Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.
—Thich Nhat Hanh
I have learnt never to underestimate the power of a smile. Smiling is a sharing of positive energy -- a simple sharing of your goodwill towards others and receiving their goodwill towards you. The sharing of smiles can take place even in the saddest of times. After my husband and daughter were killed, I thought I would never smile again, but so much love poured forth from around the world in the aftermath of the terrorist attack that I found myself smiling with appreciation for the compassion and loving support shared with me from people all over the world. I smiled in acknowledgement of the connection we all share as a world family. We don't always feel this connection -- sometimes quite the opposite -- but it is there underneath the surface.
It is easy to take smiles for granted. Sometimes we smile out of habit without any real feeling behind it. We have all seen fake smiles -- the mouth may be shaped like a smile, but the eyes tell the truth -- it is not a real smile if there is no light in the eyes. When I do encounter that light in the eyes along with the smiling mouth, it lights up my day.
When you slow down, you may find yourself smiling more often, sometimes for no reason other than to be alive. Isn’t just being alive reason enough to smile?
You won't notice being alive if you are caught up in the rush and noise of life. Smiles are contagious. This works both ways.
A few years ago, I was on my own in New York City, attending a three-day workshop with a group of people dedicated to creating projects for positive change. As I walked down Broadway in Manhattan, feeling somewhat nervous on the first day, I passed a man sweeping the pavement. Our eyes met, and he gave me a huge smile. I relaxed and smiled back. As I continued along, I smiled and kept on smiling as people returned my smile. This opened up a new attitude in me for New York.
I didn’t expect New York to be such a friendly city. When I mentioned this to a fellow workshop participant, she told me that ever since 9/11, people in New York had become friendlier. Not what you would expect after a terrorist attack that killed 2000 people. Surviving tragedy gives us a renewed appreciation for life. Smiles connect strangers in a brief moment, a moment that acknowledges our shared existence. I learnt that day never to doubt the power of a smile.
One of the first things I noticed when I arrived in India was the abundance of smiles. People were smiling everywhere I looked. When eyes met, there was always a warm, welcoming smile. When I did a workshop with some students in South Mumbai, we discussed the experiences of slowing down, smiling and breathing deeply. When asked about what they had learnt with this practice, one of the girls said, ‘I learnt I am prettier when I smile.’ That is so true for each of us -- our smiles help to create a more beautiful world.
One of the most beautiful smiles and one that is most contagious is a baby's smile. Parents are so excited by their baby's first smile that they tell all their friends about it when it happens. When each of my children smiled for the first time, I remember making calls to my husband and parents -- ‘Aaron smiled!’ ‘Adam smiled!’ ‘Naomi smiled!’ How amazing that such a simple smile can bring so much joy.
Smiles bring joy and share joy. Joy is not something we can conjure up or manipulate; it just happens. Joy is a gift from life when it bubbles up in our hearts. Joy surprises us at times when we least expect it. When it happens for me, I feel so grateful and often get tears in my eyes.
I have always loved these lines from a poem by William Blake: He who binds to himself a joy Does the winged life destroy; But he who kisses the joy as it flies Lives in eternity’s sun rise.
Reading this short poem brings a smile to my face. We all know and love people who ‘make us smile’. Smiles are such a joy to give and to receive, a fleeting joy that lights up our life in that moment.
If you wish to bring more beauty into this world with your smiles, not only does it feel good, it also forges a closer connection to others and creates a sense of well-being and happiness. I have found this to be a worthwhile practice on many occasions, especially when I am feeling sad.
First, set your intention to direct your smile focus for this day.
·Today, I will make it a point to smile as much as possible.
·I am smiling with understanding, love and compassion.
·Smiling opens my heart to the experience of joy.
·I am so grateful for the smile I experience in this moment.
·I will carry this focus with me throughout the day with love and gratitude.
To begin your day, look in the mirror and smile at yourself. It may feel forced at first, but you will soon smile and maybe even laugh when you try it. Smile at the first person you see as you move about your day. Continue to greet each person with a smile from your eyes and heart as well as your face.
In addition to increasing your own smiles, notice the smiles around you. The more smiles you see, the more you will find yourself smiling. In the process of smiling, it is helpful to include a little smile for yourself. Smile at your humanness and your willingness to bring some cheer to your day. Smile with compassion and know you are doing the best you can. Let go and allow yourself to be as you are for this moment.
I find it helpful to reflect on my experience at the end of the day -- both challenges and highlights. There is always a mix of events that flowed smoothly and events that did not work out so well. In this way I learn how I can make better choices or adjust my actions to create a positive outcome.
At the end of the day, what did you learn about yourself as a result of all the smiling? What did you learn about others?
What kinds of smiles did you notice?
Did you notice a light in the person’s eyes when they smiled?
On this day may your life be lit up with smiles and may joy fill your hearts.
Extracted with permission from Forgiveness is a Choice: Teachings about Peace and Love by Kia Scherr, published by Penguin Random House India