We laughed our way through our first conversation and every other meeting since then. After graduating college, Tobias channels his creativity and funny bone into screenwriting, which is his passion. He also created some SoaringStories to share with hospitalized children using the healing power of positive narrative to inspire ill children and teens to read, write, and share positive stories with each other. Here’s a funny story written by Tobias, Take Off Your Coat and Stay Awhile.
Surely one of the most mean-spirited days of the year, April Fool’s Day started with a glitch in the calendar. Specifically, more than 500 years ago, when the Gregorian calendar shifted to the Julian calendar, there were some folks (those people who apparently did not get any social media updates) who were unaware of the shift in New Year’s dates from April 1 to January 1. So, these unsuspecting souls became the brunt of April Fool’s day pranks and jokes, always at their expense.
One of the most memorable pranks was the BBC broadcasting a “fake news” story about Italian farmers harvesting spaghetti crops, which motivated hundreds of listeners to call the station to inquire where to purchase the harvested spaghetti crops or to observe the harvest in person.
Laughter is not a joking matter!Use it or lose it, baby. One of the most jaw-dropping statistics is the powerful correlation between age and laughter. A child laughs on average 300 times a day. Surely you can’t help break into an enormous grin watching a giggling baby or a child laughing at a super-silly knock-knock joke. Laughter truly is contagious. Unfortunately, as we age we don’t flex these laughter muscles nearly enough. Adults laugh on average a paltry 20 times each day. So, preparing for this year’s April Fool’s Day, here is your crash course on the healing power of smiling and laughter, which you will soon discover is no joking matter!
The Science of the Smile
Did you know that there are 43 muscles in your face, accounting for 7% of the muscles in your entire body? These muscles enable you to make more than a thousand facial expressions. Even though everyone’s face is unique, there are only five universally recognized expressions, the ones for anger, sadness, disgust, surprise, and joy.
In the 1860’s, Dr. Guillaume Duchenne was one of the most prominent neurologists in Europe, distinguished for describing muscular dystrophy. A true Renaissance man, he was a lover of the arts. Duchenne wanted to use science to help artists in France depict accurate facial expressions. He hooked up electrodes to different facial muscles to see how they operated in different expressions, as captured in different photos. You will never look at a smile the same way after I tell you the secret he discovered.
An authentic smile arises from the activation of the zygomatic cheek-raising muscle, which makes the sides of your mouth rise into the shape of a smile. Duchenne also discovered that the orbicularis oculi muscle of the eyes is a key element in a genuine smile, as a person shows not only teeth but also a distinctive crinkling around the eyes. That’s why wrinkles around the eyes are often called laugh lines.
Activating only the zygomatic muscles causes a person to show teeth in a “grin and bear it” manner. The person is smiling without really meaning it. So now, when someone asks you to smile, you can give them your best Duchenne smile, orbicularis oculi and all.
Smiles Can Be Sources of Joy
Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” Smiling when you aren’t really happy could actually change your mood. Psychologists call this the facial feedback hypothesis.As Hasan and Hasan report, researchers conducted an experiment where participants were asked to put a pencil in their mouths while watching a series of videos. One group was asked to hold a pencil between their teeth and pull their cheeks back, creating a true smile. The other group was asked to hold their pencil in a way that create a forced smile or a frown.
The people who smiled rated the experience of watching funny videos as twice more positive than the people who frowned. The conclusion is that smiling might not make you feel better if you’re having a tough day, but smiling can improve your well-being if you’re having a good day and it allows you to experience more feelings of joy.
Smiles are Contagious
What happens when we see other people smile? You’ve probably heard the expression that laughter is contagious. Well, because of mirror neurons, smiling is contagious too. These mirror neurons play a central role in imitation. They’re activated both when we perform an action and when we see someone else perform the same action. Mirror neurons are also important in empathy and recognizing emotions in other people, as reported by Cell Press.I think you’ll agree that the pediatric floor of a hospital is probably one of the saddest places imaginable. So it’s the perfect platform to inject some smiles and humor to elevate and transform the energy. When we burst into the playroom or teen lounge and invite children, teens and family members to create SoaringJokeBooks they look at us like we have three heads. As we unpack the simple supplies of index cards, hole-punchers, markers, and sheets of really corny knock-knock jokes and squeaky-clean animal riddles nearly all of the kids we invite to pay-it-forward are compelled to jump in to the Soaringwords’ project when we ask them the following simple question: Would you like to bring a smile and laughter to another child?
Children and teens are so energized and hopeful when they can create something fun and meaningful to donate to another child or teen. We discovered that the simplest jokes we enjoyed when we were young are often the ones that still garner the biggest belly laughs. Why is this so? Let’s unpack what’s going on:There are many simultaneous physiological changes occurring –
- Children are savoring happier times when they remember and share a joke from an innocent, happier time in their lives. It reconnects them to this time and their body produces more endorphins, triggering a relaxation response.
- When children imagine the joy that another child or teen will experience when they receive the joke book that they just created, it generates a positive cascading reaction, allowing them to feel a sense of meaning and purpose. See Emily Esfahani Smith’s book for more about the positive impact of finding purpose in helping someone else.
- Being funny and creative taps into people’s signature strengths which allows them to feel most authentically present to the present.
- As Bloom describes, humor and laughter creates social cohesion, reducing the sense of isolation between individuals by blurring the lines between “me” and “you.”
So my friends, it seems we are wired to feel good when we smile and when we share smiles and laughter with others. So laugh away on April Fool’s Day and every day because, after all, laughter is the best medicine for health and vitality.
Buksbaum, L. SOARING into Strength: The New Science Approach to Help You Heal. In preparation. Tobias is one of the exceptional people profiled in this book.
Bloom, P. (2010). How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like. W. W. Norton Company
Bryant, F. & Veroff, J. (2007) Savoring: A new model of positive experience.. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Cell Press (2016, February 11). Why smiles (and frowns) are contagious. ScienceDaily.
Hasan, H., & Hasan, T. F. (2009). Laugh Yourself into a Healthier Person: A Cross Cultural Analysis of the Effects of Varying Levels of Laughter on Health. International Journal of Medical Sciences, 6(4), 200–211.
Martin, R. A., & Kuiper, N. A. (1999). Daily occurrence of laughter: Relationships with age, gender, and Type A personality. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, 12(4), 355-384. Abstract.
Martin, R. A. (2002). Is laughter the best medicine? Humor, laughter, and physical health. Current directions in psychological science, 11(6), 216-220. Abstract.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification.. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Smith, E. E. (2017). The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed with Happiness. New York: Broadway Books.