Research into happiness and wellbeing is telling us what Buddhist monks and meditators have always known, that our control over outer conditions of happiness is temporary and illusive. Happiness is really an inside job.
As Thich Nhat Hanh points out in his book Being Peace,
We tend to be alive in the future, not now. We say, “Wait until I finish school and get my Ph. D. degree, and then I will be really alive.” When we have it, and it’s not easy to get, we say to ourselves, “I have to wait until I get a job, in order to be *really* alive.”And then after the job, a car. After the car, a house. We are not capable of being alive in the present moment. We tend to postpone being alive to the future, the distant future, we don’t know when. Now is not the moment to be alive. We may never be alive in our entire life.
Outer conditions influence our emotional state, but our outlook and the ability to focus on the positive has a much greater and lasting effect on our happiness. TED has a collection of talks exploring happiness which look into these effects and what truly makes us happy.
One simple way to cultivate the inner conditions of happiness is to practice smiling. Smiling has been shown to reduce stress levels in the body, increase mood-enhancing hormones and reduce blood pressure and heart rate. Smiling is also evolutionarily contagious, so everyone benefits when you smile.
Take a few minutes, or even just a minute, to sit quietly and breathe while letting a gentle smile form on your mouth. You might think of things that make you happy or just let your mouth form a smile while your body and mind rest. In letting yourself take a moment to breathe and smile, you’re tapping into your ability to work with your body to calm your nervous system, one of the inner conditions for cultivating happiness and peace.
Learn more about the research and benefits of smiling in this brief video of Ron Gutman’s TED presentation, the Hidden Power of Smiling.