Image from Wikimedia Commons
Pick a positive memory. “Something happy enough to conjure a Patronus.” (Harry Potter, anybody?) Take a second to reminisce on a happy time you’ve experienced. Did you grin as you took a trip down memory lane? Maybe you sheepishly chuckled as you recalled an embarrassing event. If you didn’t, then pick a happier memory.
Anyways, I’ll stop being a backseat driver to your conscience and get to the point: the expression of happiness (and other emotions) is crucial to our health.
Did you know that a child can laugh 300 to 400 times a day, even when they are doing nothing? While adults only laugh merely 15 times a day. This is partly because adults process the occurrence through their intellectual filter before releasing a laugh. Laughter is simply an expression of a feeling that humans use to express themselves. Laughter is not something that is learned at a young age-it is ingrained in our primal instincts to make a sound similar to “ha-ha” when we are pleased.
However, laughter is not simply an expression of emotion, but a social cue that humans use when in social gatherings. A study done by Robert Provine and his team of student researchers discovered that when people are together, only 10%-20% of laughter occurrences were caused by anything remotely joke like. Laughter is extremely hard to control consciously. For example, if you were to ask a person to laugh, they’d respond something like “I can’t laugh on command!” According to Provine’s studies, this suggests that we cannot deliberately activate the brain’s mechanisms to conjure up a laugh. A majority of the time, laughter was used as a social tool that humans use indirectly to convey level of comfort or another emotion. The action, so common it is overlooked, is pivotal to human bonding and interaction. Our blood pressure even increases, suggesting that laughter affects not only the mood of the room but the physical state of the body. However, laughter is not always used to display a positive emotion. A laugh can be used to assert the mood of a person or a group, allowing a person to change their attitude accordingly to better fit in with their peers to avoid being ostracized. Many times, an awkward or a forced laugh can be a sign of discomfort, irritation, exasperation or even fear.
Fear is another emotion that humans do not have to learn. Fear is an emotion that is caused by a perceived threat that usually causes one to hide or shield themselves from it. Fear is survival mechanism: it helps us decide whether we fight or flee, or whether we freeze up with locked knees or wobbly limbs. Fear affects our bodies in ways we may not notice such as an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, dilated pupils, vein constriction, increased blood glucose, tension of muscles and a shutdown of nonessential systems such as digestion and the immune system.
According to scientists, no matter how much humans try, we cannot be completely fearless. Some people may be born without pain sensation, but fear is something that all of us have.
The major question is why do we continue to gnash our teeth and squint through clenched fingers at the screen when we’re watching a horror movie that we clearly despise? Why do we turn off the lights only to climb onto the lap of our friend the minute the horror show starts? It is because we are curious. We are curious to see what will happen to the protagonist, curious to see what the psychopath will do and how they act. The thrill we feel when we see something so harsh and abrupt is caused by a release of adrenaline. We enjoy the rush and the fear that we feel is just as real-our heartbeats can increase as much as 15 beats per minute. Our skin temperature drops several degrees and our palms become clammy.
Emotions are something we scarcely ever evaluate, yet they have the potential to alter our physical state significantly. So in the future, when you feel stressed, laugh a little, just don’t fake it. If you’re walking down the street in the wee hours of the night and get sweaty palms, it might be a good thing to high-tail it out of there. Your body will never lie to you.