Smile Like an Optimist: A Real Smile for Everyone

"It’s hard for people to smile.  Often people only smile superficially. A real smile comes from understanding who we are and who we belong to."

So said BK Janki.

I received a reminder of this in a message this week in an email from the Call of the Times Group.  I had the honour of meeting the Brahma Kumari leader Dadi Janki on several occasions, and as clear as a bell, I recall her wisdom on the value of meditation and good time prioritisation.

Over the years, in our Habits of an Optimist, I have advocated that the number one way to be more optimistic is to smile and say hello to everyone. Smile at strangers and say hello. 

Thinking about Dadi Janki's advice, perhaps I should recast that as "Smile!  Share a real smile to every person you meet and pass today.  Smile at yourself in the mirror."

"We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do." said Saint Mother Teresa.

Is happiness the underpinning of optimism, or is optimism an underpinning of happiness? It doesn't matter—we know happier people tend to be more optimistic, and we know optimistic people tend to be happier.

Never underestimate the power of a smile. We know that smiling stimulates brain patterns that reinforce feelings of happiness and optimism. Moreover, smiling does so in a way that even chocolate can not match.

Australian happiness researcher Dr Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos wrote, "In our research, we found that when you forcefully practise smiling, it stimulates the amygdala – the emotional centre of the brain – which releases neurotransmitters to encourage an emotionally positive state."

Dr David Topor wrote, "A psychotherapy technique to cope with sad feelings is to practice smiling for a few minutes each day. If a full smile is not possible, a half-smile works as well. Notice any impact on your thoughts, mood, and level of optimism."

In short, when our brain feels good and tells us to smile, we then smile: this tells our brain it feels good, and the cycle continues!

Are you smiling now? Have you smiled at anyone today?

Frank Sinatra sang, "When you're smiling, the whole world smiles with you."

Smile at other people. Most people light up and return the greeting.

Smile at people you vaguely know and greet them.

Smile and greet strangers on the street, in elevators and walking down corridors. Some will be on screen or focused ahead of themselves or ignoring people. It's good practice to keep smiling and share a friendly greeting.

The insurer IAG published a study in 2022 showing that 95% of Australians would like to smile at and greet strangers.

Most are too shy or preoccupied with their phones or the sound streaming on their earbuds.

I greet everyone. And most people greet me and smile back.

Sometimes, they will stop and have a conversation. They enjoy a conversation—sometimes about something quite profound with someone they’ve just met.

The Kindness Diaries star, Leon Logothetis,  turned this practice into an exercise. He wrote, "This is a fun exercise that builds your kindness and courage muscles. Be first to smile at someone as you pass them on the street and make eye contact with them. We can get so focused on ourselves and shut the world out, but it doesn't have to be like that. Instead of waiting for someone to speak to you, take that leap to be the first to say hello, or to smile, or ask them how they are. I promise this will be a game changer for you in your life!"

Smile more in meetings.

When you're on a video conference, check in every now and then to ensure you are smiling.

Ros Ben-Moshe, author of "Laughing at Cancer - How to Heal with Love, Laughter and Mindfulness", told me, "Optimism can be found in a heartfelt smile that spreads from one face to another."

My friend, Prathibha Prahlad, Founder of the Delhi International Arts Festival, told me, "One of the simplest rules of optimism - smile. Even though your heart may be sad when you smile, you move energy in a positive direction."

The smiling leader is more potent than the frowning leader: As President George W. Bush put it, "It's hard to be optimistic if you aren't able to smile. One of the jobs of the President is to create an optimistic vision for the country."

Even if you are thinking about how you look, the branding expert Hana Guenzl told me, "Make the day a masterpiece. You are never fully dressed without a smile."

Some easy steps to smile more:

  • Smile the moment you wake up;
  • Remind yourself in the morning that you will smile more today.
  • Think about a situation or event that brings you joy;
  • Practise smiling in the mirror. Perhaps graffiti your mirror with “Smile 😊”?
  • Smile at everyone you see and pass;
  • Become comfortable with smiling and recognise the benefits that smiling brings you. 

"Smile!  Give a real smile to every person you meet and pass today.  Smile at yourself in the mirror."

What's Your Optimism Superpower?


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