Motivation and emotion/Book/2017/Smiling, laughter, and happiness

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Smiling, laughter, and happiness:
What is the effect of smiling and laughter on happiness?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Being Happy has an affect on your entire life.

[Provide more detail]

  1. What is happiness and its theories?
  2. What is positive psychology and its ideas?
  3. What is smiling and laughter and their theories?
  4. What are the effects of smiling and laughter on happiness?

What is happiness[edit | edit source]

Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence. - Aristotle.

Happiness is "feeling or showing pleasure or contentment". The Greeks used the term eudaimonia to refer to happiness which means "the good life" rather than just an emotion to be experienced. Aristotle explained eudaimonia as being true to one's inner self and according to this view then for someone to find true happiness they must find their own values and nurturing these values and living life by those values (Aristotle, 2000). The concept of eudaimonia links in with the many definitions of happiness within psychology such as well-being, life satisfaction and positive psychology. Seligman (2005) said that positive psychology is a broad term for positive emotions and positive character traits. The idea behind positive psychology is to uncover the understanding of the human life experience, the highs, the lows and everything in the middle to give a better understanding of both suffering and happiness and ways in which we can increase happiness and reduce suffering (Seligman, 2005).

Theories of happiness[edit | edit source]

The terms happiness and life satisfaction are terms used interchangeably for the degree which a person judges their life positively. There are three main theories of happiness and they differ in the assumptions of different information used when evaluating lives.

Comparison Theory[edit | edit source]

The assumption about life in this theory is that it is based on a mental balancing scale, where you have perceptions of life "as it is" versus "life as it should be" (Veenhoven & Ehrhardt, 1995). What this means is that we view life the way that we think it can be realistically. Under this term there are two sub-categories: social-comparison and lifetime-comparison. Social-comparison is like it sounds, that we compare ourselves to those around us and means that if we compare with people who are in a better situation than ourselves then we will be unhappy (Veenhoven & Ehrhardt, 1995). Conversely, when we compare with people in less desirable situations than ourselves we will be happier with our life situation (Veenhoven & Ehrhardt, 1995).

Folklore Theory[edit | edit source]

This theory is about the ideas of life rather than an evaluation of life (Veenhoven & Ehrhardt, 1995). It is more based upon traditions of previous generations rather than the life currently being led. In other words if something in the past has had a negative view then this view may linger for many years and not allow for any positive light to be shed on this subject (Veenhoven & Ehrhardt, 1995).

Livability Theory[edit | edit source]

This theory is all about the quality of one's life and depends on things like: better living conditions in a country equals happier people living in the country (Veenhoven & Ehrhardt, 1995). In contrast to comparison theory, livability theory is all about the overall quality of life, rather than the relative differences (Veenhoven & Ehrhardt, 1995). In general terms this means that if people must be happy if they are in good living conditions even if they know that others are living better than them (Veenhoven & Ehrhardt, 1995).

The brain and its role in happiness[edit | edit source]

Figure 3. Dopaminergic pathways in the brain.

The brain generates wants, urges, appetites, needs, rewards, cravings, desires, pleasure, feelings, mood and a full range of emotions (Reeve, 2015). The motivated and emotional brain consists of an outer cortical brain and an inner sub-cortical brain. The cortical brain deals with the cognitive processes of goals, plans and strategies; which are conscious and deliberate actions (Reeve, 2015). The sub-cortical brain on the other hand deal with unconscious functions attributed to by basic urges and desires which are emotion based (eg. hunger, thirst, desire, reward, anger, fear, etc) (Reeve, 2015).

Table 2. Motivational and Emotional Function of the 16 specific brain structures - Reeve (2015)
Brain Structure Motivational or Emotional Function
Sub-cortical Brain
Reticular Formation Arousal, alertness, wakefulness
The Amygdala Detects, learns about, and responds to the stimulus properties of environmental objects, including both threat-eliciting and reward-eliciting associations.
Basal Ganglia Motivational modulation of movement and action.
Ventral Stratum and Nucleus Accumbens The brain's reward centre. Responds to signals of reward (dopamine release) to produce pleasure and liking.
Ventral Tegmental Area Starting point in the brain's dopamine-reward centre. Manufactures and releases dopamine.
Hypothalamus Responsive to natural rewards in the regulation of eating, drinking, and mating. Regulates both the endocrine system and the autonomic nervous system.
Insular Cortex Monitors bodily states to produce gut-felt feelings. Processes feelings associated with risk, uncertainty, personal agency, and sense of self.
Cortical Brain
Prefrontal Cortex Making plans, setting goals, formulating intentions. Right hemispheric activity is associated with negative affect and "no go" avoidance motivation, while left hemispheric activity is associated with positive affect and "go" approach motivation.
Orbitofrontal cortex Stores and processes reward-related value of environmental objects and events to formulate preferences and make choices between options.
Ventromedial prefrontal cortex Evaluates the unlearned emotional value of basic sensory rewards and internal bodily states. Responsible for emotional control.
Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex Evaluates learned emotional value of environmental events and possible courses of action. Responsible for control over urges and risks during the pursuit of long-term goals.
Anterior cingulate cortex Monitors motivational conflicts. Resolves conflicts by recruiting other cortical brain structures for executive or cognitive control over basic urges and emotions.

