediately too. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested – she links positive thinking with a number of American social issues in a fascinating way.

      3. run runaway*

        The only thing I was positive about when I had cancer was how positive I was about wanting it out of my body ASAP.

        Surprisingly, that also got push back. I got told surgical solutions were terrible. (I had surgery anyway.)

    2. RJ the Newbie*

      I must listen to this podcast!!!

      At my previous office, I worked with a Laura who completely wore me down with conversations of this nature until I pushed back and told her not to make assumptions on either my mood or personality because I wasn’t openly demonstrative. She retaliated by becoming obsessed with the fact I didn’t like her and told EVERYONE she could (it was a large international company) that I didn’t like her.

    3. pope suburban*

      I haven’t heard that podcast, but I’ve read a few articles on the subject of toxic positivity and it was absolutely the first thing that came to my mind too. Sure, there’s a bit of value in learning to push through a work day when you’re frustrated or suffering from a general malaise, but there’s a world of difference between that and never, ever being allowed to feel/think anything that isn’t saccharine and happy. People are people, it’s okay that they feel/think things, and it’s not a problem until it becomes one (like, when it leads to outrageous behavior, or when someone is a chronic complainer who is affecting the morale of others). This idea that every single feeling has to be curated and edited to be happy is creepy and unhealthy. Lenora may well need help beyond what any of her coworkers can give; in any event, I wish them the best in getting her to stop, because she sounds terribly exhausting to be around.

    4. Elbe*

      People like Lenora probably don’t think about it, but toxic positivity like this can actually make people more sad.

      When they’re constantly asked “so what is there to mope about?” they start to think about, well, everything that they DO have to mope about. Having to perform happiness just reminds them that they’re not happy 100% of the time. This type of thing can really backfire.

      1. ACDC*

        That and it makes people feel ashamed of negative emotions – like they are bad and should be ignored at all costs. It’s okay to not be okay.

      2. Jennifer Juniper*

        Plus they now have “sin” and guilt and depression and anxiety and possibly self-injury and suicide as a result of being forced to perform positivity.

  15. Pink Marshmallow Bunny*

    When I was reading this post, I pictured Lenora as that overly cheerful and extroverted hippo from Aggretsuko. And I’m hearing all of Lenora’s words mentioned above in my head, spoken in that hippo’s voice.

  16. Mazzy*

    This is an annoying part of our culture. Happy outweighs other emotions. Well, I have coworkers who have conversations like “how was the weekend?” “Good!” “How was your trip.” “Excellent!” “How was dinner.” “Delicious!” Let me tell you, life sounds boring when there is no struggle or interesting event or monkey wrench thrown into the shuffle.

    Sometimes people interrupt me mid story to tell me true positive side of something or tell me to be grateful for something else. I’m paraphrasing, they aren’t that straightforward, but that is their gist. It is annoying because they’re assuming I’m complaining or being unconstructive. But maybe I’m getting to an interesting punchline, or the experienced sucked but I found it to be helpful for my spiritual growth, or I thought it was funny. Or I just thought the negative thing was interesting. But some people get so uncomfortable with anything “negative” or think you’re a Debbie downer if you mention anything not super positive. It’s weird. Why would I face challenges and overcome adversity and then just say “everything is fine.” That makes it sound like I did nothing and nothing happened. Also, telling a “negative” story doesn’t negate that I can also be grateful at the same time. For example, I can have a bad month at work and need to vent, while still being grateful to have the job.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      I had someone accuse me of being a Debbie Downer because I brought a raincoat on a hike. It not only rained, it poured.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          I was a terrible Girl Scout. I hated it. I wanted to go camping and they wanted to do cooking badges.

    2. Jennifer*

      “Well, I have coworkers who have conversations like “how was the weekend?” “Good!” “How was your trip.” “Excellent!” “How was dinner.” “Delicious!” Let me tell you, life sounds boring when there is no struggle or interesting event or monkey wrench thrown into the shuffle.”

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that necessarily. Most of the time when I ask a question like that I’m not looking for someone to unload all of their woes on me, unless we’re close friends. Leonora is super annoying but you (general you) don’t want to go the opposite way and be the Eeyore of the office either. Both types can make the workday miserable.

      1. LawBee*

        Same here. Weekend was good, trip was excellent, dinner was delicious, that’s all fine. I don’t actually want to hear all of my coworkers’ monkey wrench moments when I’m making polite conversation. And on the other side, I don’t always HAVE a monkey wrench moment every dinner/trip/weekend – nothing bad happened, or if it did I don’t want to talk about it for whatever reason. Friends? Yes. Coworkers? Eh.

    3. Shan*

      From close friends, absolutely. But truthfully I don’t really want to hear anything beyond a “Good!”, “Delicious!”, etc. from the small talk I make with many of my co-workers, and I don’t think it’s particularly odd that I don’t offer up much beyond that, either. Sure, tell me if a restaurant was a huge disappointment, or if your weekend sucked because you got in a car accident, but when I’m just doing the obligatory lunchroom causerie while waiting for my turn at the microwave, I’m not really interested in anything beyond the superficial.

      That being said, Leonora sounds awful.

      1. Jennifer*

        Also somedays I’m already stressed myself and a polite “Hi, how are you?” is about all I can manage. I don’t really have the bandwidth for someone to dump all of their emotional baggage on me.

      2. Oh So Anon*

        Agreed, and I’m someone who has close friendships with some of my coworkers. In large part because you’re dealing with a captive audience at work, it’s best not to dump your stuff on people who aren’t in a position to opt out of investing emotional labour.

      3. Isabel C. Kunkle*

        This. There’s a middle ground–honestly, unless I’m a *very* close friend, I’m not up for handling your emotions, and being sad or angry or worried *at* me in the name of honesty is the equally bad flipside of Leonora. Even with decently good friends, a spiral of constant negativity gets old–I’ve seen more than a few Captain Awkward letters about “all my friend ever does is complain about everything, and I sympathize but I can’t take it any more”.

        Also, answering a question with a one-word positive is a pretty common social cue to say you appreciate the interest but aren’t really interested in talking. And honestly, if my co-workers don’t think my life sounds “interesting without a monkey wrench,” well, I’m deeply uninvested in being a co-star in their personal indie film, so there we are.

        I think the common ground is that co-workers should not be forcing one another to interact with their emotions, whether positive or negative. Fergus grumbling over every failed project and demanding people get just as upset about it, or Karen constantly talking about how life is meaningless and the biosphere is failing and how can you be excited about the Halloween party in light of those things, or whatever, would be just as bad as Leonora.

        “Neutral” is a good attitude around people who are required/expected to talk to you, IMO.

    4. Mimi Me*

      Agreed. I am of the mindset that bad things happen to everyone but honestly that is where some of the best things come from. My story of travelling to London with my husband and kids is a good story. I like to tell it. It’s made better by the awful hotel we had booked. You know – the one with the creepy hallway that looked straight out of The Shining and four twin beds with bad mattresses instead of the two queen sized beds advertised on the website. In fact, my daughter (then 13) said “I cannot wait to tell everyone back home about this room!” as soon as we saw it, which only adds to the fun of the story. (Seriously…it was a bad room! LOL!)
      My response to people when told to smile is to usually tell them “No, don’t want to” (said as a matter of fact) and then move on. I think Allison has the right idea to push back in the moment. It’s probably going to feel uncomfortable, especially if there are witnesses to the exchange, but just keep it calm and in that tone that she’s the one behaving strangely for insisting on happiness 24/7.

    5. T3k*

      Yeah, as someone who likes things to be straightforward and go with the mindset of “don’t ask me unless you want me to actually tell you the truth” I hate the banalities of “how are you?” that play out because I want to just blurt out “well I’m not really fine but you’re not really asking about that so sure, I’m freaking fine just so we can close this superficial comment loop that had no point whatsoever other than to say we talked.”

      1. Joielle*

        I mean… saying “how are you” is not really the same as interrupting someone’s story to tell them to be more positive. The point of “how are you” is to acknowledge the other person as a fellow human. The words themselves don’t really matter. You don’t have to say “fine” if you’re not! Try “same old” or “living the dream” or “tired” or “surviving” or “ready for a nap.”

        Absent other issues, I really don’t think a coworker making small talk is forcing positivity on you.

        1. T3k*

          For me, it’s more of a mental fatigue issue which just makes me feel worse. I’m already running low on mental energy so even someone going “how are you?” drains me, especially if I get asked by others throughout the day. Oddly, if someone actually has something interesting to tell me about their trip, a bad restaurant experience, fun time at a family picnic, etc. I’m all for hearing that (though I won’t really contribute much the conversation, I prefer to listen).

          1. Jennifer*

            If you know you’re going to be asked it multiple times a day, having a prepared answer ready to go may help. “Good” or “Okay” might work because saying “Tired” or anything negative might invite more conversation.

            1. Jennifer Juniper*

              Seconded. If someone says they’re tired or unhappy when I ask them how they are, I interpret that to mean I’m required to perform emotional labor for them. I’ll say, “I’m sorry you’re tired/unhappy. That sounds frustrating. I hope you get some rest/feel better soon.” Then I’ll wait for them to vent to me.

              I’m guessing that would upset the person who only wants to be left alone!

      2. Not So NewReader*

        T3k, THIS!
        “Lenora, can we stop talking about this?” That would be my number one question. “I am not dense. You made your point the first time you said it. Now I need to you to stop repeating yourself.”

        “Lenora, I come to work to you know,.. WORK. I do not come to work to monitor everyone’s moods. And I don’t expect to be monitored myself.”

  17. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    I feel like the natural way to combat this, would be to answer Lenora honestly when you can.

    Lenora: It’s a beautiful day, why aren’t you smiling?
    Employee: I’m having a really heavy menstrual flow today, it’s just gushing out.

