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Living Without Joy? Thich Nhat Hanh Shares a Secret

There is a tradition on the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog where every Monday I cite a quote or a poem that is related to mindfulness and psychotherapy in some way and then explore it a bit and how it is relevant to our lives. For me, quotes and poetry can often sink me into a state of greater understanding.

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Now, this isn’t meant to be hokey, but real. Plenty of therapies advocate working through our bodies and behaviors as a source of bringing joy and happiness into our lives.

In Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) there is a piece called the “Half-Smile Experiment.” Here’s the idea:

Take a moment to notice how you are feeling physically and emotionally. Notice if you’re feeling calm, happy, sad, frustrated, guilty, shameful, or excited, etc… Also notice if your body is feeling loose or tense, just taking stock of yourself in this moment.

Now, get a pen and put it in between your teeth horizontally (please don’t try to put it in vertically). Now just breathe in and out and notice the sensations of muscles in your face and also notice any shift emotionally. When thoughts arise, “this is silly” or “why am I doing this”, just notice them as thoughts and come back to paying attention to how you are feeling.

You may want to try this with a friend, then see what happens. Remember, this is just an experiment!

Thich Nhat Hanh often recommends another way to bring smiling into our lives to bring us a great sense of peace and happiness during the day.

He says that when you’re walking, sitting or lying down try saying to yourself,

“Breathing in I calm my body, breathing out, I smile.”

You can shorten it so when you breathin you just say “calm” to yourself and when you breath out, you just say “smile.” Now, if you don’t actually feel like physically smiling you can cast a kind and gently smile inwardly at yourself or some physical or emotional pain you are experiencing.

Try one of these today or off and on throughout the week. See what happens. If or when the negating voices come, just see if you can notice them as habits of the mind and gently bring your attention back to the practice. This helps break us from old constraining mind patterns that are often associated with the depression or anxiety.

As always, don’t take my word for it, try it out for yourself. And also, please share your thoughts, questions and reflections below, your interactions here provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Living Without Joy? Thich Nhat Hanh Shares a Secret

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is creator of the six month online program A Course in Mindful Living, author of the book Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion, The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler: Quick Exercises to Calm Your Mind, the premier eCourse Basics of Mindfulness Meditation: A 28 Day Program, the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations. Join The Now Effect Community for free Daily Now Moments and a Weekly Newsletter. Dr. Goldstein is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles.

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APA Reference
Goldstein, E. (2009). Living Without Joy? Thich Nhat Hanh Shares a Secret. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 Sep 2009
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