Smile! It – is just that simple. Smiling literally lights up our face. We shine when we smile. When we are at our best, we are smiling. When we are in love, we smile more. When we are satisfied, we smile. When we are joyful we smile.
Sometimes – just as I begin to meditate – I remind myself to relax and smile. Immediately – I feel my heart open and a positive, light feeling fills me up. Smiling reflects our natural state of being – it relaxes us , remind who we are. Everyone looks more beautiful when they are smiling – like a flower blooming, our face seems to reflect our soul more completely when we smile. Nobody is particularly happy with the pictures on their driver’s license or passports when we are not smiling.
But another secret is that we actually feel happier when smiling. While smiling is usually an automatic response to positive feelings, it is a two way street. When we do it intentionally, as a practice, smiling helps us to trigger those same good feelings. We smile when we feel happy and smiling helps us to feel happy. Researchers have confirmed this, discovering that smiling alters brain chemistry – stimulating the release of dopamine, endorphins and seratonin – which lift your mood and protect you from stress. (1) In yoga practice, this connection can be considered a part of the science of “mudra”, an ancient study of how different subtle positions of the body, from hand gestures to different gazes of the eyes, to smiling impact our entire system.
One of the fundamental practices of a spiritual lifestyle – from the 10 ethical principles of “Yama and Niyamas” is “Santosh” which means contentment, or happiness. This is not only a principle – it is a practice. It means – we do not just have to wait for happiness to happen – we can cultivate it, with intention. Practicing gratitude is a way to open our hearts towards the beauty of life.
In Italy, I heard a beautiful Italian proverb: “A tree that falls makes more noise than a forest that is growing.” So often the negative things in life jump to the foreground, obscuring all of the other positives that we are surrounded with. On the other hand, our gratitude is often like a drop of water on a hot skillet that quickly sizzles and evaporates. What you focus on grows, so when we choose to practice noticing the forest growing around us, cooling our restless mind so that the drop of water doesn’t sizzle away in a few seconds, then we experience the contentment, joy and satisfaction that we crave.
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh