Smile and the world smiles with you! That’s because when we see someone smile, a specific kind of neuron, mirror neurons, stimulate our own smiling. Smiling is an important non-verbal communication for our species. It is like a social contract we enter into with others – in communicating that every thing is o.k.a.y.
Kids smile an average of 400 times a day while an average adult, just 20! So I noticed the other day, when I was bringing down lunch from the microwave, I bumped my 11 y/old’s elbow. He said “ow” with a smile!
Scientists tell us that a smile has profound effects on the reward part of the brain. According to a British study, one smile can generate the same level of stimulation in the brain as 2,000 bars of chocolate! If that’s not enough, according to a Penn State study, smiling can make you: look good in the eyes of others, more courteous, likeable as well as more competent.
Charles Darwin theorized that facial expressions don’t necessarily function as a broadcast service of our mental states but they actually determine our mental states.
So why not smile? It can also help reduce stress reducing hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol and increase mood enhancing hormones like endorphins – even reduce blood pressure.
There is plenty of news out there to make us concerned and fearful – from national politics, the impeachment drama, the election to international events. We really have to go out of our way to find joy and savour this brief, yet precious life.
A BBC documentary replicated the now famous Greek pencil experiment by going around the city of Edinburgh on a cold and rainy day. Edinburgh is apparently known to be home to the most miserable people in Britain. They gave people a pencil to hold between their teeth and asked about their level of happiness. The subjects, who had reported up to a 5 on a scale of 1-10 before the experiment, reported a 9 afterwards.
When you hold the pencil between your teeth, you are exercising the same muscles as when you smile. What’s happening? Our brain has learned to associate smiling with pleasure. So just by exercising these facial muscles, you trick your brain into feeling pleasure.
So whenever you want to look good, feel less stressed, appear competent, or have the experience of consuming a large amount of high quality chocolate (without the calories): just smile.
Some of the obvious qualities you see in spiritual masters is that they are joyful and compassionate. How do they get there? Apparently by intentionally training the mind. That can be an alternative to holding the pencil in the mouth. Recently the Dali Lama was asked why he was so popular? He has easily drawn 100,000 people to Central Park before.
He thoughtfully replied. “I don’t think myself have especially good qualities. I have positive mind. Sometimes, of course, I get a little irritated. But in my heart, I never blame, never think bad things against anyone…Maybe people like me for my good heart”.
One Indian meditation teacher, Om Swami, recommends to have an ever-so-slight smile on your face during meditation, an expression as if you are not just enduring it, waiting for the bell to ring, but joyfully meditating. A disciple asked the guru, Guruji, why do we pray to God even after our meditation. The guru replied, we do so because we are thanking god that the meditation is over! Isvara-pranidana, or surrender to the higher power, is prescribed in the yogic philosophy of the 8-limbed path.
I have experimented with this smile in my meditation. Once I had assumed all the suggested steps for sitting posture, such as straight back, relaxed shoulders, relaxed arms etc, I invited a slight smile around the corners of my mouth – like you are happy to sit and happy with the process. My experience was remarkably better, I felt the time went by faster and I struggled less with boredom.
Dear you, by Kaveri Patel
You who always have
so many things to do
so many places to be
your mind spinning like
fan blades at high speed
each moment always a blur
because you’re never still.
I know you’re tired.
I also know it’s not your fault.
The constant brain-buzz is like
a swarm of bees threatening
to sting if you close your eyes.
You’ve forgotten something again.
You need to prepare for that or else.
You should have done that differently.
What if you closed your eyes?
Would the world fall
apart without you?
Or would your mind
become the open sky
flock of thoughts
flying across the sunrise
as you watched and smiled.