Positive psychology[edit | edit source]

Figure 4. Dr Martin Seligman and General W. Casey Jr.

Dr. Martin Seligman (2009) defined the meaning of happiness into three branches distinct from each other. The first is Hedonic: Positive emotion (eg. love, joy, pleasure). Hedonic as most people would think about it would consider the term to mean "feeling good" which is a rather simplistic terminology, the deeper psychological meaning that life is focused on as much of these positive emotions as possible, also can be called the "Pleasant Life" (Jayawickreme, Forgeard and Seligman, 2012). There are shortcuts that will lead you to positive emotion (Seligman, 2009). Shortcuts can include: listening to music, watching television, taking drugs and even masturbation can lead to a positive emotion.

The second branch is called "Engaged Life" and is centred around the concept of flow, or in more modern terms "in the zone". The way in which can be fully immersed in an activity that there are no thoughts or feelings present or that time seems to stop (Peterson, 2006). There are no shortcuts to achieve flow however; flow can only be achieved when you are achieving challenges you strive to achieve on your own (Seligman, 2009). Peterson, (2006) mentions that flow should not be confused with sensual pleasure and says that flow is non-emotional and is considered by many to be an unconscious action.

The third branch of the meaning of happiness is the "Meaningful Life". This branch is achieved through our connections with others and what strengths you have as a person and using them to serve a purpose higher than the self (Seligman, 2009)

How can happiness be measured?[edit | edit source]

A few terms have come about over years of studying positive emotions and are used as indicators of happiness. These terms are: Quality of life, Subjective well-being and Life satisfaction (Peterson, 2006).

  • Quality of life

Quality of life is more of a umbrella term which includes all of the emotions, various experiences, achievements and expectations which are a factor in living a 'good' life (Peterson, 2006).

  • Subjective well-being

Subjective well-being is the term used for a narrower focus on high levels positive affect, when there are lows levels of negative affect and that the overall perception that the life the individual is leading is a good one (Peterson, 2006).

  • Life Satisfaction

Life satisfaction is often used as the best measure for happiness as it remains more stable over time but still remains sensitive to allow for changes in different life circumstances (Peterson, 2006).

Smiling[edit | edit source]

Figure 5. The Duchenne marker - crinkles around the eyes and the lifting of the cheeks (Bradley Cooper)

A Smile starts on the lips, a grin spreads to the eyes, a chuckle comes from the belly; but a good laugh bursts forth from the soul, overflows and bubbles all around. - Carolyn Birmingham.

A smile is can be considered to be one of the most common signals in which to display positive intentions (Krys et al., 2015). The smile, as characterised by Ekman & Friesen (1978), involves an upward turning of the corners of the lips, which has been formed through the contraction of the zygomaticus major muscle. Niedenthal et al. (2010) found that there were three types of smiles which have important functions; enjoyment, affiliative and dominance smiles. To explain in greater detail an enjoyment smile consists of a spontaneous smile when experiencing pleasure or success (Ekman 2009). Affiliative smiles are for the formation and strengthening of social bonds. Finally, dominance smiles are like the name suggests and can reflect things like social status, control, scheming, proud smiles, which contain very different physical similarities with those of the other two categories. Chang and Vermeulen (2010) said that you could only tell the difference between enjoyment smiles and affiliative smiles based upon the contextual environment rather than on physical characteristics themselves. Ekman (2009) found 18 different types of smiles but did propose that there could be as many as 50 smiles.

