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Alexandra Karlović - Bagan, Myanmar 2008.

Smile & laugh and recharge.

In 1988, German psychologist Fritz Strack of the Manheim University, did an experiment to study the power of a smile and pretended this was for people who had lost the use of their hands.

Volunteers were asked to rate cartoons on the basis of how funny they were. While watching the cartoons, some of the participants had to hold a pen between their teeth without it touching their lips, other participants had to hold a pen in their lips without allowing it to touch their teeth and another group was just holding the pen in their hands.

Those with a pen between their lips thought the cartoons were less funny than did those holding a pen in their hands. Those with a pen between their teeth thought they were funniest and had an improved mood.

When this study was replicated by other researchers it turned out to be a total flop, until an Israeli experiment proved Strack was right, BUT, when participants were not filmed! The finding is also known as the Facial Feedback Hypothesis: a facial expression affects your emotional state. Smiling improves your mood, a genuine smile is the most powerful but if you can’t, you can put a pen between your teeth it will do it too 🙂

Tony Robbins always talks about the triad to change one’s state: physiology, language and focus. Physiology is about facial expressions and more. You can literally make yourself depressed by frowning and looking down the floor. Amy Cuddy has showed that these low power poses actually increase your level of cortisol.

Facial expressions are contagious and so your smile is contagious. When we see someone else smile, neurons associated with smile are fired up in our brain. When we smile we do the same for others. Probably why Frank Sinatra sang « when you are smiling the whole word smiles with you« .

In other words, smiling is good for you. I was blessed with a smile, it’s easy for me to smile. Some people hate smiling. The thing is, it is good for you and enhances your mood. So why not try it? When I now, see people in the street not smiling, to protect themselves I suppose from a corona potential contagion, I feel they are contaminating others with their facial moods. Not really what we need right now. We need smiling faces!

Smile, sometimes, hopefully often, can lead to laughter. With all the laughter yoga classes that have been popping around, there must be something to laughter that also does us good. I don’t know about you, but I love laughing. Like Tal Ben Shahar would say it feels good to feel good.

Laughter increases your serotonin in the gastrointestinal tract (that one communicates with your brain), the exaggerated breathing involved in laughter improves your cardiac vagal tone, which enhances your parasympathetic tone (relaxation) which reduces the production of cortisol (your stress hormone) and so you feel good after a good laugh.

Laughter also strengthens our immune functions, you then heal faster. It improves cognitives processes, increases your pain thresholds because of the different hormones laughter releases (endorphins, dopamine, neuropeptides). Laughter also produces brain waves similar to a meditative state. I hope you are convinced by now and if science doesn’t do the trick, I hope you just like to laugh because it just makes you feel good.

At the beginning of the pandemic, a few good jokes were going around making us laugh, lately, they started to decline. Hanging out on House Party was fun at the beginning but is getting old and don’t taste as new … so how do we keep laughing in those circumstances which are not fun at all?

I am lucky. I have a best friend with whom I still laugh like when we were 17 years old at High School and had to put the phone down to be able to breath and reduce the belly laughter cramps. I also have a good sense of humour which helps. But when those two are not available, jokes help. YouTube is a great resource (one of my favourite is a texan woman folding a bed fitted sheet) and I have discovered in this Quarantine life « The Big Bang Theory » on Netflix which cracks me up. You can view the funniest moments of this bunch of high intelligent scientists here.

I feel the difference when there is a day with laughter and one without it. A day without it brings me down or should I say, those are the days where I am less resistant to the painful, difficult emotions that we are experiencing right now.

So, what do you do when you need to laugh? Do you have any favourite video? Feel free to post them, it’s like vital medication right now.

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