Turning the corners of the lips up slightly can have a powerful effect on our mood. I’m not talking about pretending happiness, simply making that physical movement. Other muscles in our face respond when we do that, and it appears that a message is sent to our hormonal system that this person is feeling safe and that things are okay.
When we are lost in thought, not mindful of the present moment and what is truly happening, most of us tend to frown. Maybe it’s just gravity that pulls down the corners of the mouth. Bringing mindful awareness to our facial expression any time we think of it can cue us to make this tiny movement. What has been perhaps a more neutral moment, one not charged with any particular emotion, can be experienced as pleasant, with a corresponding shift in mood.
Many things can trigger this awareness. Whenever I see a person with that concentrated yet absentminded frown, I often remember to shift my mouth. Another trigger for me is to see a statue of the Buddha. (By the way, the fat laughing “Buddha” is actually a representation of an eccentric, medieval Chinese monk.) Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that the most important part of a Buddha statue is the face. If it has a small smile and a peaceful expression, we are more likely to mimic it and create that state in ourselves.
This is a subtle, yet powerful, practice. It works on many levels to bring us into mindful awareness and a sense of peace and calm. You may notice after reading this post that you are more aware of what leads you to smile. When that happens, take a moment to savor the good feeling that comes from even a small smile!
Photo: Taken by my friend Christy of her Buddha