Researchers have also found that there are both sincere and insincere smiles. Sincere or true smiles are categorised as the involuntary reactions for positive emotions and as opposed to this insincere or false smiles are smiles which are used to convey a positive emotion even though the positive emotion was not felt (Niedenthal et al., 2010; Peterson, 2006). In other words, an insincere smile actually disguises negative feelings. Various morphological and dynamic markers have to found in order to distinguish between the two types of smile. The most common indicator for a true smile is the Duchenne marker, named after Duchenne de Boulogne, who conducted research on facial expressions (Neidenthal et al., 2010). The Duchenne marker consists of the contraction around the eye with the orbicularis oculi. The orbicularis oculi causes the cheeks to lift, the eyes to become a narrower opening and create crinkles around the eyes (Peterson, 2006). This when combined with the zygomaticus major contraction, is often considered to be suggestive of positive emotion. Those smiles which do not contain the Duchenne marker are considered to be the false or masking smiles (Neidenthal et al., 2010).

Laughter and laughter theories[edit | edit source]

I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it's the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It's probably the most important thing in a person.” - Audrey Hepburn

Laughter has been narrowed down into three hypotheses in order to be able to to explain laughter: superiority theory, incongruity theory and the relief theory (Caruana, 2017). However, more recently there have been calls from psychologists and anthropologists to add a social bonding theory as a fourth hypothesis of laughter (Caruana, 2017).

Superiority Theory[edit | edit source]

Superiority theory says that laughter is caused by a feeling of superiority over others (Caruana, 2017). Superiority humour can be seen as laughing at another person's deficiencies and can also be shown as self-derision (Lynch, 2002). Superiority theory goes back as far as Plato and Aristotle, who wrote about humour in the form of mockery (Lynch, 2002).

Incongruity Theory[edit | edit source]

The Incongruity theory is about our appreciation of something which violates our expectations (Caruana, 2017). Another way of explaining the incongruity theory as finding something that it irrational, illogical, inappropriate, paradoxical, false or incoherent as funny (Lynch, 2002). Lynch (2002) describes incongruity humour is a way to interpret ambiguity.

Relief Theory[edit | edit source]

Relief theory is all about the releasing of nervous energy in the form of laughter (Caruana, 2017). It can also be seen as face-saving behaviour in order to reduce tension between people (Lynch, 2002). Stress is released when people experience laughter and this can give people a sense of relief (Wilkins & Eisenbraun, 2009).

Social Bonding Theory[edit | edit source]

Social bonding theory has grown in popularity over recent years and has had many psychologists and anthropologists agreeing that it should be the most predominant theory of laughter (Caruana, 2017). They say that laughter is a means for social bonding and communication and to strengthen these social ties (Provine, 2000; Dunbar, 2012).

Is laughter really contagious?[edit | edit source]

Figure 6. Smiles are contagious[factual?].

Humans use physical contact or grooming in order to create a social bond or to maintain a social structure amongst each other (Dunbar & Shultz, 2010). Dunbar's (2012) study found that the endogenous opioid release after laughing with others created a neurochemical pathway which would support a long-term relationship between humans and be able to live in large social groups.

Manninen (2017) examined whether laughing results in an opioid release and if it does where does this occur within the brain. The participants looked at humorous video clips with two close friends in order to help stimulate spontaneous social laughter. After viewing these clips, participants underwent a PET scan, and a control PET scan was also collected 30 minutes after when the participant had been left alone in the testing room (Manninen, 2017). What the results found was that social laughter increases the opioid release in the anterior insula, the anterior cingulate cortex and posterior cingulate cortex, and also within the basal ganglia and the thalamus (Manninen, 2017). The study gives support for the social-bonding theory of laughter and that laughter will strengthen the social ties to others.

Tickling[edit | edit source]

Tickling is one of the most common ways in which to invoke laughter, it is a playtime in which both humans and chimpanzees take part in (Provine, 2004)[grammar?]. Provine (2004) explains that tickling probably came about from a reflex defence mechanism which would have protected the surface of the body from external parasites or predators. You are unable to tickle yourself but you can be by others, generally can be seen as a form of affection either to give or receive (Provine, 2004).

Benefits of smiling and laughing[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Smiling[edit | edit source]

Smiling changes the outward appearance of someone and studies have also shown that women tend to smile more often than men (LaFrance et al., 2003) and due to gender stereotypes they have a greater expectation for them to smile. Women can feel the social expectation of reacting positively to news and can feel that they might be judged if they do not react with a smile (LaFrance, 1997). The meta-analysis by LaFrance (2003) found that women and adolescent girls do in fact [missing something?] for than their male counterparts and that differences between the sexes depends on the cultural norm and the ages of people.

Figure 7: Laughing is a great way to relieve stress.

There have been many studies on attractiveness but not many on the actual features which make someone attractive or unattractive. Expressions have large effects on the perception of attractiveness (Little et al., 2011). Those people who were smiling in pictures were rated higher than those who weren't smiling[factual?]. Studies have also found that people are generally liked more when they are conveying a positive social interest towards them (Conway, 2008). For example, people like it when someone smiles at them and makes eye-contact with them at the same time.