    Lenora: Just fine? Surely you are WONDERFUL!
    Employee: No I’m just fine, my ragweed allergies have caused massive post nasal drip and there’s tons of snot dripping down the back of my throat and it’s really distracting.

    Etc., etc.

    1. Jennifer*

      I just had a massive menstrual cramp and feel like I’m going to vomit. How about you?

      She’d probably tell me to be positive I still get visits from Aunt Flow because she doesn’t any longer. People like this can put a “positive” spin on anything.

      1. Grapey*

        As one of those positive spinners it really has improved my outlook on life.

        It really only works when you use it on your own mood and not as a performative action to demand from others though. And working with a Lenora would make me agitated.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Yeah, this. There are a lot of positive slogans/affirmations/whatnot out there and I get the feeling that 99% of them are effective when you deploy them internally, understanding exactly what you yourself mean when you use them — but then if you try to deploy them toward others, they end up ranging from irritating at best to outright insulting or offensive at worst.

    2. juliebulie*

      Leonora: Just fine? Surely you are WONDERFUL!
      Me: A couple of days ago, my grandmother asked me to get a gun and shoot her. But I’ll smile if it will make YOU feel better, Leonora. (And don’t call me Shirley!)

    3. Flash Bristow*

      Must admit, I usually ask friends who stop me to ask how I am “are you just being friendly or do you *really* want to know?”

      I have all kinds of physical and mental health issues and I’ll share if they are a good friend but they’d better not be in a hurry. Or they get “oh you know, the usual – tell you when we’ve got more time.”

      Lenora tho… argh. Yeah, the period answer is a great one. (And thank you for the laugh!)

    4. Elbe*

      Anyone who regularly ask “…so what is there to mope about?” is absolutely BEGGING for this type of response.

      “I’ve been constipated for some time.”

      “Work is a social construct designed to distract us from the empty futility of life.”

      “My dog Fluffy has hemorrhoids.”

      “I’ve realized that butter is technically a milkshake and I can’t stop thinking about it.”

    5. PVR*

      As tempting as it is to elaborate on exactly why things aren’t wonderful/explain in detail not to assume everyone is healthy/etc, I think a more effective strategy may be to be more neutral. Lenora: but whhhhyy aren’t you smiling?! Me: Oh , didn’t realize I wasn’t smiling, I am truly just thinking about this project/lost in thought. Lenora: but isn’t everything just WONDERFUL? Me: you know Lenora, sometimes it’s ok not to be super elated all the time but to just be content or even neutral. That doesn’t mean that I’m UNhappy, which I’m sure you’d agree is unavoidable at times anyway. Or: Not smiling is not the same as frowning. Right? Ok great, I need to finish this email/get back this project. I would be extremely leery of giving Lenora any personal details about myself and would strive to be pleasant and cheerful but would probably try NOT to smile all the time just to make a point.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      Really, you could have so much fun with this.

      “Lenora, here’s a pen and paper and you can write down all the answers that are acceptable to you. I will chose one of those answers each day and then we can cut directly to doing our JOBS.”

      Her:”How are you today?”
      Me: “I dunno, but you are going to tell me shortly.”

      Her: “How are you today?”
      Me: “Let’s see yesterday I was fireworks fabulous, today let’s go with ” marching bands wonderful”. [Said with NO smile.]

      Her: “How you today?’
      Me: “I was doing pretty good but someone keeps coming around and demanding that I be doing excellent.”

      1. Isabel C Kunkle*

        Upbeat lines from musicals but in deadpan zombie voice.

        “The hills are alive.”
        “Oh, what a beautiful morning.”

        1. Kat in VA*

          A coworker and I have a ritual most days. I’ll look at her, she’ll look at me, she’ll say, “Uh-HUH” and I’ll say “YEP” and then we go on.

          We’re acknowledging our boss is nuts and everything is on fire. You know, must be Tuesday!

          Sometimes we switch it up and she’ll say, “Good times!” and I’ll response “AW YISS” and that’s about the end of it.

  18. RBF*

    There was a (older, male) co-worker in another department that used to tell me (middle-age, female) to smile EVERYTIME he walked by my office, our paths crossed, etc. If my door was closed he’d even lean into the window, smile and point to his own smile. I have resting bitch face and my job requires a lot of focus so I’m sure I do look grumpy, but I’m working! Leave me alone!
    One day he walked by and told me to smile and I finally snapped and told him, “This is the way my face looks, please stop commenting on it” He never said anything about smiling to me again, though I’ve heard him harangue others.

    1. The IT Plebe*

      “If my door was closed he’d even lean into the window, smile and point to his own smile.”

      If you murdered this man, no jury would convict.

      1. Liane*

        Not a true jury of peers anyways. If I had to work with this woman, I’d alternately seethe and distract myself with what Jedi Mind Trick script would work best. “Go back to your cube and rethink your career.” “I’m not the Pollyanna you’re looking for.” “Go binge watch Eeyore clips to make your coworkers giddy with joy.”

    2. Jamie*

      I’ve worked with his cousin! Did he ever tell you that you should smile because it just lights up the office when you do?

      So often the smile thing is about because we’re so much prettier when we do and they do not get that instructing women how to be more decorative isn’t okay.

      1. TiaRachel*

        Did you get paid for lighting up the office? I mean, that’s gotta be a chunk out of the electric bill.

      2. Jellyfish*

        Oh dear. Yeah, I am not at work to provide aesthetic pleasure to my coworkers, no matter what their motivation for demanding it.

    3. Kat in VA*

      There’s just something extra icky about a man commanding a woman to smile.

      As in, “Please rearrange your face into something I find more attractive.” The way that ornamental objects should be…you know, attractive…

      Never mind that that’s a living, breathing, autonomous human being attached to that oh-so-ornamental face. Thou shalt be attractive at all times, even when deep in thought, in the throes of abdominal cramping, worried about finances, in constant pain, or just…you know…doing one’s job.

  19. CMart*

    This is totally not necessary – hopefully being straightforward will work – but are there any blunt/unabashed people in your office who would be willing to “take one for the team” in a way and start responding with a cold dose of reality?

    Lenora: “Just fine? You should be WONDERFUL!”
    Person (me, perhaps, as I would be totally willing to do this): “Yes, just fine. My is on his 4th round of chemo for Stage IV cancer and the side effects are really getting to him. My husband is working 90 hour weeks right now, and my kids didn’t sleep well so I’m running on 5 hours of broken up sleep myself. I can’t say I’m doing WONDERFULLY, no.”

    Lenora: “Why aren’t you smiling?”
    Person: “This is just how my face looks. Data entry isn’t that thrilling, and I kind of need to pee.”

    Honestly, I would have no problem being deputized to be Buzzkill Betty if it meant my colleagues had my back and weren’t sitting there thinking I was being impossibly rude to a well-intentioned, lovely person.

    I suggest this because I’ve known a person or two like that (always telling people to smile etc…) and the ones who have reformed always have a story about a person suddenly getting very real and apparently only then realizing that people have their own lives. See, “I told a girl on the bus to cheer up, and she burst into tears and told me her dad died and she didn’t get to say goodbye. I had no idea. I will never tell someone to cheer up again, you never know what’s going on in their life!” You’d think people wouldn’t be so clueless but… well. They are. And it often takes a sledgehammer to get the point through to them.

      1. CMart*

        Honestly, “I need to pee” is going to be a truth for me nearly 100% of the time. I can concentrate on smiling or not peeing my pants a little, but I have to pick one.

    1. MOAS*

      Sigh. Im cringing at how I was before…reformed person here. For an amount of time after a miscarriage I was THAT “stop whining about your pregnancy/baby/kids, be grateful you have them!” When I was unemployed… “stop complaining about work, be glad you have a job!” I’m not like that anymore, eventually the pain lessened over time/I found a job etc. 99.99999% sure I haven’t done that at work though. But honestly, if I find someone is complaining about something I’d LOVE to have hte opportunity to complain about…..I would just nod in sympathy and walk away–it’s not my place to say they should be thankful or positive or whatever.

    2. Magpie*

      I was that girl on the bus. I have RBF and constantly got told “cheer up darling, it might never happen!”, so I just used to let my lip wobble, put my hands over my face, and wail that it already did with shaking shoulders. It entertained me.

      I would absolutely and without remorse tell this woman “My husband left me and the kids this weekend”, and wait for her face to collapse before pointing out that actually he didn’t but *she didn’t know that*.

    3. Not Australian*

      OMG I had that at work one morning; “What’s the matter, why are you looking so miserable?” “Actually, my dad died in the night.” They didn’t believe me, but it happened to be true.

    4. Phoenix from the ashes*

      I too was that girl on the bus. Or, more accurately, walking down the street in my lunch break, minding my own business when some man I’d never seen before told me to smile.

      My father had just died. How was I supposed to look?

      I stood in the street and cried. He walked past and didn’t look back; he didn’t even know he’d upset me.

      Two decades on, and I still totally wish I’d punched him in the face.

      1. Kat in VA*

        This. I was told in wheedling fashion to “Smile, it can’t be THAT bad” by some rando dude on the Metro.

        My best friend had accidentally overdosed and died two days before. So yeah, my dude, it really is that fucking bad. And in a rare case of my words matching the moment, I told him just that.

        Of course it pissed him off, and he responded with an outraged HOW WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW THAT.

        Well, you weren’t, brochacho, which is why maybe telling rando bitch-faced women to smile is maybe not the best option?

    5. Not So NewReader*

      So I went to a church other than my own because a mass was being said for my late husband. I went with two family members. We decided to get a coffee after service. I sat down next to an old woman. In a minute you will see why I said OLD woman. I was looking at my relative but I could feel someone staring at me in a creepy manner. I turned and it was this old woman and she was scanning me up and down. When I looked her in the eye, she said, “You are too young to be acting this tired. You need to SHAPE UP!”

      Thinking quickly I realized I was not going to win this one. So I said, “Yeah, huh.” And although I was sitting beside her, I turned sideways so my back was toward her for the rest of the time I sat there.

