REVIEW: Thich Nhat Hahn — How To Smile (BOOK)

Colin Jordan
3 min readFeb 7, 2024

The thing that charmed me from the get-go in Thich Nhat Hahn’s new book, How to Smile, is the opening part of the book. It features a foreword by Hahn, simply titled — with the same, plainspoken genius as the titling itself — Notes on Smiling. “If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we but everyone will profit from it.

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/thichnhathanh/?locale=vi_VN

This is the most basic kind of peace work,” Hahn writes. “A smile can relax hundreds of muscles in your face and relax your nervous system. A smile makes you master of yourself, The essence of our practice can be described as turning suffering into happiness. The basic method is to be mindful of refreshing and beautiful things in the present moment, Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, such as the blue sky, the sunshine, and the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, anytime.”

Such sentiments are a welcome relief to the often dark, and stormy rhetoric we are hearing — in America, on both sides of the aisle. There’s also an emphasis on empowerment in what Thich Nhat Hahn writes, both comforting in terms of his house style, and someone who feels like they’re verbally clapping you on the back. “…During walking meditation, sitting meditation, kitchen and garden work, all day long, we can practice smiling. At first you may find it difficult to smile, and we have to think about why,” Hahn writes, in a passage christened Regaining Our Sovereignty. “Events carry us away and we lose ourselves. A smile can help us regain our sovereignty, our liberty as a human being. Smiling means that we are ourselves, that we are not drowned in forgetfulness…

Being able to enjoy happiness doesn’t require that we have no suffering. In fact, the art of happiness is also the art of suffering well. When we learn to acknowledge, embrace, and understand our suffering, we suffer much less. We can learn from our suffering, and we can transform it into understanding, compassion, and joy for ourselves and for others…A human being should have the capacity to deal with both suffering and happiness. Both are organic, transitory, always changing. A flower, when it wilts, becomes the compost. Our suffering is the compost that enables the flowers of happiness to grow again. We have to learn how to handle our suffering, just as the organic gardener handles the compost.”

AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/How-Smile-Mindfulness-Essentials-Book-ebook/dp/B0BG26BSTR

It’s this kind of matter-of-factness with which Hahn writes that makes his philosophy and spiritual meditation so accessible. The analogies when used aren’t hackneyed or shoehorned in. They are natural, relatable extensions directly applicable to everything ideologically and in terms of sentence structure relay the core messaging of How to Smile. “There are hundreds of muscles in your face, and every time you breathe in and out and smile, tension is released,” Hahn writes in this vein. “There’s relaxation. You may ask why you should smile when you have no joy. You don’t need joy in order to smile; you can practice mouth yoga, and you’ll feel relief right away. Sometimes joy is the cause of your smile; sometimes your smile is the cause of your joy. Why discriminate? Wherever you are, practice breathing in and out. In time, you will calm yourself and your smile will become real. When we practice peace and are able to smile, our peace can influence the whole universe.”

Colin Jordan

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Colin Jordan

Graduate: McNeese State University, Avid Beekeeper, Deep Sea Diver & Fisherman, Horrible Golfer