At some point during my study of mindfulness I came across spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh’s powerful admonition that his followers should “smile, breathe and go slowly.”
Breathe? I get that. Go slowly? I get that. But smiling? How could the simple manipulation of a dozen muscles in my face impact the quality of the day?
As it turns out, smiling might be the most important thing you can do to improve your health and prepare for positive interactions with your family, friends, coworkers, and even complete strangers.
Several medical studies suggest smiling has positive health benefits including reduced blood pressure, increased endurance in physical activities, reduced pain, lower levels of stress, and a stronger immune system. Related research suggests people who actively smile each day are more productive, engaged, and effective in their daily duties. And active smilers are perceived by others as more likeable, courteous, and competent.
Still, smiling has become a lost art and we tend to smile less with age. The Henry Ford Health System recently reported children smile an average of 400 times per day, versus 40 to 50 times a day for the average happy adult. The typical adult smiles only 20 times per day.
Still, why smile? Why was smiling the first of the three admonitions of Thich Nhat Hanh?
I found an answer recently in an interview featuring the dharma teacher Chân Hiến Nghiêm, “Sister True Dedication,” who lives at the Plum Village monastic community in France and studied with Thich Nhat Hanh.
Sister True Dedication described a morning ritual in which she moves from her bed to the bathroom to brush her teeth. During those few minutes of brushing, she consciously smiles into the mirror and expresses gratitude for having teeth to brush. When the foam and cold water is wiped from her cheeks, she smiles into the mirror and makes a quiet commitment to live a mindful, affirming day.
“You have a great moment in front of the mirror brushing your teeth,” she said. “You’re generating an energy that is expressing your life experience in that day.”
With that smile imprinted across her face, Sister True Dedication pursues her day. Her smile and her commitment to a mindful day protect her from the slings and arrows of daily life, but also protect and affirm the people she meets. The capacity to radiate joy and peace with a smile, she said, is quite powerful.
Smiling. So simple. So powerful. So profound.
Author: Michael (Brother Sincerely Struggling :)
Michael is a father, a husband and a writer living in Chicago. Most of what Michael knows about living a mindful life comes from his dharmic teacher Charlie, a five-year-old Goldendoodle.