It started out as pure vanity, so let’s get that confession out of the way first.
I would catch sight of myself in photos or in reflective surfaces walking down the street and think, “Wow, that’s a very frowny face on a lady who is generally really happy.” Photos taken when I wasn’t smiling showed distinct marionette lines pulling my mouth down. It’s not just that I didn’t feel pretty, it’s that I didn’t feel like my face reflected my inner state of being.
I thought of it first as a muscle-retraining effort and tried to remind myself to lift the corners of my mouth more often, to neutralize the frown and to hold my face in a more pleasant expression.
But who’s ever going to remember to do that, right? Then, somewhere along the way, I read Thich Nhat Hahn’s meditation, “Breathing out, I smile.” This man is pure medicine. Whenever I read his books I hear his beautiful, strong, calm and wise voice in my head. Once, during a particularly cranky and irritated week, I heard his voice say, “Breathing out, I smile.” And I tried it. The irritation went away almost immediately.
I found an entire chapter on smiling as a spiritual practice in one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books and again, I could hear his voice in my head, so gentle, loving and persuasive. I thought, “I’m going to try this for real.”
I started in earnest maybe a year ago. I try to hold my face with my lips curled up as my neutral expression, and I swear it is changing the way my mind works. Something happens around my eyes — they literally soften in some way as the flesh of my cheeks moves up around them — and I don’t stay irritated for nearly as long as I used to when I get irritated.
In public, I walk around smiling and again, I swear that this functions as a mind-altering activity. Maybe it’s because my face is busy doing something that my critical mind gets distracted, or maybe there’s a chemical that gets released in the brain when we smile but I’m telling you, this is free drugs for the naturally bitchy.
I’m so talented in the art of self-and-other-directed criticism that I am actually able to smile at the same time as I have a bitter thought ( I know, those are mad skillz, baby), but I must honestly report to you that because of the smiling, those thoughts go away really fast and don’t leave much of an impression.
I still eagerly await and hope for extreme old age that will erase all social filters and allow me to speak exactly what’s on my mind, but until then, I am happy about the Smiling Project. It’s fun, easy, free and effective.
â€œSometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.â€
â€•Â Thich Nhat Hanh