One of the things I do that makes people think I'm cheerful is whistling. I don't go over the top with it but I do frequently whistle (quietly) for no apparent reason. I've found it's self-reinforcing. Whistling is accepted to be a sign of cheerfulness. Start whistling and you tend to feel more cheerful.
I've always had a soft spot for this postcard sized sign by Sydney artist Nick Bleasel:
You can tell a lot about a person from the way they react to it. Normal humans will usually smile and maybe start whistling. Some freaks of nature will be seriously affronted by it. In one particularly dysfunctional workplace, a freakishly depressed cow-orker insisted I take it down (the postcard was stuck to my monitor). Apparently, she couldn't deal with the possibility that people might spontaneously whistle in her general vicinity. Or maybe she was opposed to cheerfulness.
In case anyone thinks I'm being overly cynical with that last point, let me give you an unpleasant truth. There are many people in this world who are actively opposed to the idea of other people being cheerful when they are not. Particularly at work.
This was brought home to me in a previous workplace where a large scale project was going seriously off the rails. People everywhere were concerned that the project would be canned and they would lose their jobs. Rightly concerned as it turned out. It was made painfully clear to me how bad morale was one day when someone asked me how I was doing.
I went beyond assuming this was a banal and meaningless piece of small talk. I responded honestly. Great, I said, I'm having a lot of fun testing some gadgets. The particular sub-project I was on involved assessing the viability of a range of signature capture and imaging hardware and software. As I'm a bit of a gadget head (OK, I'm a nerd) this was actually fun for me.
Divulging that I was actually enjoying myself engendered some serious hostility. I could have dealt with someone moaning their work wasn't as interesting but I was actively attacked for having the audacity to enjoy what I was doing. Lesson learned: never tell depressed people that you're happy.
I started thinking about all of this after being told at my current workplace that I'm cheerful. Just now I passed someone while I was whistling and they commented on how cheerful I sounded. I didn't think anything of it at first. They didn't sound too resentful. But then I thought about it: this was at least the third time in the last week someone had commented on me being cheerful. A definite warning sign.
This workplace has undergone a significant amount of change in the last few months. That old corporate favourite, the "re-org" is in full swing. I'm starting to think this may be getting to people. The fact that I have already made plans to move on means I don't care about the re-org. It looks like my psychic powers have paid off again.
So that's my warning for today kids: watch out for people commenting on how cheerful you are. It may not be a negative thing at first but it's like the canary in the coalmine. It's your early warning signal that things aren't going well. The time to do something about problems is before they get serious so don't take the warning signs lightly.