      I realized if I said that I had just buried my husband after months of 24/7 care, she would tell me that she buried three husbands after a decade of care for each one. I would have had to explain to her that she must have inadvertently buried her soul with one of the men.

      But, OTH, why bother. I may have been sad but at least *I* was not mean. If she had the key to happiness then why was she so mean.

      And this is kind of what I see here, I see a meanness about the chronic demand to be happy. It’s like talking AT people rather than talking WITH people. I am sure others have seen this also: a few times I have sat down with a crying person and we talked. We talked about how sucky their situation was, we talked about how it probably won’t get better because of x, y and z. And scattered in between all this sad stuff, we found little things to laugh at. Because this is life. Life is not totally sad, nor is it totally happy. I tend to think of these perpetually happy people as not having a real handle on real life issues. Okay there have been one or two that I referred to as “light weights” because you cannot discuss any matter of difficulty with them. They do not know how to handle the conversation and they have nothing to offer.
      OP, it might be helpful to frame it as, “She’s not someone I would think of as a go-to person if there is a problem. I don’t see the skills necessary to tackle issues.”

  20. Narvo Flieboppen*

    I’ve gotta say, OP, you would not have to ask twice to get me on board with shutting down Lenora’s behavior. She sounds super irritating.

    Not quite the same situation, but there was an ‘unofficial’ rule when I started working at my current employer that you should always smile when in the hallways around customers.

    The worst coworker I’ve ever had made sure to reiterate it to me on the day after my stepmother was killed in a car accident on the way to visit us. I was taking the one day to get my work in order before taking the entire next week off as bereavement. I wish I had AAM available to me back then because I might have had some better response than just growling at her like an irritated dog and moving on.

    I’m sure the rictus grin I could have managed (at best) would have been lovely and not at all more off-putting to customers than me just walking around not smiling…

    1. animaniactoo*

      Nah, growling like an irritated dog was probably some fairly effective boundary setting in that moment. Which is what you wanted there – efficiency without being unforgivably rude.

  21. The Original K.*

    Ugh, Lenora tells random strangers on the street to “smile, it can’t be that bad,” doesn’t she? So exhausting. Sometimes people are going through stuff, and it’s hard enough to go through it without people like Lenora all up in your face telling you how to feel. I’d for sure tell her to knock it off in the moment.

    1. Mimi Me*

      A waitress once did that to my friends and I when we were out for lunch. She came over and said, “Who died over here? You should all smile.” My friend Jenn had just spent the morning at the funeral home making arrangements for her father who had passed from cancer FLIPPED on the waitress. It was truly awful.

      1. Zephy*

        Yeah. Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to, people. I can’t even imagine.

      2. fhqwhgads*

        Ugh, I can’t stand people who use “who died” because they really ought to know at some point the answer from one of the group will be “my spouse/sibling/parent/best friend”. Like, seriously, morons, if the group looks like they just came from a wake…maybe assume that’s the case instead of goading them to seem happier?

  22. iglwif*

    Lenora sounds unbelievably exhausting, good grief.
    Also I very much wonder what she is hiding, because I feel like there has to be *something*.

  23. mark132*

    I sometimes respond to questions like this with nonsense:
    Q: What aren’t you smiling?
    A: It’s Thursday.

      1. Witchy Human*

        “A watched pot never smiles.”

        “To everything there is a season, Lenora. A time to smile, a time to focus on answering emails.”

        “I do have a face, thank you for noticing.”

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      I tend to look confused and say “oh, no thank you,” like I’ve been offered some candy or something.

  24. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I would also add that going around with a smile on your face all day makes you look mentally unbalanced. Seriously. If you have nothing to smile about but you’re doing it nonstop, it’s going to come off as weird and unsettling to others.

    That’s why when men tell me to smile, I always ask, “Why? Is something amusing happening right now?”

    Miss Manners had the best story about ordering people to smile. She was on a plane coming back from a funeral, and she was naturally upset. A stranger told her to smile, and she wanted to burst into tears. If nothing else, THAT is why you don’t tell people to randomly smile – you never know what’s going on in someone’s life. I would repeat that bit every time she starts up.

    1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      My best/worst story of being told to smile is when I was waiting for a bus outside a hospital after visiting my father. A stranger said, “Smile, it can’t be that bad!” I glared at him and said, “My father is dying of cancer, right now.” He literally cringed as he walked away. I hope he never said that to another person.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        One time I had a guy tell me to smile. I said, “I just saw a dead squirrel.” He continued to ignore what I said and chirp on anyway.

      2. juliebulie*

        I mean… you were standing outside a hospital. That should have been his first clue that there might indeed be something bad.

  25. A Simple Narwhal*

    Oooooh reading this letter made me anxious. Alison’s responses are good, hopefully they’re effective!

    It’s one thing to look on the bright side of things, it’s another to demand that everything is perfect and wonderful and amazing all the time. Plus, if she insists that the mundane is fantastic, doesn’t that make the fantastic mundane? Celebrating a success when you celebrate everyday happenings makes the success feel less, well, successful.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      Also maybe Lenora needs to watch Inside Out. If kids can grasp the concept that it’s ok to be sad, she should be able to too.

  26. JamieS*

    I disagree this is an interpersonal issue that shouldn’t be escalated at this point. If this was just something bothering OP then yes but something that’s an issue for everyone goes beyond just an interpersonal issue that should be addressed one on one. Also, we have no way of knowing if she is hassling a depressed person. By all accounts, if there’s a depressed person at OP’s office Lenora probably is hassling them.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Some coworkers are annoying and everyone finds them annoying. That doesn’t in and of itself make it appropriate to escalate to a manager. That’s especially true the more senior you become — there’s a point in your career where this really isn’t something you’d take to your boss.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        I was amused when my old supervisor openly said, “Esther is annoying!” to me once. We all knew it but it wasn’t something that we’d go bug anyone about most of the time. Other than “please turn down your radio or use headphones” and “stop ripping on student employees all the time.”

      2. Oh So Anon*

        Agreed, but it becomes tricky to set boundaries with someone like this in a way that doesn’t hurt your own political capital. Taking this kind of issue to your boss isn’t great, but how do you start holding someone accountable for behaviours that are a drag on team morale?

        It’s just frustrating when the rest of us are expected to rein in the things we do that might be widely annoying.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          You try being direct with them — pleasant but firm. Like in the post :)

          That doesn’t work 100% of the time, but it works a LOT of the time and more frequently than any other strategy, which is why I want people to stop avoiding it.

          1. Oh So Anon*

            I agree that we need to be more direct with people like this, yet part of the challenge is that we need backup. If everyone else is mollycoddling the missing stair they end up taking the wrong message away.

      3. JamieS*

        This isn’t just an annoying trait. That’s something like her eating chips at her desk. She’s hassling people and trying to dictate their emotions. That goes beyond an annoying quirk.

        Regardless if it’s causing close to everyone to have an issue it’s something that needs to be addressed. Otherwise it could wind up with people avoiding Lenora which can result in performance or there being a lack of team cohesiveness which can also result in performance issues. Just saying “oh Lenora’s behavior is a problem for most people but her manager doesn’t need to get involved even though it’ll likely eventually cause team performance issues if it hasn’t already” is very short sighted.

        1. Jamie*

          No one is saying it doesn’t need to be addressed and Alison gave some good scripts for doing that. But there is no reason to escalate it before trying to deal with it peer to peer first.

          If my neighbors are playing music too loud late at night I could call the cops, sure, but I’d address it politely with them first and only escalate if that didn’t work.

  27. animaniactoo*

    “Sometimes what makes me happy is being able to feel grumpy or upset and process the emotion so I can let it go. Being pushed to be happy when I’m not filled with joy makes me even more upset than just being temporarily unhappy.”

    paired with:

    “Unless I’m regularly unhappy, please stop trying to get me to be happy or happier than I am right then. I know you mean well, but it’s very annoying to me.”

    Keep in the back of your mind when you say this, that Lenora is probably somebody who has either never been “allowed” to have negative emotions and practice in processing them out, or is somebody who has had a really difficult life somewhere along the way and relentless positivity is her method of coping with it. So you want to push back without making it a problem for HER to continue to be positive and happy for herself. You are talking about the differences in how you handle things as people and this is your way and you’re asking her to respect it and let it be. “Lenora, I’ll make you a deal – I won’t ask you to be more unhappy if you don’t ask me to be happy/ier. Okay? I’m good if you’re happy all day every day and counting every last one of your blessings. That’s a lovely thing, but trying to do that for myself makes me really uncomfortable and I need to be able to do what works for me.”

    1. ArtK*

      I’d leave the “Unless I’m regularly unhappy…” part out. That just gives her an excuse to continue. “But you’re *always* grumpy!!!!!!!” This needs to be shut down, hard. Leonore *must* stop trying to police anyone’s feelings but her own.

  28. Snark*

    Lenora: How are you today?
    Me: Oh I’m just fine, thanks for asking.
    Lenora: Just fine?! Surely you’re WONDERFUL, right? After all-
    Me: Yep, just fine.
    Lenora: But-
    Me: Getting worse now.

    1. Magenta Sky*

      Yeah, my first thought was “The biggest thing making me unhappy is you nagging me about being happy all the time. And the more you nag me, the more unhappy I get. If you truly want me to be happy, then never ask me if I’m happy again.”

      Let it be *her* problem.

      But that might be a tad more aggressive than the boss likes.

      1. Shirley Keeldar*

        Honestly, I think you could soften the language here and be perfectly fine: “Listen, I know you want everybody to be happy. It’s lovely how much you care. But it sometimes feels like pressure to me, you know? What helps me the most is just feeling my own feelings, whatever they are. Sometimes maybe I’m a little down or a little frustrated, and if I tell myself that’s okay, I feel better sooner. It would help help me so much if you’d do that too.”

