How to stop those non-smiling people from taking over your mind

How to stop those non-smiling people from taking over your mind

Lately I’ve been feeling hurt and tantrummy at the number of people that I smile at who return my bright smile with a cold, dull eyed, nothing.

I’ve realised I only really care when it’s females that don’t smile back, not males. Or maybe it’s that most dudes smile back, or at least don’t look back coldly.

Or that I feel they don’t have so many agendas going on.

Expat locals and Balinese alike in Ubud seem big fans of not-smiling-back.

It’s massively triggering for little old Andrea, who wants to please and be liked by everyone, even arrogant people who think they’re worth more than others and don’t ask any questions when spoken to, and superior-acting “spiritual” people who have confused wearing-feathers-and-mala-beads-and-crocheted-earth-coloured-clothes-while-espousing-veganism-while-holding-a-leather-bag with actually practicing any form of spirituality.

Because really, even though a lot of those people annoy my mind, I still just want everyone to like me.

Which makes it hard to blog so publicly, because, gasp, what if someone doesn’t like what I’m saying? Luckily for me I see little evidence of people hating on me because most people just hate in silence or hopefully unfollow me. Every now and then I get a random hater and I feel privileged to have enough reach to attract trolls! I always try to start a rational conversation about their hating, it’s very entertaining.


When I smile at someone while directly looking into their face; a person I walk past, a waitress, a person at my co-working space; and they just leave me hanging like a fool, a small, cheerful butterfly inside me stops flapping.

For some reason in Bali it happens a lot. Yet the Balinese are super smiley friendly people, so I suspect it’s only in the tourist-filled areas where the locals are really just sick of smiling at annoying tourists, and fair enough too. But the expats here are the worst. A lot of them appear to feel very important, or perhaps it doesn’t give off the “enlightened” vibe when you return a smile?

I thought hippies were all meant to be kind and loving? Doesn’t that include smiling?

So I’ve started to look inward at why I so desperately need people’s smile-approval. Because clearly I’m not going to get it, and short of becoming a non-smiler just to make myself feel less vulnerable to non-smiling-attack (perhaps that’s the flow on effect that’s happened here?), I don’t want to keep feeling like someone is shooting tiny daggers at me just because I don’t get a return smile.

My wounded reaction is disproportionate to the reality of the situation.

I’ve decided that this is probably just a flow on from my I-don’t-fit in panicky primary, intermediate and high school days.

I positioned myself as the “nice” one, the one that tries to be kind to everyone, the bitches, the geeks, the in betweeners, the cool kids,

the alternative kids.

I was always an inbetweener myself, I didn’t really fit in any one group. I was sporty but not cool enough to fit the cool group. I was academic but too hell bent on trying to be cool to be fully in the geek group. I was a prefect and annoying overachiever, and following a very traumatic bullying incident by my three close girl friends, I was lucky to be rescued into a group of amazing girls who were called “the smart group” at high school, We were a group full of prefects and overachievers. I have a feeling we may have been called some other name outside the group.

But I never fully trusted them or got very close, because I’d learnt what close girl friends can do to you.

So I guess I learnt to never trust or fully open myself up to females, which has been a bit of a lifelong problem for me in making really deep friendships, apart from those amazing, patient girls who persevered with me and my insecurities from school all the way til now.

I also couldn’t make close friendships with guys because I was always worried they would think I was hitting on them, even if I was I didn’t want them to know. So whether they were single or not, I also never allowed myself to get really close to any males either.

Which meant that I was a total black sheep, flitting between groups, and later between countries, making surface friends everywhere I went, but never getting any deeper, and never quite fitting in.

I think it’s why I feel so safe travelling –

the start of friendships is easy for me, well, easyish, so long as we’re not in a group where my I-don’t-fit-in panic alarm goes off. But as soon as it’s time to become closer friends, I miss the cues, make it awkward, then back away metaphorically.

I recently saw a couple of girls on a scooter in Byron bay, speeding around with their beach hear streaming in the wind, screaming their heads off with laughter, hugging each other closely like they’d been friends for life, and with a pang of sadness I realised, I’m not a person who has friends like that. I’m too stand-offish. Even my friends I’ve known forever, we’re quite close, but we’re not like that.

The thought of it scares me. I maintain my distance, both physically and emotionally, even in close relationships.

So instead, it has become important to me that everyone likes me. If I don’t seem like the kind of person that people can get close to, I at least want them to know I’m approachable and warm.

And so I smile.

My warmest smile. The more intimidated I feel the more I smile.

And when they don’t reciprocate, I immediately think “oh god, they hate me. They find me annoying. I’m doing something wrong. They think I’m a people pleaser”. These thoughts run through my mind even when a random I’m passing in the street gives me a cold look, even the shop assistants at the coco mart laughing in Balinese. I assume they hate me too.

I have no idea what causes some people to just not be bothered smiling at anyone else, maybe they find it a waste of energy, they could be really unhappy or bored, they could be busy in their own head, they could be protecting themselves with a big unfriendly guard.

Are you a non smiler? Perhaps you can tell me your reasoning. I’m sure there are many valid ones.

I know it’s probably nothing to do with me at all. So I need to unlearn this learnt reaction.

So I’ve decided on a project for myself for the next week:

Project Don’t Be a People Pleaser.

I’ll not be smiling willy nilly just to seek people’s smile-approval. I’ll not be smiling to make myself feel liked.

I will still smile.

It’s really ingrained in me, and kindness is one of my highest values.

But I’ll be practicing smiling without expectation and without internal tantrums when I don’t get a return smile.

When I smile and someone doesn’t return serve, my aim is to observe my emotional response without analysing the situation with my mind and making it into a catastrophe.

Instead of following my mind on a rant, I’ll be observing the sensations that arise in my body.

Then getting on with my day with a smile.

Have you checked out our blog lately? I’ve written about overcoming procrastination, increasing confidence, and how not to lie awake at night thinking so much (among many other things)! Check out all our posts here.


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G'day, I'm Andrea

I'm a mindfulness facilitator and former cynical pessimist.

I used to be an awkward, pessimistic, overachiever.

Life looked good on the outside, but on the inside things were average.

I was indecisive, I didn't know what to do with my life, I self-sabotaged the hell out of my relationships.

I had a feeling I was going to keep f-ing things up for myself unless something radical changed.

The life handbrake-turn that followed over the next few years came as the result of learning what I now teach in my unconventional mind-taming program for indecisive overachievers - Bloody Good Life. Just practical, relatable techniques without any rainbow and butterfly jibber jabber.