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Things seem to be rolling right along in the alternate universe where a reality TV star shocked Democrats, pollsters, Republicans, and apparently even himself by being elected President. Comedians are salivating over a tsunami of new material unimagined since Joe Biden was named Vice President.
People around the world are asking Google who this man is and what his reign might mean for them, and that lets us peer deep into the psyche of the average Internet user to precisely identify the pressing questions they are pondering. I typed in “Is Donald Trump” and Google immediately suggested what it assumed I wanted to know, probably in order of how often it has been asked before:
- The first option, the deep question mankind is grappling with right now, is apparently, “Is Donald Trump dead?” For some people I am certain this is wishful thinking, but given the 24/7 news coverage it seems pretty pointless to ask. NOTE TO SECRET SERVICE: I AM JUST REPORTING WHAT GOOGLE SAID, NOT THREATENING ANYBODY.
- “Is Donald Trump in Home Alone 2?” Yes. Move along.
- “Is Donald Trump president?” This one took me a while to figure out, but picture the scene: millions of people go to bed on election night, believing what every poll has told them for weeks. Suddenly, at 2 am, they are jolted awake, as if, in the words of Obiwan Kenobi, “millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror,” and they stumble to the computer to type out their terrified question. Obiwan’s fears were justified: “I fear something terrible has happened.”
- “Is Donald Trump left handed?” Never has a Presidential election fixated so doggedly on a politician’s hands. The last time this happened was in 1850 when candidate Millard Fillmore was rumored to have two thumbs on his right hand. A lot of people checked Google for that back then, just like you probably will now. Fillmore was a member of the “Whig” party, which today is looking better and better. He was also the only President so far named Millard, but as we learned November 8th, the future is utterly unpredictable.
The next suggestions were similarly helpful, asking if Donald Trump is hispanic, healthy, or high, but the one I was looking for finally appeared: Is Donald Trump happy? I first wondered about this question after a writer noted that Trump is rarely seen smiling, even when it seems like he should be. You can find pictures of Trump smiling broadly, but most of them are from his younger days when he was pursuing smaller goals like becoming a billionaire. Many photos which show him ‘smiling’ seem to depict sort of a sneer, like an evil French waiter might give you, or a pained “why did Mom make us get dressed up for the family portrait” half-smile. In fact Google was surprising unhelpful in answering my question, though I did learn that Trump is right-handed and Obama left-handed, which seems appropriate.
Sixteen months ago, before the concept of President Trump emerged from the haze of the primary season, Dan Hill noted that for such a rich guy, Trump, “looks kind of sad.” Hill analyzed several of Trump’s speeches and found three emotions he fully expected: anger (a Trump trademark), disgust and contempt, both fitting for a man running for a government job by being against government. But Hill was surprised to conclude that the underlying trait for Trump is actually sadness. Trump’s facial expressions and body language convey unhappiness.
I don’t know why Trump seems sad and rarely smiles. Maybe he is just a serious man, thinking serious thoughts. Maybe he has heartburn. Maybe he uses too much Botox. Maybe his shoes are too tight, like the Grinch. Perhaps he is currently having the experience of the dog who chases a car every day, then one day catches it and realizes he is totally unsure what to do with it. Maybe he is genuinely convinced that he alone is smart and that he is doomed to live out his life surrounded by imbeciles like you and me. Or like everyone else except you and me. I get the feeling that Trump sort of sees the world that way, and that would make me sad too.
Assuming Trump is not a happy camper, this is not necessarily bad for the country. Some of the world’s greatest leaders have struggled to enjoy life. Winston Churchill famously described the “black dog” of depression that at times left him unable to perform basic daily functions for months at a time, yet he is considered Britain’s greatest leader, and his leadership led to much greater happiness for millions across the globe.
At the same time, research shows that our leadership impact and our influence on others grow as we find ways to be happier. This happens because happy people are much more likely to exhibit ‘transformational’ leadership, a style that Shana Lebowitz at Business Insider describes this way:
Transformational leaders are skilled at things like inspiring and motivating their team, stimulating their team intellectually, and mentoring their subordinates. (A popular example of a transformational leader is Nelson Mandela.) Studies have found there’s a strong correlation between transformational leadership and leadership effectiveness.
For most of us, this means that we will lead well when we take good care of our followers, and that generally means we first feel happy ourselves, so we have something left to give others.
I will spare you an analysis of what goes on in Trump’s mind, as this question is bound to spawn a cottage industry of armchair psychiatric books, and I am not qualified to answer it (neither are most of those other folks). Instead I would suggest that you pay attention over the next few days to how often you smile. Smiling has lots of benefits, not the least of which is that it makes us feel happier (yes, smiling can cause happiness, not just the other way around). Plus it makes you look smarter, and it tends to be contagious, which helps others and helps you. And you can learn to smile more, making it a habit just like anything else, so why not smile a little more?
Finally, in Mr. Trump’s defense: if I woke up one day and learned I had to be President of the United States for four years, I wouldn’t be smiling much either, as I can hardly imagine a worse job. But as my wife told me years ago after I accidentally bought a van on eBay (yes I did), “If you bid on it, you should be prepared to win it.” She’s smart like that. She smiles a lot too.
Coming next time: The happiest country on the planet (it may not be who you think)
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