The Problem with Chill

We seem to really, really love chill people. Yes, it’s an abstract metric, but “chillness” appears to directly correlate with our desire to associate with someone. In response to questions like, “Do you know who so and so is?” people will often respond, “Yeah, they’re chill.” But why is this our default answer? What even is “chillness,” and why do we care so much?

Well, let’s start by defining “chill.” If I allowed someone to cut in front of me in the stir-fry line, I would be crowned with the title of “chill.” Or, if I cool-y shrugged off a sub 50 percent test score, my classmates would start worshiping me for my perceived “chillness.” The list is neverending, but so far, “chillness” seems like a good thing. Wouldn’t it be great to not care about anything—to stay unperturbed in the face of difficulty and the ups and downs of life?

This glamorization of “chillness” comes from a natural place. In our highly emotional world, it’s so difficult for us to catch a break. In one moment, you find out about something tragic that happened halfway across the globe, and in the next, your boyfriend is cheating on you! Sometimes, we just need a compliant stir-fry line or for that one kid to not sob in the middle of physics class. Valuing people who give you emotional space is completely valid and necessary in maintaining our own mental health, but defining someone’s worth by their ability to maintain a stoic state is a completely different story.

But this isn’t entirely our fault. We’ve been conditioned to view social worth and emotional absence as existing in direct correlation, a perfect mutualism if you will. See the phenomenon of the “Parisian girl” as an example. She’s cool, stylish, and makes cameos in just about every “Vogue” article ever. Usually donned in black sunglasses and nibbling at a croissant, she’s a trope utilized by fashion writers to materialize “coolness.” The secret to her cultural dominance is not rooted in her appearance, however, but rather in her attitude (or lack thereof). The Parisian girl is often described as “nonchalant”—someone who prefers to quietly observe life from behind the pages of a French novella. Her opinions stay quartered behind her tongue, and she never lets her emotions break her cool stare. She is (has been, and probably will continue being) the moment.

However, at the same time, this romanticized lens from which we view chill attitudes leads us to function irrationally. I recently read “An Anxious Person Tries to Be Chill” by Coco Mellors, an article in “The New York Times” where Mellors narrates her doomed love story with her emotionally unavailable neighbor. She presented herself as this “chill” girl, which really meant being an emotionless, desireless being who would oblige to her neighbor’s any desire if it meant getting closer to him (To her own detriment of course, because, well, he just didn’t want to date her). But this got me thinking. Why are we so willing to diminish ourselves and sacrifice our own well-being for other people’s satisfaction—why must we be palatable to be valued?

I once prided myself on my “chillness.” And it was fine. Well, not really. “Yes, you can borrow my favorite sweater,” somehow resulted in “Don’t worry about losing it. It was kinda ugly anyways.” And it’s funny to think that I once had rigid belief in personal space because magically, I evolved into anyone and everyone’s personal teddy bear. At a certain point, these lies that I told to remain chill became truths. I learned not to hold attachments to objects, activities, or ideas because passion was just about the least appealing thing ever. In turn, the life I lived was no longer mine but rather a false reality I created to please others.

Obviously, it’s okay to do good things for others—in fact, it’s great! But it’s also important to know that doing good to another person should never come at the expense of doing good for yourself. Know that it’s okay to say no, and if you’re a people-pleaser like me, say it more often. Know that life is inherently emotional and allow yourself to experience the joys and pains that come with it. Learn to shamelessly kick people out of your room and spend time by yourself, away from others. Don’t let your friend from Junior year borrow your clothes because you know she’ll never return them. And for the inevitable moments when you fall into your old habit of “chillness,” have hope. Know that eventually you’ll start living for yourself and not someone else.