Look at a statue or painting of the Buddha. You’ll usually find that he’s smiling. And one thing that can help us find a friendly attitude is adopting a smile, even when we don’t feel like it.
I think pretty much everyone now knows that smiling affects our physiology and how we feel. One study, for example, got people to hold chopsticks in their teeth in a way that created an artificial smile. The participants didn’t actually know that they were smiling, and yet their physiology changed. They were able to recover more quickly from stressful situations than non-smiling participants, and had lower heart rates. They were literally able to “grin and bear it.”
Similar studies have shown that people who are smiling (even in this artificial way and without knowing it) find funny cartoons funnier, experience more pleasure when looking at faces (even if the faces look unhappy), and have their mood boosted. The effects on mood are most pronounced with people who are self-conscious — which usually equates to being self-critical.
One thing I’ve noticed that smiling does for me is to convey a sense of kindness to any part of my experience that I happen to be focusing on. When I smile as I pay attention to my body, or part of my body — especially to a part of my body that’s tense or in pain — or to a feeling of discomfort, it’s as if I’m sending a signal saying “It’s OK. Everything’s OK. Sure, there’s pain, but we can do this.” Smiling allows us to communicate reassurance to ourselves.
Smiling conveys confidence, and confidence is, as I pointed out a few days ago, related to our ability to have goodwill toward others. When we lack confidence we tend to assume that we can’t have an effect on others, or even that we can only have a negative effect on others. It takes confidence to think that our kindness matters.
When I smile, I feel that my heart softens. In fact everything in the world around me seems to soften. Smiling conveys benevolence. Research shows that when we smile, people judge us less harshly; smiling helps others to feel more benevolent. And it certainly helps us to feel more benevolent as well. The Buddha, as he smiles in those statues, is showing not just happiness, but benevolent compassion and love for all beings. When you smile as you wish another person well, you’ll feel more kindness toward them.
One lovely thing about smiling in meditation is that it can spark off a feedback loop where smiling makes you happier and being happier makes you smile. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
So smiling is an easy thing to do, it’s effective, and it’s free! That seems like something to smile about!
Morning Bodhipaksa, I am enjoying your 100 days of loving kindness posts. I can identify with smile your way to kindness, a few years Go when I was in a very bad place emotionally. I wanted to remind myself I had been happy and I could be happy again. I drew a picture of myself smiling, a very childish drawing up it make me smile. I stuck it on my wall and when I felt despair I would look at my picture and smile again. X
That’s lovely, Tara.
Smile your way to kindness and do your part to change the world…
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I would like to tell you that what you are doing here is wonderful.
I am in a difficult place at the moment and have been so for months now.
This site is restoring my hope… and helping me see things a little differently.
It is hard to like yourself at the best of times but in the worst of times it can be down right impossible.
Thank-you i assume when you start your hundred days is unimportant its the doing not the timing that matters.
It’s kind of you to express your appreciation. Thank you.
You’re right in saying that when you start your 100 Days is unimportant. It’s the doing of it that’s the thing…
All the best,