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“If I had shame about laughing in public, I’d have nothing left.”

My friend jokingly replied with these wise words when I encountered him laughing maniacally over his Akeno Sushi in the Johnson Center and asked, “You alright over there, bud?” 

Prior to this exchange, my day had been miserable. It was pouring rain, I had just done badly on a quiz, I had six major assignments due the next day, and I had a headache. I was determined to believe that nothing could turn this day around. I came to the JC to clear my head and get some work done, but I found myself irritated by everyone and everything around me. In fact, I had just moved tables because the large group nearby kept laughing loudly, and I was infuriated by their lack of self-awareness.

Too often, we expect those around us to cater to our current mood. When angry, it seems any expression of joy is insensitive and abrasive. We want those around us to match our volume, mannerisms and mindset. 

This phenomenon is visible in nearly every public space through judgmental glances, unwarranted shushing, eyerolls and other passive-aggressive actions. Anywhere that different emotional energies interact, there is tension. 

By choosing to label all positive emotion as bothersome, the angry and upset willingly close themselves off to any influence that could possibly lift their spirits. Furthermore, the cloud of frustration projected by an irritable person has the power to sedate the joy felt by others. 

By commenting on my friend’s laughter, I pulled him out of his positive experience and forced him to defend his emotional expression. Why should he have to justify his joy while I unashamedly exude negativity? 

These revelations hit me like a tsunami, and suddenly the absurdity of my day up to that point became apparent. I started to laugh. In a few seconds, my perception of the world seemed to completely overturn and I was overcome with gratitude for the cackling cohort in the corner and the jovial demeanor of my friend. Bad experiences happen and my brief encounter will not change the weather, my grades or an oncoming migraine, but it did change my outlook. 

Positivity is contagious. A horrible mood is only sustainable if every ounce of potential joy is rebranded as an annoyance. Often, the only difference between an atrocious day that keeps getting worse and an enjoyable day with a few humorous hiccups is the internal decision we make of how to interpret the sequence of events.

We can choose to view social encounters as an opportunity for an energy boost, not a chore to be endured. We can choose to surround ourselves with laughter instead of moving to the corner filled with other sad, quiet loners. We can choose to laugh along, even if we don’t fully understand why those around us are happy. 

When you next find yourself irritated by the apparent abrasiveness of another person’s happiness, choose instead to allow their positivity to raise you up. 

The next time you laugh in public, take my friend’s words to heart — don’t shame yourself for offering joy to those who choose to receive it.