23 February, 2005

Blink, Wink

...I've got something I can laugh about....

Add these to the list of reasons why it's better:

Because you can do it even if you think you’re too tired to do it.

Because once you start, it’s hard to stop, and that’s a GOOD thing.

Because even if you start alone, chances are others will join in quickly.


Because you can do it for a long, long time without getting the least bit sticky.

What you do with your face is important. In the National Geographic special I watched last night, a guard at the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier spoke about how people told him he started to look 'mean'. He didn't mean to look mean, but because his face 'assumed the position', it became habitual. I submit that his outlook also changed.

There is empirical evidence that what you do with your face has a psychological and physiological effect. Don't believe me, talk to Malcolm Gladwell, who researched the inventors of the Facial Action Coding System, Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen. In his article in The New Yorker, The Naked Face, Gladwell recounts the following incident.

Ekman received his most memorable lesson in this truth when he and Friesen first began working on expressions of anger and distress. "It was weeks before one of us finally admitted feeling terrible after a session where we' d been making one of those faces all day," Friesen says. "Then the other realized that he'd been feeling poorly, too, so we began to keep track." They then went back and began monitoring their body during particular facial movements. "Say you do A.U. one, raising the inner eyebrows, and six, raising the cheeks, and fifteen, the lowering of the corner of the lips," Ekman said, and then did all three. "What we discovered is that that expression alone is sufficient to create marked changes in the autonomic nervous system. When this first occurred, we were stunned. We weren't expecting this at all. And it happened to both of us. We felt terrible . What we were generating was sadness, anguish. And when I lower my brows, which is four, and raise the upper eyelid, which is five, and narrow the eyelids, which is seven, and press the lips together, which is twenty-four, I' m generating anger. My heartbeat will go up ten to twelve beats. My hands will get hot. As I do it, I can't disconnect from the system. It's very unpleasant, very unpleasant."

Ekman, Friesen, and another colleague, Robert Levenson, who teaches at Berkeley, published a study of this effect in Science. They monitored the bodily indices of anger, sadness, and fear—heart rate and body temperature—in two groups. The first group was instructed to remember and relive a particularly stressful experience. The other was told to simply produce a series of facial movements, as instructed by Ekman— to "assume the position," as they say in acting class. The second group, the people who were pretending, showed the same physiological responses as the first. A few years later, a German team of psychologists published a similar study. They had a group of subjects look at cartoons, either while holding a pen between their lips—an action that made it impossible to contract either of the two major smiling muscles, the risorius and the zygomatic major— or while holding a pen clenched between their teeth, which had the opposite effect and forced them to smile. The people with the pen between their teeth found the cartoons much funnier. Emotion doesn't just go from the inside out. It goes from the outside in. What's more, neither the subjects "assuming the position" nor the people with pens in their teeth knew they were making expressions of emotion. In the facial-feedback system, an expression you do not even know that you have can create an emotion you did not choose to feel.

This article might have been the beginning of Gladwell's new book, Blink, which I bought and devoured last week. No surprise, as his first book, The Tipping Point, is among my top ten favorite books ever (including everything by Albee, Bradbury, Christie, D’Aulaire, Eggers, Fulghum, Goldman, Heinlan, Ingalls, Jackson, Kipling, Lear, Marx, Nixon, Orman, Parker, Queen, Rowling, Shakespeare, Thurber, Updike, Virtue, Williams, Xavier, Yeats and Zane).

So laughter may not only be better than sex, it may actually be more important, as well. And to that end...

Last week, The Animal hooked me with a Watergate reference, which segued into a politics-as-mudslinging rant, but this week he just totally cracks me up. Tim Kreider, after yanking me down with a retrospective on his experience of the late Hunter S. Thompson, makes me laugh out loud, which is hard to explain to the other folks at the library. Wish him a happy birthday when you pop by.

Lurk has found something characteristic of his weird combination of humor and misery. Must remember to ask him if Mil Millington of Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About is his brother. Again with the laughing out loud. For those who'd like to get back to miserable humor, see Foamy The Squirrel at IllWillPress, brought to my attention by Soundguy, who is back in town and insisting on his fair share of hugs and kisses. The fact that he’s just the right size for hugging and smells really nice makes that a pleasant chore indeed.

So now I have to work on doing it with him.

I meant laughing. What did you think?

(Good Day, Sunshine; The Beatles)

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