Laughing[edit | edit source]

There have been studies conducted into laughter being able to reduce stress. Kimata (2004) studied 52 participants with atopic dermatitis and allergies to dust mites, pollen and histamine. The participants were placed in one of two groups in which they either watched a funny video or a serious video (Kimata, 2004). Allergic skin wheel responses, plasma nerve growth factors and neurotrophin-3 blood levels were all measured and recorded via mobile phones (Kimata, 2004). It was found that the participants who viewed the funny video that the measures of stress were considerably less than those who watched the serious video (Kimata, 2004). This research has strengthened the idea of relief theory, as humour has been found to have an affect of reducing the physiological effects of stress (Kimata, 2004).

A study by Szabo et al. (2005) wanted to examine different measures of relief methods on anxiety and mood changes in 20 women. They wanted to see what the differences that humour, music, exercise and sitting would have upon anxiety. Each of the participants were measured for anxiety and other mood changes for 5 minutes before testing and 5 minutes after each test (Szabo et al., 2005). For each of the variables different activities were required (watching a funny video; listening to music; cycling at 50% of the maximum heart rate and finally sitting quietly). Watching a funny video showed the biggest change in anxiety and mood changes as compared with exercising, listening to music or sitting quietly (Szabo et al., 2005).

Laughter has also had an affect on a persons body, it has been shown that laughing can promote weight loss[grammar?]. Buchowski et al. (2007) found that laughter had an affect on weight loss. They examined 92 friend groups and the effects of heart rate and energy expenditure during periods of genuine laughter (Buchowski et al., 2007; Wilkins & Eisenbraun, 2009). The participants had a baseline measure for energy expenditure and heart rate. They then watched either watched a funny video or a serious one, while their laughter, heart rate and the rate of energy expenditure was measured at 1 minute intervals. They found that while laughing the energy expenditure increased up to 20% from resting. It is this increase which translated that an annual weight loss of 0.5-2kg (Buchowski et al., 2007).

What effects do smiling and laughing have upon overall happiness?[edit | edit source]

Keltner (1997) examined the correlations of laughter and smiling during bereavement. They found that Duchenne laughter would reduce anger and increase enjoyment, reduction of distress, improve social connections and have positive responses from strangers (Keltner, 1997). Duchenne smiling and Duchenne laughing they both have significant impacts on positive emotion and the perception of positive emotions by observers. It was found that laughter has a stronger connection with a reduction in anger and that smiling had a strong affiliation with reducing stress and fear (Keltner, 1997).

Takeda et al. (2010) looked into the effects that smiling and laughter had upon patients with dementia. This was very interesting as humour could be considered to be insensitive towards dementia patients, especially within the earlier stages of the disease, as the patient is aware that they are aware of the fact they have difficulty understanding complicated things (Takeda et al., 2010). The treatment cannot be undertaken if there is no trust between the carer and the patient, the patient may see it as a joke made at their expense[grammar?]. As this is the case humour can only be introduced very slowly to examine how it is being received, if it is positive continue with treatment, if not then it may be best to abandon the humour therapy (Takeda et al., 2010). The benefits of laughing for a dementia patient is great especially as many are often lonely and the introduction of positive emotions by way of laughing must have an affect on their overall happiness[factual?].

Quiz[edit | edit source]

1 What is the name given for the most common facial marker for detecting between true and false smiles?


2 How many theories of laughter are there?


3 Does smiling make you more attractive?


Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Figure 8. Conclusion enjoy the little things.

Happiness is a very broad subject with various sub categories and theories. However, it has been shown that both smiling and laughter have a significant impact on one's quality of life. The studies have shown that people who smile more tend to be viewed in a more positive or attractive light. There is also the added benefit of laughing being a very useful way to relieve stress and tension. So smile and laugh your way into happiness!!!

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” - Dalai Lama XIV

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Aristotle. (2000). The Nicomachean Ethics (R.Crisp, Trans.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Buchowski, M., Majchrzak, K., Blomquist, K., Chen, K., Byrne, D., & Bachorowski, J. (2007). Energy expenditure of genuine laughter. International Journal of Obesity, 31, 131-137.

Burton, L., Westen, D., & Kowalski, R. (2016). Psychology - (Australian and New Zealand 4th ed.). Milton, Queensland: John Wiley & Sons.

