What curve can set things straight?  

Smiles and Laughter

By S.K. Ram

Many readers must have come across this pet question in guess games. The clue to the answer is in the title. Your guess is right! It is the most demonstrative of all facial expressions – it is the smile. It conveys a visual reflection of the state of mind of a person and is a way of non verbal communication. It transmits our inner feelings such as pleasure, happiness, love and in some circumstances frustration or disappointment. It is a gift of nature to the humankind to express appreciation. The smile can be a gesture of acquiescence, it may convey acknowledgement or simply be a delicate way of showing one’s gratitude. 

It can be interpreted as a manifestation of spirituality which may be transmitted to the person who has provoked it. Sculptures, statues and portraits of saints are represented with a peaceful smile which radiates love and symbolizes bliss. Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous portrait “Mona Lisa” has been described as the most enigmatic smile of a woman. Different interpretations have been given to this undecipherable smile.  

A bitter smile can be more meaningful than words. A sarcastic smile may transmit a message of disagreement or disapproval without being rude. We have also the non committal smile, which does not really show what one thinks. 

Discovering their baby’s smile for the first time is a moment of intense emotion for parents. The smile is one of the first milestones of the emotional development of a baby which usually appears a few weeks after birth and is a reflection of his good state of health. 

If smiling is a subtle and silent act, laughter is a vocal expression of joy. It involves more physical effort than the smile and is a common expression of cheerfulness in boisterous gatherings. It is triggered by different stimuli. Children laugh loudly when tickled and this is often accompanied by gesticulations. Funny situations in movies, television shows, circuses where clowns are given ovations by both children and adults, as well as jokes provoke laughter. Some persons can laugh to the point of shedding tears of joy. 

The French expression ‘mourir de rire’ is a metaphorical description of a sudden outburst of laughter. Laughing in somebody’s face is a way of showing scorn to a person openly. Stress causes the release of chemicals that affect the cardiovascular system. It is reported that laughter is one of the many ways to combat stress by promoting the release of endorphins. As laughter tends to be contagious, laughter clubs have been instituted in many parts of the world to promote well-being and combat stress. It is said that laughter is the best medicine. So why not take a vow to start the morning with a smile welcoming another day, and have a hearty laugh before going to bed as a helpful adjunct to induce sleep. 

* Published in print edition on 9 September 2011

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