        I know this is a tad submissive, but if the boss is unlikely to tell Leonora to cut it out, it might work well to play to her desire to be ever so helpful. Good luck, OP! All of us who just like to feel our own feelings in peace are rooting for you!

        1. Magenta Sky*

          Yeah, you *could* soften it, but it sounds like Lenora is more interested in *making* people happy than in them *being* happy, and being blunt brings that into focus for everyone. In other words, it’s not about other people’s feelings, it’s about her being in control.

          As for the director, well, that’s the real problem, and the only real solution to that is to find a different job.

    2. AKchic*

      That might be a way to go.

      Lenora: Just fine?! Surely you’re WONDERFUL, right?
      Me: Nope, now I’m getting frustrated.
      Lenora: But…
      Me: Now I’m getting worse. Perhaps if you quit trying to manage my emotions and make me perform feelings I’m not feeling, I’d start feeling fine again. Fine is an acceptable emotion to share with a coworker. *pointed look*

  29. Insert User Name Here*

    It’s one thing to expect employees to keep a smiling face when they’re facing the public. (I say this as a retail cashier who can usually keep a cheery outward attitude, and sees the importance of doing so.) But to go around an office telling your coworkers they should always be smiling and glad to be there/alive? She needs to be told to stop it. She also needs to realize that her fellow employees may not be smiling eight hours a day every day because they may have issues about which they don’t want to smile.

  30. CupcakeCounter*

    Figure out the Pennywise smile…she’ll stop asking you to smile very quickly. Or show lots of teeth – that works too.

    1. pentamom*

      Lucille Ball had a good fake smile, too. You just sort of stretch your lips back without turning up the corners of your mouth.

      1. Polaris*

        I think Terry Pratchett described a Vimes expression like that once. “He smiled. At least, all of his teeth were showing.”

      2. Princesa Zelda*

        Keep your eyes as open as you can, too. Slowly tilting your head amps up the creepy factor like 10x.

  31. Delta Delta*

    I’m a fan of “I’m super, thanks for asking.” In the right company this leads to singing.

    1. CMart*

      Ha. And now that’s stuck in my head.

      There is an actual nugget of wisdom in just playing Lenora’s game, though. If pushing back on getting her to stop this behavior doesn’t work, I’ve found that fighting aggressive cheer with being aggressively cheerier is a nice shortcut to getting on with my day.

      Lenora: “How are you?”
      Me: “I’m magnificent!! Thank you for asking, how are you today, sunshine?”

      Lenora: “Why aren’t you smiling, it’s a beautiful day?”
      Me: *cheeseball grin, two thumbs up* “A beautiful day indeed. See ya!”

      When I was a bartender I got sick of having the same “just good not fantastic?” conversation multiple times a day with various Cheer Police customers and just defaulted to being amazing, fantastic, marvelous, perfect, splendid, etc… It’s not authentic and in a perfect world one shouldn’t have to feign exuberance to appease others, but IMO the ends justified the means. It was less annoying to say “I’m stupendous, how are you?” than it was to rehash the “but why not” conversation all the time.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      I do a fake cheerful voice and say “Wonderful!” when someone asks me how I’m doing over the phone because I get policed for my voice. I guess I’d have to do that 24-7 around Lenora.

  32. mcr-red*

    My therapist had me take one of those personality tests and said I scored pretty high on the Melancholic Personality side. While all personality types have their strengths and weaknesses, being happy all the time or “positivity” is DEFINITELY not one of my strengths. So I think I’d push back hard on this. “That’s just the way I am, Lenora.” “You saying that all the time isn’t going to change me, Lenora.” “I’m not moping, that’s just me, Lenora.”

    And people who tell me to smile NEVER get a smile. They either get a dead-eyed stare or a glare, depending on my mood.

    And just as a funny sidebar, my therapist, who is kind of on the scale of a Lenora – not annoying, just pretty cheerful and positive on a regular basis – is married to a Melancholic. Opposites attract! And she hasn’t changed him, it’s not a changeable thing!

    1. TL -*

      I’ve worked with a couple of Eeyore types – there’s one in every lab – and honestly I just enjoy the diversity they bring to the office, as a pretty positively inclined person myself (though good God I don’t tell people they should be doing fantastic or to turn their frowns upside down.)

      There’s been a few people where I’m just constantly amused and excited to see how they kinda negatively spin things I will automatically spin as positive. As long as everyone is kind and polite, and they don’t get into whose viewpoint is better or more realistic, there’s plenty of room for a variety of outlooks.

    2. Dagny*

      “And people who tell me to smile NEVER get a smile. They either get a dead-eyed stare or a glare, depending on my mood.”

      I once tossed my tea over my shoulder at someone who told me to “smile!!!”, cuz that’s how I roll.

  33. Knitting Cat Lady*

    The last time a coworker asked me to smile I bared my teeth at him. And growled.
    I also have a coworker who uses ‘You don’t know how lucky you are!’ as a conversation starter.
    The first time he used it on me I was suicidal. I just gave him a LOOK. And I was hospitalised for four months about a week after. Hasn’t tried it on me since.
    Another colleague he tried it on handed him his head on a silver platter, cause here private life (elderly dying relatives, cancer scare, one daughter having mysterious health issues) wasn’t sunshine and daisies.
    The guy has serious health issues. But so do I! And navigating the world as an Aspie is rather exhausting too.

    I think if Lenora were my colleague I’d feed her my copy of ‘Smile or Die’ by Barbara Ehrenreich.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I like the . . . I think it was a Twitter post? About saving up fake blood capsules when they go on sale after Hallowe’en, and biting into one whenever somebody tells you to smile.

      Seriously, though, I’m sort of worried and Lenora. This is unspeakable obnoxious but what has to be going on in somebody’s head that they feel they have to live this way? I mean, I can be an epic grump but at least I can face my negative feelings.

      1. Polaris*

        I remember that one! It was by Zoe Quinn. She’d just had mouth surgery done, and some guy told her to smile. So she did. It was so effective she wanted to get fake blood capsules to recreate it any time.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      Ha yes!

      Who wouldn’t want to work in an office in that world? They’re always smiling so much!

  34. Ariaflame*

    I had a tutor once that didn’t give accurate feedback to students on assignments. They didn’t want to hurt their feelings so they didn’t mark them wrong for mistakes or tell them where they had gone wrong.

    So when those students hit the exam at the end of the semester, they bombed. Because they didn’t know that they had not understood things.

    Framing it so that things can improve is one thing. Pretending that nothing is wrong is quite anohter.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I worked somewhere that taught extracurricular lessons that didn’t believe in giving kids corrective feedback because it will “damage their self esteem.”

      We had a competitive team who was also not allowed corrective feedback, and we had high school students performing on par with first graders on teams that were allowed to give accurate feedback. It is in fact impossible to teach anyone how to do something without correcting them! But we just had to follow the kids around, “great job!! wonderful try!!! but on your next wonderful try maybe try something else?”

      I am fairly certain it was a conspiracy to keep the kids from advancing out of lessons. If they never moved up a skill level, their parents would keep the bucks coming right?

  35. Snark*

    You could also just crank it up.

    Lenora: How are you today?
    Me: I am so unutterably transported by timeless ecstacy I may simply attain enlightenment and become a living bodhisattva if I so much as catch sight of Jane’s corgi calendar.

    Deadpan as hell. Just totally straight face, Daria voice. Do it, OP.

    1. AKchic*

      I do enjoy the Daria method you’ve suggested. It’s definitely something to keep in the back pocket.

  36. Stone Cold Bitch*

    Honestly, I’d be worried about how Lenora is doing. Agressively cheerful people usually aren’t shiny examples of mental health.

    She reminds me of someone who dealt with an abusive childhood by “not letting things get to her” and “focusing on the blessings in life to make them multiply”. I was upset because of a tragic event in my family and she told me I must be cheerful so I didn’t attract more sadness into my life. Luckily, a senior co-worker overheard and said that feeling sad when sad things happen are normal and healthy. I was fresh out of University and this was some of the best advice I’ve gotten.

    A good way of dealing with trauma and sadness is to actually, you know, deal with it.

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          SQQQQQQQQUUUUUUUUUUUUEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!! Have you watched From Russia, With Hate? I love that movie!

    1. fposte*

      I think that that’s something that could be factored into a response, too, both as a tactic and a truth. “Lenora, you know it’s okay to have negative emotions, right? I’m concerned that you find them so unacceptable.”

    2. Oh So Anon*

      It’s a lesson a lot of us learn too late, sadly. I was raised by a parent who was really into “not attracting negativity” and “not dwelling on the past to annoy everyone” and I was probably like 30 before I heard someone out in the wild say that owning your sadness is a thing that healthy adults do.

      I suspect that one of the challenges for people like this is that they never learned that there’s a difference between dealing with your sadness in a constructive and honest way and being inappropriate and FEELINGSBOMBING everyone and everything.

    3. Goldfinch*

      Agreed. The person I know like this has had insanely hard times: multiple house-destroying weather events, a violent stalker, and several miscarriages. She talks a LOT about willing events into reality and not “jinxing” things.

    4. AKchic*

      I hear you. I understand you and your logic.

      But this is work, this is a coworker, and her past, traumas and life (and experiences) aren’t something the LW or other coworkers need to concern themselves with. They just need to get Lenora to stop trying to force them into performative positivity. Lenora can be overly cheerful all she wants, as long as she quits trying to manage *their* emotions and demanding smiles of them (which begs the question – is she only demanding smiles of the women, or are the men also getting told to smile?).
      Lenora’s hypothetical mental state is her own thing to manage, not the office’s. All LW (and her coworkers) need to do is manage themselves and their own reactions to Lenora and her overbearing manner.

      Now, if Lenora were a friend, yes, I would 100% sign on to opening up a tactful, sensitive discussion to broach the subject.

  37. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    All summer I’ve been trying to get the right medical treatment for a painful chronic condition. If someone told me forcefully to “smile” I would burst into tears on the spot and probably cry hard enough to be sent home. She needs to stop now.

