Smugness and Happiness are Not the Same Thing

Smiles drawn inside bottle caps

Here's something I've been seeing a lot of on Twitter recently:
  • Hey smug parents! I'm sure your baby's very cute but I just slept for 11 hours so which of us is really winning?
  • Hey smug marrieds! Thanks for the tasty wedding cake but I had sex 8 times this weekend so which of us is going to burn it off first?
  • Hey smug homeowners! Bet B&Q's a blast on a bank holiday but I don't have to pay for this boiler repair so who's got the better life now?
I see these statements get admiringly retweeted time and time again and it saddens me. I don't think they're funny and I don't think they're clever; I find them disappointing and there are three main reasons why:

Happiness and Smugness are Not the Same Thing

I know very few people who are genuinely smug about their lifestyle choices. In fact, try as I might, I can't think of any. What I do know are people who are happy with some of the decisions they've made (and also some people who are not).

But, honestly, no matter how happy these people are that they have or have not had children, that they have or have not tied the knot, that they have bought a home or travelled lots or secured an incredible job, none of them are free from self-doubt. Look beyond the part of them which thinks, "Yeah, I'm glad I chose _________!" and you'll find a part of them which wonders whether people actually like them or whether they're ugly or whether their financial choices are sustainable.

Someone who is happy to have had a child might be struggling to earn a living. Someone who is happy to have married might be stressed about where to set up home. Someone who has bought a house might be worried that they'll always live in it alone.

I doubt many people are 100% sure of 100% of the life that they're leading. So, when they share pictures of their baby or their home or their latest travelling adventure, they're unlikely to be saying, "I'm better than you and I pity you for not leading an identical life to mine!"; they're more likely to be saying, "In the midst of all this self-doubt, here's a moment of joy!"

And, sure, people do overshare sometimes and their running updates/baby photos/wedding planning stresses get boring, but it's unfair to label them as "smug" when all they really are is "excited". If you don't want to read them, scroll past.

Other People's Happiness is Not About You

What strikes me most about the "Hey, smug people!" tweets is how defensive they are. They're not saying, "Your status updates don't interest me"; they're saying, "I feel targeted so I'm going to attack you."

I think most of us take other people's comments and behaviour a lot more personally than we should. We read one of those, "Grr! People who _______!" tweets and wonder if we are the person who _______s. One of our friends is less available than usual and, instead of assuming they're busy or dealing with bigger problems, we assume they don't like us any more. We look for subtext in everything.

But the subtext is rarely there.

Other people don't think about us nearly as much as we think that they do.

When somebody on my timeline writes, "I'm getting married tomorrow!" they do not actually mean, "Hey, Sarah! I'm getting married tomorrow and YOU'RE NOT! You're such an unmarried loser!" 

Reacting to those updates with a "Hey, Smug Married People!" tweet wouldn't be a response to something they were actually trying to tell me; it would be me responding to my own paranoia. It would be me going, "Should I be getting married? Are they better than me because they're getting hitched? No! No! I refuse to accept that! Not being married is awesome because _________"

And, frankly, it's much more dignified to keep that sort of inner pep talk to myself.

Stomping on Somebody Else's Happiness is a Dick Move

It just is.

I know people can seem insufferable when they're posting endless updates about their new business venture or their home improvements or their fancy-schmancy holiday. I know there are only so many photos of other people's babies and kittens and puppies and shoes that any of us want to see. Most of us, from time to time, are guilty of going overboard (and I will most likely cross that line myself when Baby Rooftops arrives).

But, you know what? I'd rather scroll past a load of repetitive status updates from a very excited friend than know that s/he was sitting at home, agonising about whether or not sharing his/her happiness would come across as smug or annoying.

We get so few huge, amazing moments in our lives, I'd rather people over-shared than felt the need to hide them.

If somebody's happy, let them say so. Turning around and calling them smug because you're not interested or they've touched your neurotic nerve is flat out unkind. 

Mute or hide their updates for a while, if you have to, but don't try to stomp all over their happiness. Because, when your moment of flat out glee comes around, you'll want them to be as understanding of you.


  1. I haven't seen a lot of the smug stuff from people I know...but I do see blog posts and anonymous comments on the interwebs and I definitely agree with you. I think there are plenty of studies that prove that the more you post about how happy you are in your relationship or how much better than __ you are because __ the more likely it is that you aren't actually all that pleased. Bottom line, let's just not be dicks, internet!

  2. I only get upset when the happy person fails to realise the effect they are having. If you struggled for a long time to get happiness for _____ reason and everyone who was also struggling helped you, then don't shove it back in those people's faces. Thats all. Otherwise, yeah muting works. Love this.

  3. Yeah, I'm sure sometimes, if somebody's making a big deal about how great their big deal is, it's themselves that they're trying to convince!

  4. "Other people don't think about us nearly as much as we think that they do." Once again, Sarah hits the nail on the head! This is so, so true, and something I think all of us could do with remembering more often.

  5. This is a wonderfully true post - I completely agree! It goes alongside the whole 'humble brag' thing where people post about how great things are or all their holiday snaps etc...we sometimes forget that it's just a snapshot and that everyone has problems. x

  6. And that we should be glad we live in a time when we call scroll past the holiday snapshots instead of having to politely flick through 473 printed photos while the holidaymaker anxiously watches us!

  7. Wonderful post Sarah! SO true! I might be married but that doesn't stop me from stressing daily about things and thinking how life seemed much easier when I was single! I might post about great days I have had at school where I taught well but it doesn't mean I don't have days where I feel so down about teaching! It's easy to judge when we aren't in someone else's mind! x

    Kezzie AG

  8. All of this is very much correct and true and great.

  9. duck in a dress9 March 2015 at 22:43

    I seem to just reply to the majority of your posts with "Yes. To all of this." But that's because it's true, you speak a heck of a lot of sense! xx

  10. Yes, you're very good for my ego this morning.


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