There is a Qigong practice you might have heard of called Inner Smile. Essentially it’s about feeling happy inside and amplifying your innate capacity for joy. You engage your body, mind and emotions in this process so that your outward smile is a reflection of what’s inside.
Let’s say you don’t feel very happy and don’t have much reason to smile but you would like to. Typically there are two main approaches. Either you practice the action (purposely smile) in hopes of getting the attitude, or you work on your attitude in order to produce the outward manifestation. The parallel in religious/spiritual practice is, Do good deeds until you feel a change of heart, or Change your heart until you want to do good things.
We could dissect this further, beginning from the outward action. Before you start, take a good look at your smile in the mirror or take a “selfie” snapshot. What do you see? Be honest. Now sit down quietly with your eyes closed and very slowly begin to smile. Take at least a minute to let it develop. What do you feel? Which of your face muscles are comfortable or strained? What parts of your face are quite happy to smile and what parts don’t want to, say because they’re too sad or mad or afraid or lethargic or just numb?
Then ask, what is it that makes you smile? How do you experience whatever that is? Is it lightheartedness, exuberance, joviality, humor, gratitude, comfort, contentment, serenity, peace? As you go from one to another how does that change the feel and shape of your face?
Maybe you don’t like this exercise because you think there are more important things than joy. Maybe find yourself drawn into your usual cravings that you associate with whatever you think you need to be happy. Perhaps disappointment creeps in. Maybe there is old sorrow or bitterness just under the surface. Any of these will effect the inside feel of your facial expression. Locate those effects physically.
Now, suppose you want to make some change, what would you do? The main thing from a Taoist perspective is to relax the restricted spaces and allow them to open so they have the room to be happy. Choose just one spot, even one muscle pair such as the “Depressor anguli oris” (they pull down the corners of your mouth.) Feel your eyes which typically hold a ton of tension. Or maybe there’s something deeper inside your facial bones that you can’t quite pinpoint. There will be some not-so-happy feeling associated with the spot but you don’t really need to define it.
Do your best to do two things: relax the area and try to make it happy. You may get some change right away. But take your time because most likely that’s what it will take. Treat it like the meditation that it is. When you do feel a shift or when you’ve had enough for that day go check yourself in the mirror. Is anything visibly different? More importantly, do you feel anything different inside?
This is essentially the process of Taoist meditation which is always centered in your body. It may sound simplistic but don’t be fooled. It is much easier said than done. If it were that easy more of us would be a lot happier. There is always another unhappy layer but the practice is still the same. It is deceptively simple, but elegantly and profoundly so.
Actually the standard practice of relaxation and Dissolving takes you toward neutrality, while the happy part is decidedly positive. You may resonate more with one direction than the other, so experiment with both. Happiness is a range of emotions. The French word for happy is content which is more neutral than say, ecstasy, and I’m not sure what to call the inane blather of advertising.
That’s all about starting from the outside and going inside. You could also begin internally from your heart, what we usually consider the seat of happiness, but we’ll look at that another time.