  38. Colette*

    I think this is one of those situations where you need to stop indulging Lenora. So a puzzled “I’m not moping”, “People are allowed to not smile if they don’t want to”, “what an odd thing to say”, etc. – just a calm refusal to get on board with expecting people to be visibly happy all the time. And if you are unhappy, it’s OK to say that. “It’s been a frustrating day, and I don’t appreciate being told to pretend everything is fine”, “Actually, I’m dealing with some very upsetting news”, “I’m dealing with a health situation”.

    And you can also just … not hear commands to smile. You don’t have to encourage her by reacting.

    1. Joielle*

      I like “Well, regardless.” for this type of situation. It doesn’t really… mean anything? But it sounds like a response, and it sounds final, and it’s not agreeing or disagreeing or engaging in the conversation at all. You can change the subject or walk away after you say it.

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      Absolutely. The words “I’m fine, thanks” are your friends here. Other possible options:

      – “I’m in the middle of something, Leonora, is there something you need?”
      – “No, this is just what my face looks like.”
      – “I’m not frowning, I’m just concentrating on this right now.”
      – “This isn’t a great time to chat, Leonora, we have a lot to get through.”

      etc. The point to get across is that you’re busy, you’re trying to focus and she’s interrupting you. And +1 to just… not smiling. You don’t have to and she can’t make you.

  39. Master Bean Counter*

    I’d be doing blank wide-eye stares at Lenora. Or smiling with my mouth only, you know the very creepiest kind of smile.
    Honestly at this point in my life I’d look right at her and ask her why she thinks she’s in charge of my emotions. Push the awkward back where it belongs.

  40. Jean*

    I call this “toxic positivity.” These people are mostly well-intentioned victims of bad advice (“Fake it till you make it!” “Smile and it tricks your brain into being happy!”) taken way too far. It’s OK to experience bad feelings sometimes. Never allowing yourself a negative thought or feeling is a fast track to becoming an emotional cripple. It’s OK to ask her to tone it down and let people be.

  41. Aeon*

    It would be so aggravating to have to someone that obnoxious and intrusive trying to emotionally police you at work. I would probably make a point of ignoring her chattering and pretending to be very busy typing every time she came by. Or make a point of looking grouchy every time I saw her, if I was in a situation where I couldn’t ignore her.

  42. Dust Bunny*

    A friend of mine has one of these at her office and I made her a T-shirt that says “POSITIVITY BULLY” that she can wear under her sweaters in silent protest.

  43. Mocking Jay*

    Yikes, reading this letter made my skin crawl. I used to have a Lenora in the office. I’m a fairly serious person if you look at my facial expression only, but I’m actually friendly to everyone most of the time and not even all that serious when socializing, but this didn’t satisfy my Lenora. I started simply telling her “this is how my face is, I’m not upset, don’t worry. Now about that work thing…”

    It did take a while and, like your Lenora, boss wasn’t managing her. After some time of dramatics (including asking me why I didn’t like her a few times), she ended up getting tired because she wasn’t getting the desired reactions from me. She’s since moved on to another department and we have a much better professional relationship now that we’re not seeing each other every day and only have brief conversations when our work overlaps.

    Good luck, OP!

    1. Susan*

      Exactly—Malcolm Gladwell’s new book talks about how trying to guess a person’s feelings based on their facial expression isn’t just error-prone but can actually lead to serious problems, like innocent people going to jail because they didn’t “look” sufficiently grief-stricken. He also shows how people are particularly bad at reading underlying feelings based on facial expressions across different cultures.

      1. Mocking Jay*

        That’s scary. I’m on the spectrum, and a part of how it manifests is that I don’t really express emotion through my face well at all. If you ask what I’m feeling, I’ll be honest, but looking at my face, you’d think I’m bored or disinterested most of the time. Some people have even considered me a snob due to my lack of general expression. It sucks, but it’s not really something I can change without a lot of effort I’m not always able to put into that.

        If something happened where people were to consider me guilty for my lack of facial expression, oh, boy, I’d be toast. I’m also from a country/culture where people are very warm, so it looks even more out of place, even though my behavior is definitely warmer than my expression.

        Basically, it’s illogical, and sometimes it can be downright cruel to require something like this depending on circumstances. But then again, I’m of the school of thought is that what you can require at work is that people do their work in a timely fashion and properly and are polite and professionally friendly towards their coworkers, so there’s that.

  44. Malarkey01*

    Personally I like Allison’s pretty blunt in the moment scripts, BUT if this truly is a sweet lady and you want to try you could take a moment, when she isn’t commenting, and say you know it’s overwhelming for me when you say I’m not happy enough, or not smiling, or need to be more positive. I like my job and being here, but feeling like I need to constantly have on a happy face is too much for me. Would you do me a favor and please stop asking me how I am and to smile?

    It probably won’t work, but at least you have tried and framing it as your problem (even while internally screaming IT’S NOT ME! IT’S YOU! YOU YOU) may make her more likely to actually change which is the end goal (and then buy yourself a drink and say I was right!)

  45. Arctic*

    Honestly, Lenora is probably not going to change no matter what. Even if a manager talks to her.

    But I find this type of behavior so very controlling. It’s a form of bullying and exerting control with actions that are very difficult to complain about to a supervisor (because it sounds like you are complaining about positive attitude, which isn’t the case, at all.) I don’t think Lenora actively sat down and thought “how could I control my co-workers in a way that makes it impossible to complain about?!” But, whether she knows it or not, that’s what is happening.

    I do have a co-worker who tends to catastrophize (basic feedback can be interpreted as being told he’s stupid or that the product was worthless) and I try to put positive spins on stuff when he’s going down a hole. But even then I try to put a check on that and not go to the point of invalidating his feelings.

  46. Environmental Compliance*

    These people irritate me to no end. I have Resting Bitch Face especially when concentrating. I have had people (less intensely that Positivity Police here) badger me about why I look upset. They stop when I very flatly tell them that this is my face, this is what my face does, and this is what my face will continue to be doing when concentrating on work.

    For the one that really pushed the “you need to smiiiiiiiiiiiiile” crap, I have mastered the slow eyebrow raise with a very deadpan look. Works best with the slow blink as well. You don’t say anything, you just let the awkward hang.

    *Disclaimer that this kind of thing drives me up the frickin’ wall, I cannot help how my face looks when I’m concentrating, it’s just my face, and no, I do not exist to smile for you, please just let me do my work without harassing me that I’m not sitting there beaming violently into my computer screen.

    1. Amber Rose*

      I used to have a creepy horror-movie type grin I’d give people who told me to smile. All bulging eyes and stuff.

      Now I just tell people I *am* smiling.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        My sister does that – she can really overtly bulge her eyes and it’s horrifying and awesome. I cannot make a face as cool as that. Instead of upping the horror, I up the ice factor. *shrug*

        I’m also a fan of Jenna Marble’s Horrified Look. I don’t do it, I just laugh hysterically when I watch that video.

    2. AKchic*

      I have the same face “issue”. I don’t find it to be a problem for myself, personally, because I am small and apparently, when you are small, having a “scary” face makes you less approachable (GOOD).

      I can smile. I choose not to. I have to actively try to smile to get a smile on my face. Otherwise – RBF for daaaaaays. I am the master of deadpan expressions.

      Adults seem to find it unnerving, but little kids love me. *shrug*

      1. Joielle*

        Yeah, I take public transit to work and I’ve actively cultivated a default RBF to avoid being approached by men. My default answer to being told to smile is just “no.” Which works pretty well, actually, although that’s with strangers.

        1. AKchic*

          I am downright hostile to strangers telling me to smile. It is 20-friggin’-19. If someone in public is going to tell me to smile, I am going to tell them what will make me smile (their instant demise).

        2. Isabel C Kunkle*

          “Jump off a building and I will,” was my proudest moment. Took Drunk Commuter Rail dudes all sorts of aback, too. (Screw St. Patrick and his day…)

  47. Sloan Kittering*

    If you ever get to plan an office movie night, I suggest “Inside Out” which is about the fact that sadness has a purpose and trying to be happy all the time in unrealistic :P

  48. Jane*

    My last boss wasn’t this extreme, but her constant comments on my face and mood made me leave that job. It wasn’t enough for me to cheerfully say “this is just my face!” or “I’m not upset!” to her, she always *needed* to hear that I was upset or mad about something. Exhausting and invasive. It made my skin crawl. Even my own mother didn’t ask me about my emotions as much as she did.

  49. Auntie Social*

    The grocery store manager in our midwestern home town saw my daughter and me picking up some things and gave us the “smile, it can’t be that bad!” talk. We told him it could be that bad, because my mother had been in an accident and we had just come from identifying her.

    1. Parenthetically*

      I am so sorry this happened to you.

      I’ll never understand people who say crap like that. Truly, in all the years they’ve been dictating other people’s emotions to them, have they NEVER come across a person who just had to put their dog down, or someone who’d just had a miscarriage, or even someone who’d just lost their job? How do you get through life telling people “it can’t be that bad” and not have one person a week just lose their shit at you?!

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Seriously!

        I’ve had people dying on me since I was 12 years old, including my best friend when he was 15 years old. He was the second child his mother had lost in childhood [chronic illnesses]. So maybe I’ve just “seen too much” to ever assume people have nothing! to! be! sad! about! ever!

        Sure, when my dad’s health went sideways fast, it didn’t actually manifest in depression but that’s not the norm. As a pre-teen I remember my mom’s spiral when my grandmother was ill and she was taking care of her and then eventually she passed away. My mom ended up on medication. So yeah, choke on the “Smile, there’s nothing that bad going on!” Lenora.

        And I’m saying this as a person who is generally a jovial person who loves to make people smile but I’m not going to frigging force the subject because I *gasp* actually care about people as a whole and not the frigging sunny face they may put on to make us all feel better about life.

