Playful humor: The Dalai Lama's secret weapon (and how it can be yours, too)

— When you are the spiritual leader of an entire people, you've lived your entire adult life in exile, your movements are restricted by ever-watchful bodyguards and you must watch every word for fear of setting off an international incident, you would think your face would reflect the weight of the world.

But when you are the Dalai Lama, the deepest lines on your 81-year-old skin are laugh lines.

His Holiness knows how to find joy in nearly everything and everyone, largely because of his sense of humor. It is something he uses regularly to quickly win over crowds and something he thinks everyone should embrace in order to have a better life.

When he presided over the Emory-Tibet Symposium in December at an imposing temple owned by the Tibetan community in exile in Mundgod, India, he showed his teasing nature right away.

Gathered were thousands of saffron-robed nuns and monks, world-renowned scientists, Tibetans and many interested followers, eager learn how to "bridge science and Buddhism for mutual enrichment."

The crowd looked as serious as the topic. As they waited in the temple, they murmured quietly and shifted in their seats. Finally, the low moan of a guttural chant began, and everyone quieted and sat up a little straighter.

When His Holiness finally emerged from a side door, the sound of scraping plastic chairs echoed throughout the hall as the crowd stood and applauded. Some prostrated themselves on the ground.

His Holiness walked in slowly, surrounded by monks in traditional robes and bodyguards in Western dress. Two monks gently guided him down a small set of steps.

At the bottom, the Dalai Lama smiled with great joy, laughing and waving at the friends gathered in his honor.

"When you smile, I notice everyone around you smiles. I notice it is very contagious as well," said Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's Chief Medical correspondent, in an interview with His Holiness after the event.

"Basically, we are social animal," the Dalai Lama replied. "We need friend. In order to develop genuine friendship, trust is very important. For trust, if you show them genuine sort of respect, genuine love, then trust come, so here I think the expression of genuine warm feeling smile I think part of that, that's genuine smile."

But it is clear that joking around is also key to winning over a crowd. At the event, the Dalai Lama finally sat in his floral chair, against what looked like a pillow one of the monks must have grabbed from his bed, hoping to make him more comfortable.

The crowd quieted, leaning forward to hear what His Holiness had to say.

But instead of a prayer or a gentle word of wisdom, he decided it was the perfect time to wipe his brow. He took his time and then, rather than putting the white washcloth on the table next to him, he immediately put it on his head, where it rested like an absurd floppy hat. Giggling, he wore it through first part of the meeting, for about an hour.