A smile can make you happy. Particularly if it’s your own smile. Your smile can also cheer up someone else, at least for a little while.
I also maintain that happiness can make us healthier. For those of us who struggle every day with our diabetes, staying happy goes a long way to help us manage it.
So, smiling can make us healthier. While the world has long known this, in our daily lives most of us usually fail to act on it.
Everyone from Nat King Cole to Thich Nhat Hanh has encouraged us to smile more. Nat King Cole, one of the greatest jazz pianists and baritones of the 1940s and 1950s, was the first to sing “Smile,” which was the instrumental theme for the 1936 Charlie Chaplin movie “Modern Times.”
One of my personal guides, Thich Nhat Hahn, is a Buddhist monk who was born in Vietnam and is peace activist who now lives in France. At many times and in many places he has talked and written about the importance of smiling.
“If in our daily life we can smile,” he writes, “if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.”
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
I agree that a smile works both ways. But of all his teachings the one that means the most to me is his encouragement for us to smile when we wake up each morning.
Before I learned this practice, I would often scowl in the mirror when I first looked at my sour morning face. Now, my face is brighter, and so too are my spirits.
In his “Ceremony to Begin Anew” with which I start each new year, one of the vows that I repeat is “to practice smiling.” This is a gift both to myself and to those whom I meet.
“Even if we spend a lot of money on gifts for everyone in our family,” he says, nothing we buy could give them as much happiness as the gift of our awareness, our smile. And this precious gift costs nothing.”
A few days ago I practiced smiling on everyone I met. But one surly waiter at my favorite breakfast restaurant was immune to my smiles — until I asked him a simple question, something like whether he worked there every day, because I remembered his sour face from previous visits. I asked with such a smile that his face positively lit up! And I still remember well how that interaction gave a little cheer to both of us.
And in the past month a new book has brought many more smiles to my face. Ron Gutman’s little Kindle book Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act, is based on his TED talk on smiling.
Now, TED talks are some of the best discussions you will find any place. Limited to 18 minutes, they get right to the point. And Gutman limited his talk to just eight minutes.
Watch it and listen to it, please. This will whet your appetite for his book, which will cement his ideas more firmly in your consciousness.
The book weaves together Gutman’s own experience, science, history, and anecdotes from social media research. You can get Smile through Amazon.com (Kindle), iTunes (iPad), or barnesandnoble.com (Nook).
This Smile is just $2.99. I read it on my Kindle Touch, but you don’t need one. The Kindle app itself is free. And it runs not only on a Kindle, but also on an iPhone, an iPod Touch, an iPad, a Windows PC computer, a Mac computer, a BlackBerry, an Android device, or a Windows Phone 7.
Okay, please reward yourself for reading to the end of this little piece. One little smile, please. How does that feel?
This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.