Lessons From India 4: The Importance of a Smile

This is part four in my Lessons From India series. As you all know, I have been travelling the Indian Himalayas for the past three weeks and during this time I have been planning and writing a series based on all the things I am learning. My aim in doing this is to bring you all along with me on my trip – you can learn what I learn and experience what I experience.

The importance of a smile

His Holiness the Dalai Lama often says that he thinks he would be a lonely old man if he didn’t smile so much. He thinks this simple physical act has brought him closer to people from all walks of life.

And he is right.

On my travels in India I am often amazed at how powerful a simple smile can be. You can be down in the dumps feeling sick and tired and then someone will flash you a smile and your whole day can be transformed.

Let me tell you a story.

Two years ago in India I got extremely sick. I had a bad case of food poisoning and over a period of a week lost seven kilograms. I was really ill. I was in Sarnath and I ate at a small cafe called Ice Spice. Never again.

Anyway, I was lucky enough to be staying next to a Tibetan Buddhist monastery and during the first few days of sickness I was looked after by all my monk friends. One monk in particular (who is now one of my closest friends) stayed with me all night patting my forehead and making me sugar and salt drinks to get me hydrated.

And the whole time he was smiling.

When I look back on this experience I realize how much his warm and loving smile meant at the time. It reassured me that everything was going to be okay and that I wasn’t alone. At that point in time (when I thought I was going to die!) that sense of affection meant more than anything in the world. I was being taken care of.

And that is the power of a simple smile.

A smile can can also transform not only other people’s day but also your own. Scientific studies have shown that smiling causes your body to release chemicals that make you happier. What better way to make yourself a happier person than by smiling at others. This also shows that you don’t have to wait to feel happy to start smiling, if you smile first you will cause yourself to feel better.

Now for another story.

A friend of mine from England told me that on the London subway no one looks at each other. No one smiles, greets the person next to them or even makes eye contact. It is an environment of pure fear. Everyone just sits there looking down or out the window like a bunch of anti-social zombies.

Sounds horrible.

I really feel that a smile can change all of that. A genuine smile puts a person at ease and shows them you are a friendly person and that you have good intentions. It can disarm even the most angry of situations if done correctly.

So the question is: do you smile enough?

6 thoughts on “Lessons From India 4: The Importance of a Smile

  1. Great post, I’ve been thinking about this more and more lately, because Philly is similar to most cities, where everyone’s so busy not encroaching on other people’s personal space to the point that they can’t let a smile out, as it would make them appear ‘soft’. I find that, if I’m rocking a smile and happen to make eye contact with somebody at almost any distance, the response is usually a smile back or (when you’ve got a low self esteem/confidence, I suppose) a quick neck movement usually directing the eyes to the ground in front of them. The funny thing about the latter, is even though they detach and return to the local comfort zone, they usually still smile. Like a yawn, I think smiles are contagious, but it’s not “cool” to be happy for some people. Those people are the one’s I’m sorry for.

  2. Mike – I feel sorry for them too. The funny thing about smiling not being cool is that the most popular, respected and admired people are those who are fun-loving and happy.


  3. I commute on the T everyday in Boston and almost never see a person smiling, never acknowledging the existence of others. It can be rather haunting when entire cars are full, the doors close, and it’s absolutely silent and everyone stares at their feet. I guess that’s why I read.

    I started smiling on purpose as I read this and I am feeling happier already. It works, it really does! πŸ™‚

  4. I just started to read your blog, and I must say that I’m really impressed.

    I don’t smile often enough, actually not that much.
    Starting tomorrow I’ll smile a lot more πŸ™‚

  5. Love your article! I am the founder of The Smile Revolution, which raises awareness to the healing power of a smile. http://www.thesmilerevolution.com. We just had our first sold out concert to promote our mission with Pete Seeger in Woodstock, NY at the Bearsville Theater.
    We are working on a tv pilot to promote this worthy cause. I had a radio show with celebrity guests for two years and some of the shows are on my blog. Keep smiling and keep sweet everyone! It’s a simple, but powerful idea for the world. Giving a genuine smile to someone is showing forth love and the world needs more love and acceptance. I am also on FB under Princess WOW.

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