Caruana, F. (2017). Laughter as a neurochemical mechanism aimed at reinforcing social bonds: Integrating evidence from opioidergic activity and brain stimulation. The Journal of Neuroscience, '37, 8581-8582.

Chang, B., & Vermeulen, N. (2010). Re-thinking the causes, processes, and consequences of simulation. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33, 441–442.

Conway, C., Jones, B., DeBruine, L., & Little, A. (2008). Evidence for adaptive design in human gaze preference. Proceedings Of The Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 275(1630), 63-69.

Dunbar, R. (2012). Bridging the bonding gap: The transition from primates to humans. Philosophical Transactions Of The Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 367(1597), 1837-1846.

Dunbar, R., & Shultz, S. (2010). Bondedness and sociality. Behaviour, 147(7), 775-803.

Ekman, P. & Friesen, W. V. (1978) Facial action coding system: A technique for the measurement of facial movement. Consulting Psychologists Press

Ekman, P. (2009). Lie catching and microexpressions. In C. Martin (Ed.), The philosophy of deception (pp. 118–133). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jayawickreme, E., Forgeard, M., & Seligman, M. (2012). The engine of well-being. Review Of General Psychology, 16(4), 327-342.

Keltner, D., & Bonanno, G. (1997). A study of laughter and dissociation: Distinct correlates of laughter and smiling during bereavement. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 73(4), 687-702.

Kimata, H. (2004). Effect of viewing a humorous vs. nonhumorous film on bronchial responsiveness in patients with bronchial asthma. Physiology & Behavior, 81(4), 681-684.

Kimata, H. (2004). Laughter Counteracts Enhancement of Plasma Neurotrophin Levels and Allergic Skin Wheal Responses by Mobile Phone—Mediated Stress. Behavioral Medicine, 29(4), 149-154.

Krys, K., -Melanie Vauclair, C., Capaldi, C., Lun, V., Bond, M., & Domínguez-Espinosa, A. et al. (2015). Be Careful Where You Smile: Culture Shapes Judgments of Intelligence and Honesty of Smiling Individuals. Journal Of Nonverbal Behavior, 40(2), 101-116.

LaFrance, M., Hecht, M., & Paluck, E. (2003). The contingent smile: A meta-analysis of sex differences in smiling. Psychological Bulletin. (129).

LaFrance, M. (1997). Pressure to be pleasant: Effects of sex and power on reactions to not smiling. International Review of Social Psychology, (2)95–108.

Little, A., Jones, B., & DeBruine, L. (2011). Facial attractiveness: evolutionary based research. Philosophical Transactions Of The Royal Society B: Biological Sciences366(1571), 1638-1659.

Lynch, O. (2002). Humorous Communication: Finding a Place for Humor in Communication Research. Communication Theory, 12(4), 423-445.

Manninen S, Tuominen L, Dunbar RI, Karjalainen T, Hirvonen J, Arponen E, Hari R, Ja¨a¨skela¨inen IP, Sams M, Nummenmaa L (2017) Social laughter triggers endogenous opioid release in humans. J Neurosci (37)6125– 6131

Niedenthal, P., Mermillod, M., Maringer, M., & Hess, U. (2010). The Simulation of Smiles (SIMS) Model: Embodied simulation and the meaning of facial expression. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, (33), 417–433.

Peterson, C. (2006). A primer in positive psychology. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

Provine, R. R. (2004). Laughing, Tickling, and the Evolution of Speech and Self. Current Directions In Psychological Science, 13(6), 215-218. doi:10.1111/j.0963-7214.2004.00311.x

Reeve, J. (2015). Understanding motivation and emotion (6th ed). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Seligman, M. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.60.5.410

Seligman, M., Ernst, R., Gillham, J., Reivich, K., & Linkins, M. (2009). Positive education: positive psychology and classroom interventions. Oxford Review Of Education, 35(3), 293-311.

Szabo A. 2003. The acute effects of humor and exercise on mood and anxiety. Journal of Leisure Research. 35(2):152–162.

Takeda, M., Hashimoto, R., Kudo, T., Okochi, M., Tagami, S., & Morihara, T. et al. (2010). Laughter and humor as complementary and alternative medicines for dementia patients. BMC Complementary And Alternative Medicine, 10(1).

Veenhoven, R., & Ehrhardt, J. (1995). The cross-national pattern of happiness: Test of predictions implied in three theories of happiness. Social Indicators Research, 34(1), 33-68.

Wilkins, J., & Eisenbraun, A. (2009). Humor Theories and the Physiological Benefits of Laughter. Holistic Nursing Practice, 23(6), 349-354.

External links[edit | edit source]