The 14th Dalai Lama is one of the most revered people in the world. Spiritual leader, head of the Free Tibet movement, best-selling author—it’s hard to think of anyone who has done more with his or her precious life. Yet, if you ask me, the most compelling part of the Dalai Lama has nothing to do with his many accomplishments. It’s his ever-present smile.
In virtually every photo you see of the man, the smile is there, conveying warmth and compassion. In fact, it’s virtually impossible to find a shot where at least a hint of a smile is not present. It’s his natural countenance. I’ve included a few examples on this page, but there are literally hundreds of different examples. (Do a Google image search on “Dalai Lama” and see for yourself.)
It’s a genuine smile that starts at his mouth and spreads to his cheekbones and eyes. There are also photos where it looks like the Dalai Lama was just told a joke and is enjoying a good belly laugh. But no matter the image, I feel like this is one man I can judge by his picture alone. He is at peace with himself, he loves mankind, and he lets this love shine through. Which got me thinking:
Wouldn’t it be great if we all could master the Dalai Lama smile?
Now, I’m not suggesting we fake a smile, but the fact is many of us go through life feeling pretty good about ourselves and the world around us. But we often leave this feeling bottled up inside and don’t project it outward to those we encounter in our everyday lives.
So what I’m recommending is that we take a cue from the Dalai Lama and shine our inner light and love outward. It’s easy really, and just involves loosening our face muscles a bit, thinking about all the things we love and are grateful for, and letting our mouths do the rest.
One person who has tried the “spreading the love through smiling” approach is the humorous and always inspirational blogger James Altucher. His method does not involve mimicking the Dalai Lama, but he does have a unique way he connects with those he encounters:
I pretend I am everyone’s mother or I pretend that everyone who passes me is going to die tomorrow and I care deeply about them…I smile at each person’s eyes. I don’t stop until they pass me. I love them. They are my babies.
As you can tell, James is a little bit out there (and I love him for that), but I think his intention is right on. In fact, one day he committed himself to smile at everyone he passed on the street—not just anywhere, but on the perceived mean streets of New York City. And his results were pretty amazing. He not only saw a change in each person who caught his smile, he saw a change in himself:
Their faces lightened up. All of them. I could see their faces relax. The tightened cheeks fall a little. The eyes start to smile. Until finally they smiled back as they passed…and for each smile that I gave, it was sent back to me, I felt stronger. Like the rays of a yellow sun hitting Superman. Giving him his super powers.
Now, James carries no misconceptions that he could make the people he smiled at any happier, and admits this was somewhat of a selfish exercise. But it did ultimately seem to have a great effect:
I traveled for a tiny bit into their lives. And my smile locked with theirs, like a kiss. A small kiss on the forehead. A brush of the lips. A tiny subconscious impulse sending an electric message back and forth between me and each person.
This idea of spreading love around like this is actually based on a very old premise, something the ancient Greeks called agape (pronounced ah-gah-pay). While mentioned in the Bible, I think the spiritual billionaire (who gave away all his money), John Templeton, explained it best:
Agape is a love that’s distinctly different from erotic love or romantic love, as it exists on a higher, more spiritual plane. It’s the unselfish love you give to everyone and everything around you, while expecting nothing in return. It’s love simply for the sake of loving.
With agape, your actions have nothing to do it with the actions of someone else. It’s all about you giving love to others around you, even those you don’t know. Sound like a worthwhile idea? There’s no better way to get the ball rolling than with the Dalai Lama smile. Look at the pictures on this page and try it in the mirror for yourself. It’s easy. And it can really do wonders.
This post originally appeared on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos, May 13, 2014.