Did you know that you can do a mitzvah using only your face? The sages call it sever panim yafos or “a pleasing countenance.”
Your countenance, or facial expression, can have a big impact on the people around you through the simple act of smiling. As Aliza Bulow, from A Bite of Torah, says, “Smiles are a bridge between two hearts. When you smile at another, you recognize his humanity; you signal that she matters, you lift moods, you actually brighten the world. Our face and our expression is an important part of others’ environments. We spend most of our time looking out of our face, while those we encounter are looking at our face. Accordingly, Jewish law teaches us that a pleasant face is our social responsibility.”
A genuine smile is an extraordinarily contagious, universal indication of joy. The mitzvah of sever panim yafos recognizes the power that a smile can have and asks us to use it in a way that serves others. With this in mind, it is not enough just to smile when it feels natural. We are asked to rise above the natural inclination by uplifting and inspiring joy in others whether or not we are feeling joyful ourselves. Yeshua says, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” (Matthew 5:46). Similarly, there is no merit in encouraging positivity only when you’re in a positive mood.
This is not to say that we should be disingenuous or fake when we interact with others. We certainly should never feel as though we need to suppress our negative emotions so as not to burden others. As it says in Ecclesiastes, “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh,” but, in situations where we can appropriately choose to inspire joy and encourage happiness in others, we should always do so.
Expressing joy by choice will not only encourage positivity in the people around us but in our own minds as well. Try smiling more than you already do and watch for the ways it might affect your mind and your world.