      2. Auntie Social*

        Well Lauren being Lauren, said “You know the awful feeling in your stomach right now? That’s a sign not to say that again.”

    2. juliebulie*

      I just realized that the reason people like Lenora are so irritating to me is is because I usually assume that everyone I see is dealing with a half-dozen serious problems that I don’t know about.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yeah, I think that’s really it for most of us who see the problem with this kind of behavior!

        I don’t assume everyone is dealing with serious problems so much but I always know in the back of my head they might be. I’ve seen people work through cancer quietly or through deaths in family quietly, things that nobody knows is going on because they’re private [which is their right to be!].

        I learned a long time ago to stop making assumptions that “everything is fine” or “everything is awful” and let people lead their own GD lives. Pestering each other is obnoxious and does nobody any good.

  50. Goya de la Mancha*

    I would love for Lenora and “Cancer and Eating Disorder” lady to work together….I would eat all the popcorn.

  51. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Send her here. I’ll show her how to be properly happy and encouraging without being an obnoxious AF company mascot.

    I’ll also drop bombs about how “no not everything is wonderful.” I had someone speak in somewhat the same language to me when I had responded with similar “I’m fine” right after a pretty ugly car accident. “Actually I totaled my car just an hour ago, so no it’s really not wonderful but I’m fine.”

  52. Parenthetically*

    I… would have a drinking problem if I worked with this lady. I genuinely admire you for being able to cope with her for as long as you have, OP.

  53. I'm A Little Teapot*

    If you’ve got the talent for it, the Look with a raised eyebrow can also be quite effective in shutting this sort of thing down.

    1. Jamie*

      My father could say more with his eyebrow than most people can with a dictionary and two thesauruses.

      I did not inherit his eyebrow game but I would use it all the time if I had.

  54. Quickbeam*

    I’m not sure what Lenora’s age (oldest person in the office) has to do with anything. It’s more an annoying trait removed from age. She needs to be dealt with but the age issue is irrelevant.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      A lot of us are explicitly instructed as children that we must respect our elders at all times. It’s a hard habit to break once you hit adulthood. For some people, a Lenora who was within 5 or so years of their own age would be a lot easier to be up front with than a Lenora 20-25 years older. From that perspective, Lenora’s status as one of the office’s elders does matter.

      The key thing for OP to remember is that disagreeing with someone is not the same thing as being disrespectful. Even if Lenora feels that she has been disrespected because you declined to smile when she asked you to, that doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I think it is relevant because Lenora is trying to be a parent/older mentor figure to her coworkers. She’s using the age difference to boss them around. And I am saying this as someone who’s well on her way to becoming the oldest in the office.

      1. Witchy Human*

        And she’s trying to set herself up as an authority. She knows more than the youngs about the power of positivity and smile-smile-smiling, and it’s her job to teach them.

        You think you know what’s best for your own mood and face, but Lenora has more experience with these things, so you should listen to her.

    3. mcr-red*

      It could have to do with, “You’ve been on the planet THIS many years, Lenora, and don’t know this kind of thing really annoys people?”

    4. PVR*

      I somehow missed this when I read the letter and pictured Lenora as a sheltered, inexperienced type. The fact that Lenora is older actually baffles me because surely by now, Lenora has been through some sh*t and knows not everything in life is sunshine and roses, right?

      1. Close Bracket*

        Perhaps having been through shit and learning that life is not all sunshine and roses is what gave her this perspective. Perhaps she’s had cancer and an eating disorder and been long term unemployed and that’s how she knows that having health and employment goes a long way to making life pretty damn good. The fanficing of Lenora’s mental health and probable motivation is really entertaining to me.

    5. AKchic*

      It actually is relevant. A lot of people from older generations have been conditioned that women are supposed to be “love and light” and decorative pieces to cheer up the room and everyone in it and will actively work to not only cheer others, but do what they can to push other women into falling into line and perpetuating that cockamamie notion.

      My grandmother and mother are prime examples. My grandma is a baby boomer. My mom is Gen X. I’m a Millennial. Whenever a man is in the room, regardless of how ill my grandmother is, she will turn on the smiles and charm. She is the consummate hostess even if she can’t leave her bed/wheelchair (whatever the case may be). She will make offers of food and drink and my mother will hop to my grandmother’s every offer, demand and whim because There Is A Man that needs a smile and warmth and love and my grandmother has made the offers and by golly, an able-bodied woman had better be able to provide such things!
      My mother does the exact same things even without my grandmother around. She bakes “treats” for “her boys” at work (we work together). She asks me why *I* don’t bake for “the boys”. Uh… because “the boys” are my age or older, are all married and have families who can bake for them or they can buy their own damned cookies. I’m not in any way beholden to them. Stop baking for them. You aren’t their friend, you’re their coworker. She smiles. She simpers. She defers. Even when they are wrong. If there is any kind of argument between a man and a woman she automatically defers to the man with a smile. She will always assume she is wrong, with a smile, if a man tells her she is. It’s how she was raised/trained.
      The younger generations aren’t as trained to respond that way. There is a marked generational anti-patriarchal shift and I think that we’d be amiss in dismissing it. Yes, Lenora has toxic positivity, but depending on who she targets, this could be a gendered issue too. Is she only targeting women when she is demanding smiles? Are men also expected to perform happiness?

      1. Arts Akimbo*

        Ew. I’m GenX and I guarantee women of my generation were not raised to be quite so mired in the patriarchy as your mom. I’m sorry she internalized so much of it. Maybe I just have a skewed sample of me and my friends and colleagues, though, who knows.

        My mom is a Boomer, and she absolutely fits this description, though! She defers to men even when they’re demonstrably wrong just to “keep the peace,” will drag herself out of her sickbed to host, stay up all night cooking rather than ask anyone for help, and if she does need help she *sure* won’t ask the menfolk!

  55. Pennalynn Lott*

    I’m 53 and have had my fill of people telling me, a woman, to smile. I would have immediately responded to any of the things the OP laid out with, “Wow. What a weird thing to say to someone.” If it happened again I would probably move on to acting confused and asking question after question to make her explain herself. “I’m not sure I understand you.” “Why are you so concerned about my facial expressions?” “What? Why would you ask/say something like that?” “I’m sorry, I still don’t understand what you’re after here.” Just wear her the eff out.

    If she still kept it up, I’d move to, “You know, that’s really intrusive. Please stop trying to manage my emotions and facial expressions. Thanks.”

    Last line of defense would just be a blank stare and then pointedly ignoring her. No awkward chuckle. No explanation. No anything. Turn to someone else and bring up a topic that may or may not include Leonora, depending on how charitable I was feeling in the moment.

    1. I am an Owl*

      I have had really good results with using the word “weird” in describing someones behavior.

    2. mf*

      Yeah, I like this approach. I think if you start explaining to Lenora why you’re not in good mood (“Well actually, my cat needed emergency surgery last night…”), then you are confirming her assumption that your moods are her business. Better to just shut her down from the get-go.

  56. starzzy*

    Yeah, this would not work at all with me, especially telling me to smile when I’m not. I can just see myself responding with, “Please don’t tell/dictate to me how to arrange my face.” Or, as per that scene in Broad City, using my middle fingers to push up the corners of my mouth.

    I can also imagine this going really badly with someone struggling with the recent sickness or death of a loved one. If it was me, I can easily imagine losing it on her because I’d be 9/10 of the way there already.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        I was thinking that I’d have “Everything’s Not Awesome” from the sequel movie cued up for whenever Lenora came near me, but I’m evil like that.

  57. Classic Rando*

    As someone with RBF and an insincere-looking smile, I’ve developed a few ways to combat these comments over the years. Verbal options include “that’s just my face,” “…okay…” “can you stop criticizing my appearance/face?” and/or any piece of bad news you feel like lobbing at her.
    Then there are nonverbal options, which are somewhat more adversarial, so deploy with care. The closed-mouth-smile-that’s-also-a-wince works okay for short infractions where getting rid of her quickly is the easiest outcome.
    If she persists, bearing your teeth in a wide forced grin and staring silently into her eyes can really unnerve these types.
    For bad days, a deadpan, silent frown and stare. Hold it without response until she can bear the awkward silence no longer and absconds to her own overly cheerful corner.
    The key is to be okay with creeping her out a bit. Also, if she makes things awkward with this behavior, don’t try to smooth that over, let her stew in whatever weird situation she creates by harassing you all with this. If everyone pushes back a little, the collective discomfort will hopefully get her to rein it in.

    1. LawBee*

      Can we put an end to the whole RBF thing? You don’t have “resting b*tch face”, you just have a face that has a default expression. I love that you’re pushing back on people who comment on it, but I would DEEPLY love to never see or hear a woman refer to her face as “resting b*tch face” ever again. (And yes, I’m assuming you’re a woman because I have never ever seen or heard a man refer to himself like this.)

        1. LawBee*

          It really bothers me that women aren’t allowed to just have a neutral expression without it being described as a bitch face. A face is just a face. YMMV, but men don’t have “resting asshole face”, they just have faces.

          1. CMart*

            I feel like this is probably a derail, but men absolutely “look mean” or, as I lovingly tell my husband “have a serial killer face” or even self-describe as having RBF. And there is also a difference between people whose neutral faces look angry or annoyed (RBF, serial killer eyes etc…) and people whose neutral faces simply don’t look happy.

            Many women would not say their neutral expression is “resting bitch face”. Mine is “resting friendly face” because even if I don’t look actively happy I apparently look incredibly approachable.

            I’m not arguing that RBF isn’t gendered, it is. But I’m not convinced it’s as insidious as you perceive it to be.

          2. The Rocoulm*

            I had never thought about this before, but now that you mention it, I completely agree with you. The biggest challenge in replacing it will be to find something snappy. Resting I-Got-No-Time-For-Your-Shit Face is gender-neutral and does the right work but isn’t going to catch on anytime soon.

