I can often be spotted driving along in my minivan, all alone, grinning to myself.

Sometimes I think for all the world I look as if I don’t have a brain in my head.  But isn’t that interesting? Why is it that when we see someone smiling “for no reason at all” we assume that they are daydreaming at best or dim-witted at worst? And why if we see someone all by themselves smiling do we imagine that they are smiling “for no reason at all”?  What’s more, if we see someone frowning, we assume it is because they are lost in deep thought, contemplating life’s most serious and intricate puzzles.

It’s a fascinating cultural bias. And like all biases, we should really explore it and investigate it to see if it is true and warranted (spoiler alert: most biases never pan out).

There are plenty of people who believe, for instance that the Dalai Lama is not the brightest bulb in the house because he smiles and laughs so much. Here’s a man who has been exiled from his homeland and has watched mostly helplessly from the sidelines as his people have been systematically persecuted and oppressed.  I mean, really, what does he have to smile about? It’s a very good question.  And not a rhetorical one.

Is it possible the happiest among us are the most enlightened? And those of us who etched frown lines in our foreheads (I count myself in that crew) may be lost in a prison of thought where the light of reality may never reach?  We sometimes use the words “empty headed” to refer to someone who isn’t thinking very much.  But maybe that is not such a bad thing.  When we clear our heads of thoughts — truly emptying them of the worries and regrets that consume so much of our mental energy, we may be able to see the world for the miracle that it is — even in the face of pain and suffering.  It could be that having an “empty head” is a state we should all aspire to.

And perhaps smiling is a signal that we are waking up and encountering the very real blessings of life.