My homie Thich Nhat Hahn suggests a simple half-smile. What’s a Thich? Thich is not a what….he’s a who. Not from Whoville. Man, this is getting off to a rough start.
Thich Nhat Hahn is a Buddhist monk from Vietnam who learned to speak English in France so he has quite the accent when speaking English and his audio recordings can cause a bit of a migraine trying to work through his many accents and unique pronunciations so I suggest one of his many books as an introduction to Thich instead. His work on impermanence is brilliant but today’s topic is his smile.
Thich’s smiles are light and he carries those smiles with his eyes but that’s not the smile I wanted to talk about – I want to talk about a half-smile. Thich will suggest you offer a half smile – which is nothing more than a simple smile with lips separated by a small gap, equal to a pencil held loosely between your lips. Practice with a pencil and be sure to remove it before engaging with others. The power of smiles is well-documented and triggers positive emotions through brain chemistry in both you and others around you. So sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.
Why smile? Research shows that a simple smile gets our brain’s neuropeptides cranking and affects not just us but those around us and is good at mitigating the physiological effects of stress. All from a simple smile.
Imagine waiting for an elevator and as the doors slide open the person waiting for you is frowning, arms folded across their chest, eyes downcoast. What’s your interaction going to be like with this person? As you’ll see below people with positive interactions throughout the day evaluate themselves as more satisfied with their days.
So put on your half-smile and use this acronym as the other half of your daily SMILE….
Selfless – when you’re having a bad day do something kind for someone else. Altruistic acts have profound effects on the giver as well as the receiver. The gift of a smile is simple, free and powerful. Holding a door for a stranger should be a habit and if it’s not start the habit. Little deeds go a long way and are infectious to you and those around you.
Move – Get outside! Kick up some dust. Touch the Earth smell the earth. Dr. Zach Bush even suggests sniffing some dirt to get your microbiome recharged. We are not beings built for the indoors. I just finished a great surfing session in Baja California (a magical place!) and being in the sun, in the saltwater and moving, including nearly drowning, stimulates the brain and releases endorphins – a neurochemical that makes us feel good! Dan Beuttner, author of Blue Zones of Happiness, found in his research that people who are active 30-60 minutes a day are measurably happier.
Interact – Humans are social creatures. Yes even you my introverted amigos. When we interact with others in a positive way we get a little boost resulting from oxytocin. The interactions can be simple and found throughout your day like in grocery stores lines, elevators, food servers, colleagues or baristas! Again, both parties win and get a boost of positive emotions during interactions. People who interact with others again report being more satisfied with their day.
Laugh – Do it! Laugh more to laugh more. Create neural pathways for silliness, joy, laughter, snlaughing (snort-laugh-repeat) and mirth. Really laugh though! Big belly laughs that get your diaphragm in your chest heaving. Find the comics, movies, friends and comedians that make you laugh and have them on standby (not in person of course, unless you can afford a comedian on retainer) to give you a little positive emotional bump.
Engage – Turn off distractions and dive deep into your work or play. Get in flow state which psychologist Mihalyi Csikszebtmihalyi Mihayl (a real person’s name, pinky swear) describes simply as being “happy and focused.” Our brains like it when we are productive and make you feel good for accomplishing task or acquiring resources with a boost of dopamine. Deep work is where we can find our unique contribution to our work and hobbies. Phone on silence. WiFi off. Engagement on!
Oh and don’t forget – through it all half-smile and SMILE.