      1. AKchic*

        I am A-Okay with calling it RBF. I’m a woman. Yes, it’s my default look. Yes it’s my natural resting position for my face. Who cares if people are intimidated because it looks scowl-y and not happy. I’m still okay with calling it RBF. It’s adequately descriptive.

    2. Classic Rando*

      Another (maybe sorta kidding) option, if you want to try the mortification route… if there’s anyone on the team who is not currently going through something difficult but has the ability to cry on command… do that when she goes into her “just fine?” spiel.

  58. Who Moved My Bees?*

    I generally take Alison’s approach with people like this, but I make sure to decisively end the interaction as soon as I’ve reinforced my disagreement. Like:

    Lenore: “Just fine? Aren’t you wonderful?”
    Me: “Nope, but that’s okay! Anyway, gotta get back to it.” *walks away (or, if at desk, looks at computer screen/puts headphones on/etc.)

    Or, if in a group situation where you can’t walk away/put headphones on:

    Lenore: “Turn that frown upside down! What’s there to be sad about?”
    Me: *shrugs* “Just another day of complex personhood.” *turns to different person and pointedly initiates new topic of conversation*

    For the person to push past that point takes a lot of risk and effort, especially as more people start to notice. But in the rare instance that they do keep pushing, I just smile, shrug, and repeat the “end interaction” sequence. If it becomes a chronic thing, I’ll stick to one response every time — “You know my feelings about this” — before I end the interaction. It’s been pretty effective for me!

    1. Joielle*

      I love “just another day of complex personhood.” Or maybe “life is a rich tapestry” (one of my favorite phrases for any use).

  59. Rusty Shackelford*

    I think this is another situation where “what an odd thing for you to say to me” is a good comeback.

    “Just good? Not FANTASTIC?”
    “Wow. What an odd thing for you to say to me.”

    1. tired anon*

      I was thinking almost exactly that: “What a weird thing to say to a coworker! Anyway, I have to get back to ____.” (look away, go back to work, do not smile.)

  60. What The Fork Is A Chidi*

    Man, I do not have the skills to deal with that type of person. I have resting bitch face and actually get angry when people start the whole “are you angry?” Routine when I’m not. I really hope OP can get her to stop imposing “positivity”, what a nightmare

    1. LawBee*

      You have a face that has a default expression. You don’t have “resting bitch face” – don’t buy into this cultural THING that people (women) have to always have a pleasant happy open and inviting expression at all times regardless of what is going on in our heads.

      Your face is your face and it is FINE and it defaults to whatever.

      1. msjwhittz*

        Hey LawBee, you’re kinda sorta doing a Lenora thing about RBF right now. People are allowed to call their default face whatever they want, thanks.

        1. LawBee*

          Hey, kinda sorta not really. I’m not saying they have to be amazing and happy and smiling all the time – just pointing out that RBF is inherently gendered against women, but YMMV.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            No, you are definitely policing other people’s descriptions of their own expressions. It’s not OK. (BTW, men also have RBF.)

        2. Isabel C Kunkle*

          Yep. I don’t know if I have RBF or not, but if I do, I’ll wear the label proudly–I am indeed a bitch, and if I’m not resting, I’d probably like to be.

      1. What The Fork Is A Chidi*

        Ser? My brain doesn’t think that way, It just goes “give them a dirty look and growl “no!” and stuff like that :p I hope I remember this next time it happens

        1. What The Fork Is A Chidi*

          It was “See?” My native language is spanish and my autocorrect changes some english words into spanish ones

  61. You can call me flower, if you want to*

    Yikes LW, you have my sympathy. I agree with Alison’s advice. I think the trick here to be matter-of-fact. “Why aren’t you smiling?” “I’m trying to concentrate on the ABC reports, I’m not focusing on my facial expression right now.” You can even say it warmly, but without smiling. Maybe this dial her down a bit. You’re just stating facts. Also, since she’s such a positive person you could try a broader conversation “Hey Lenora thanks for doing x this is awesome, but the comments about smiling are becoming a bit much. I’m just trying to focus.” If you say it warmly, you might get somewhere. Yikes, good luck!

  62. A*

    Ugh. I know this is terrible, but people like this are so positive (and positively pushy) that… I just want to punch them in the face.

  63. Hedgehug*

    Has anyone attempted to tell her to stop? Otherwise she assumes you all require her pep talks to get through your day and she thinks she’s your personal hero.
    Just push back. When she gets all creepy-chipper, just tell her, “Lenora I’m so sorry it’s taken me this long to say, but a lot of us actually don’t like when you tell us to smile and be happy. It’s having the opposite effect of your intentions.” And if she gets upset and angry, just tell her to turn her frown upside down and go back to your work.

  64. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    Ugh. I am absolutely, totally, positively pacifist. I wouldn’t hurt a fly. But anyone who told me to ‘turn that frown upside down’ would get a slap.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I once had an (older female) coworker randomly appear in front of me and tell me to “Smile!” I stared in total puzzlement, like she’d told me to strip naked, and asked “Why?”

      It went over really well. Never had it happen again. Highly recommend.

  65. Justfinethanks*

    Be completely and over the top honest.
    Lenora: How are you today?
    Me: Oh I’m just fine, thanks for asking.
    Lenora: Just fine?! Surely you’re WONDERFUL, right? After all-
    Me: Actually No I am not fine. I am just saying that so you’ll leave me alone. My commute sucks balls. It takes me 50 mins, when it should take 30. I spilled coffee on my shirt. My husband basically does nothing around the house so I have to do it all. My 2 year old, cant sleep unless she is in bed with us. I haven’t had a decent nights sleep in 8 years, sine my oldest was born and I haven’t had good sex in months. SO LENORA….. I am just fucking fine. Thanks for asking.
    Lenora: ::Blinks slowly and backs away::

  66. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    How about saying “my dog died” next time she pulls this crap.

    In fact, every time she pulls this crap.

  67. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Everyone needs to confront her in the moment (rinse and repeat) and maybe she’ll finally get it. Address it in the moment, and then either walk away or ignore her. Her and I would throw down if I had to work with her. I have RBF and just because I may look unhappy, doesn’t mean I am – it’s just my face. Not to mention people do have bad days and go through things that may make them look unhappy and her comments are not helpful.

  68. lilsheba*

    I have to deal with this nonsense on a company level at my work place. I HATE IT. I just want to be left alone, and not told to smile all the time. I’m very introverted, just leave me alone.

  69. Senor Montoya*

    Some other, more direct things to say:

    Are you saying you don’t like my face? Wow, that’s really hurtful, Lenora.

    It doesn’t matter what you intended, your words are hurtful/offensive/bothering me/inappropriate/etc. Please stop saying that/Please stop telling me to smile/Please stop commenting on my face/Please stop commenting on how I look

    1. Jamie*

      I have pushed back in the past using “please stop commenting about my face/looks” and each time (same person) it derailed into how it wasn’t at all about my face/looks but attitude. Could work with a peer maybe, but owner of a company didn’t like to be pushed back on anything that sounded vaguely accusatory.

  70. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Lenora made me think of a friend I had at an OldJob, who was a woman probably Lenora’s age – in her late 40s then – and who was famous in the office for always replying to “How are you?” with a deadpan “Freakin’ wonderful.” Lenora needs someone like my friend in her life. You know, to keep her grounded in reality and whatnot.

  71. not really a lurker anymore*

    I’ll bet once a coworker hears you pushing back on this, using the assorted scripts here, they will start using them too.

  72. AnitaJ*

    I worked with a young woman who, every time you said hello to her, would ask “How can I improve your life today?” I’m not exaggerating, every time. Finally someone privately told her that it was uncomfortable to be confronted with that on a regular basis and it was making her look very juvenile. (The young woman responded with something like “I’ll stop saying it to you but overall I’ve gotten positive feedback on it so I’m gonna keep doing it”.) It was exhausting.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      And not one person had ever told her “by leaving”? You have very patient coworkers!

    2. miss_chevious*

      I would be fine with “I’ll stop saying it to you.” I’m not out to solve the problems of the world, I would just want to solve this girl’s interaction with me.

  73. Elenia*

    All my life I have been told to smile. You know what’s super annoying? I am a positive person already! I smile a LOT! I am pretty happy and always try to look at the bright side of things. But even I am told I don;t smile enough. I cant just sit there all day beatifically smiling at nothing.

  74. SusanIvanova*

    There’s a classic Doctor Who episode: “The Happiness Patrol”. Get past the cheesy costumes and sets, and it’s really an amazing story. Lenora sounds like she stepped right out of it. And the moral? “Happiness is nothing unless it exists side by side with sadness. “

    1. LCH*

      “Happiness is nothing unless it exists side by side with sadness.” someone get Leonora this motivational poster, stat!

    2. mcr-red*

      There was a newer one too, with these robots that if you didn’t smile and act happy, they would get you.

    3. Anonny*

      I personally feel the cheesy costumes, unsubtle parody of Bertie Bassett, and the completely bats Margaret Thatcher stand-in are all part of the charm.

    4. Caitlin Burrows*

      Or like that Halloween episode of the Simpsons where Flanders was in charge of everyone and everything and it was illegal to not be cheerful.

  75. Elbe*

    I’m sure Lenora means well, but this would drive me up a wall. The LW and her coworkers are more patient than I am.

    If the LW wants to have a conversation about this with Lenora, there are a couple of talking points that could be helpful:

    – Emotional Labor. Is Lenora familiar with this term? Because expecting employees to perform cheerfulness is yet another thing that requires effort from them.

    – “After all, we’re here and healthy and we have good jobs, so what is there to mope about?” She’s saying this like it’s a rhetorical question, but there could actually be some legitimate responses to this. People have plenty of reasons – big and small – to be bummed on any given day. It’s a massive assumption to think that everyone is healthy. And even if they are, people’s pets die, their relatives get sick, loved ones move away, they can fight or break up with a SO, etc. Assuming that everyone should be happy is VERY presumptuous and crosses a lot of boundaries. It’s not professional to assume that you know someone’s entire life.

    1. Third or Nothing!*

      I mean, I was super sad yesterday and didn’t understand why. Then figured out that I got the Taper Blues – turns out when you go from a high level of exercise to a lower level it can cause a physiological response for a few days (it actually made me feel better that this was normal!). There are so many random reasons not to be ecstatic at any given moment.

  76. Former Help Desk Peon*

    I’d probably try a very sincere question. “Lenora, why is it that my being myself isn’t good enough for you? You spend so much time telling me how I *should* feel, that you must think there’s something seriously wrong with how I *do* feel”.
    It’s worked for me, but only with people who are actually nice, and care, but don’t get how they’re coming off to others.

  77. LadyCop*

    Ah. The other side of the men who tell you to smile coin…the older woman who tells you to smile.

    How nice it must be for her to presume one is in good health…

  78. Camille McKenzie*

    Why is there ALWAYS someone like this in an office?

    Just a few weeks ago, Dear Prudence had a letter about this type of person who was downright out of control with it. To make matters worse, it wasn’t even sincere, it was just so everyone would praise her for being such a “fine Christian woman.”

    1. lilsheba*

      wait, there’s a website called Dear Prudence? Like the Beatles song? Oh hell I gotta find this.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        (completely offtopic) Dear Prudence’s message board was my first ever internet community. I wandered into it in early 2000, and all of a sudden a few months later, I had befriended several people to the point of exchanging real names and contact info, and was somehow considered a member of a “Dear Prudence clique” (lol). I mean, I am not proud of 90% of what I wrote on there – that was during my conservative/religious phase, and also when I was a parent of two young children (you know how a lot of people are experts on parenting when their own kids are under 7? Well I was one of them.) But still somehow made friends and even met a few of them in person. I’m still FB friends with, and talking to, one person that I met on there. Eventually we all kind of faded away from that board, but for a while, it was a good community to be a part of. And yes, it’s a column at Slate (though the person who writes as Prudie has changed at least twice since I was active on there).

  79. Workfromhome*

    OP you are a much more patient person than I am. This type of thing is a pet peeve of mine. There are some people in my life who will sometimes tell me something that makes me unhappy or is very frustrating. I take a great care not to react quickly or yell etc.. I often take a moment or two to process it and gather myself before responding as calmly as I can. Yet its often impossible not to tighten your jaw or tense up a little when you first hear the news. When I hear “You shouldn’t be frustrated or you should not feel upset” it drives me crazy. I cant control how I feel only how I react. As long as I don’t say anything to indicate I’m frustrated then let me tighten my jaw. Maybe I’m not actually frustrated but I sure a heck will be now .

    Now that I have my rant out my point is that once you have tried some of the scripts above I think you are justified in being extremely direct to the point that some would considered rude.
    “Lenora: Why aren’t you smiling?
    You: I was in the middle of thinking about a project.
    Lenora: It’s a beautiful day and there’s no reason to frown!
    You: I was thinking about a project but NOW I am frowning because I am tired of you commenting on what you think my emotional state is or should be. I’ve asked you repeatedly to stop. Do you understand what I’m asking of you? Do you understand that your comments are unwanted and harassing? If you cannot do as I’ve asked I will no longer respond to you if it doesn’t pertain to work. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”

    Once someone has told a coworker their comments are unwanted (be it because they are sexual, about their appearance etc.) continuing is harassment.

    My guess is Lenora will get all teary eyed and try to excuse her behavior with comments like “I’m just trying to bring positivity” But that fact is that if she truly cares about other’s happiness she’ll stop because its making people unhappy. YMMV but I’d be wilkli9ng to deal with the fallout of calling her on her crap.

  80. KnowsWhereHerTowelIs*

    I used to have a coworker who did this to me at a time where I was very depressed and, as I was a younger woman and they were an older dude, there was definitely an element of sexual harassment to it (as basically all situations where you’re being told to smile are). Eventually I had a day where I was admonished for not smiling and just, without pause, responded, “Well, my grandfather just died” while making full eye contact.

    They stopped asking me to smile after that although, to be fair, I did eventually get fired for “not being a culture fit” because I “didn’t seem happy” because being a woman in the workforce is always so fun -_-

  81. Consultant Catie*

    I wonder if someone could pull her aside and say something like, “Hey Lenora, you obviously care a lot about how our team is doing, so I wanted to bring this up – people may be going through hard times, health crises, etc. that we don’t know about. I can tell you want people to feel comfortable in their working space, and I think if you stopped with the aggressive positivity it would actually help people be happier here.”

    It sounds like she really likes to be in other people’s business and stay abreast of their emotions, so “helping” her with her mission might be an effective way to engage her.

    1. Consultant Catie*

      And, depending on her personality/receptivity to this type of stuff, you might be able to talk about how telling people to “smile” or “why aren’t you happy??” is really gendered, and her playing the role of the positivity police is playing into and reinforcing that dynamic.

  82. Miranda DeVille*

    Our culture likes extremes. “Give 110%!” Extreme sports, extreme competition, extreme wealth, we even have contests for extreme eating (e.g. Coney Island hot dog eating contest every summer).

    This feels like an extension of that aspect of our culture. Therefore it can feel challenging to push back against.

    Some people find they can’t handle anything other than 100% positive all the time, and then they read negativity into places where it doesn’t exist. I left a job in part to get away from such a person. In her own way she was more negative than most.

    Lenora seems like she never learned to be comfortable around others’ discomfort. I wonder how she manages when someone close to her is very ill or in an otherwise challenging situation. Glad I don’t know her.

  83. Vivien*

    Is Lenora a member of the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God? Where smiling means you will become happy and joyous, so you should smile ALL THE TIME because that is totally how happiness works?

    1. Vax is my disaster bicon*

      To Desert Bluffs with her! (But seriously, I love that Welcome to Night Vale storyline. Such good commentary on forced positivity and what it often hides.)

  84. hbc*

    I wonder if you could get any traction on the more invasive comments/orders and by showing her she’s actively bringing down the mood. “It makes me sad when you complain about my face.” “When you correct me about how I feel, it’s very distressing.”

    1. Carlie*

      That was my thought also. When I’m having a good day but my face doesn’t show it, my mood gets really brought down by someone telling me I don’t look good enough. When I’m having a bad day and barely holding it together but trying so hard to pass as ok , the last thing I need is for someone to tell me I’m doing a bad job at it. There’s just no scenario in which telling me to cheer up results in me cheering up. It’s like trying to tell an angry person to calm down. That has never once in all of history worked, yet people keep trying.
      Maybe if you keep telling her she is making you feel bad, she will stop. Not incredibly likely, but maybe.

  85. ACDC*

    I had a coworker who was in similar age to me (I was early 20’s at the time, she was late 20’s) who would always tell me to smile, ask why I was angry, etc. etc. Sorry I don’t smile at my computer while typing? Sorry this is the arrangement of my face? I don’t miss her at all, that behavior was so irritating.

  86. MotherOfCats*

    I work with several Lenoras. The pass sticky notes to everyone with cheery phrases from self-help books. I hide in my office a lot.

  87. Not Me*

    My mother was just like this. I was always criticized for being “angry” if I didn’t have a perky happy expression on my face. I could be in a perfectly good mood and she would go off about how I’m always mad and frowning all the time. Of course, after she got done I WAS mad!

  88. AnotherKate*

    I like the idea of characterizing what she’s doing in a different way. “Why are you criticizing my face?” is a good one because it may shock her a bit. She’ll surely deny that that’s what she MEANT, but then you can easily jump in as she sputters and say, “That’s how it feels to me, which as you can imagine does not encourage me to feel happier.”

    But I also think simply refusing to indulge her after you’ve told her to stop once is the best long-term solution.

  89. TotesMaGoats*

    I would be willing to come back with something personal and clearly not happy going on just to make her stop. But that’s me. I know most people don’t like to share on that level.
    Lenora: Why aren’t you smiling? We have jobs and are healthy.
    Me: Well, Lenora, if you must know <>

    There was this old man at my church as a child who said every day was “marvelous, simply marvelous” and expected people to agree and smile. He caught my mom with that right after her dad died suddenly. Let’s just say that there was a “word of prayer” and he never did that again with her.

  90. Buttons*

    Peter Gibbons: Let me ask you something. When you come in on Monday, and you’re not feelin’ real well, does anyone ever say to you, ‘Sounds like someone has a case of the Mondays’?
    Lawrence: No. No, man. Sh*t, no, man. I believe you’d get your ass kicked sayin’ something like that, man.
    -Office Space (1999)
    Seriously, do not police my face, my moods, or my work.

  91. Mannheim Steamroller*

    Lenora: “Why aren’t you smiling?”
    Me: “Because Wee Willie’s Widgets is paying me to WORK, not to smile.”
    Lenora: “But it’s all sunshiny outside!”
    Me: “Then go outside and let me finish designing the user interface for the Widget-Bot 5000.”

  92. Beancounter Eric*

    My response to Lenora-types is to stare at them with the most neutral expression I have, tap my chest, and say “I’m smiling….in here, where it counts.”

  93. Cheesehead*

    OP, did she just start this or has she always been like this since you began working there, and it’s now just reached the boiling point? I don’t know why, but I originally got the impression that this was a somewhat new behavior. If it is, I have to wonder what made her start cross-examining people?

    Regardless, I agree to just not give into her whims about smiling/being happy/not saying anything negative.
    “It’s not realistic to expect everyone to be smiling and on top of the world whenever you talk to them. I get that your intent is good, but being frequently cross-examined if I don’t happen to be smiling at any given moment has the opposite effect that I think you want.” (You can even add a “please stop” at the beginning of that, so the request has been made.)
    “Yup, just ‘fine’. I was ecstatic two minutes ago, but I guess you missed it.”
    “No, thank you. IR