Smile, Laugh, Tease

Smiling helps us work together and feel like we belong with others.

It helps us feel happy and calm. It helps us process information and work towards goals.
But not all smiles have this effect…
Only the kinds of smiles that involve special muscles around the eyes.
Scientists call those types of smiles Duchenne smiles. People tend to exhale when they show those Duchenne smiles. And that exhaling tends to reduce stress because it causes the release of opiates in the brain. Those opiates produce warm and calm feelings.
Smiling helps the people who see us feel better, too. Seeing our smiles makes other people’s brains release dopamine, which makes them feel calmer.
Smiling is so important that children raised without seeing smiles can become less interested in their environment. And that means that they can becomes less interested in learning new things. So, smiling is truly extraordinarily important.
But those non-Duchenne smiles, those smiles that don’t include the muscles around people’s eyes, do not encourage enjoyment. Instead, they could well be communicating pain, fear, contempt or submission.

Laughing makes us feel lighthearted. It increases our sense of fun.

It is also 30 times more likely to happen around others rather than when we are alone. And it almost always occurs while we are exhaling. Breathing out helps reduce our blood pressure and decrease our anxiety levels, so laughing truly reduces stress. Even our fight or flight muscles go limp.
But laughing doesn’t just make our bodies feel better. It also helps us show appreciation for others. It increases our sense of cooperation and trust. This isn’t surprising, since laughing tends to happen when we are surprised by something we didn’t expect. Therefore, it shows an ability to look at situations from from than one point of view. It helps us understand that other people see life differently than we do, and that helps us develop empathy.
But we’re talking about the kind of laughing that scientists call voiced laughs, the kind that rise and fall like songs. Unvoiced laughs – the kind that sound like hisses, snorts or grunts – are not friendly at all.

Teasing helps us see life from different perspectives.

It  helps us to become more appreciative and understanding of others. But there are quite a few non-verbal behaviours that must be present for teasing to be playful rather than mean.

True teasing . . .

1. involves people who are at least ten or eleven years old – in other words, people who are old enough to hold contradictory ideas in their head;
2. occurs in an informal setting where everyone is friends – therefore, as soon as someone enters the group who does not share a friendship with everyone present, the teasing needs to stop so that people don’t start to feel awkward;
3. isn’t domineering – and so invites a response;
4. doesn’t focus on an individual’s vulnerable points; and
5. isn’t physically painful.

True teasing also. . . .

1. isn’t truthful – instead, it involves exaggerated or completely unbelievable statements;
2. isn’t simply informative – instead, it includes either lots of repetition or is very short;
3. isn’t relevant – instead, it wanders off the topic being discussed; and
4. isn’t clear – instead, it tends to require the listener to read between the lines or understand metaphors.

It isn’t easy to be good at teasing!

So, the next time you encounter teasing, observe and try to remember as much as you can. Then take a look at the qualities described above before making a decision:
1. Was that true teasing?
2. Was that an honest attempt at teasing by a person who needs more practice?
3. Or was it purposefully mean?

Here’s a little checklist to use when you’re analysing teasing:

1. Everyone involved was at least 11 years old.      yes  / no
2. Everyone present was friends with each other.   yes  / no
3. The person being teased was welcome to tease in return.   yes  / no
4. Sensitive topics were not mentioned.   yes  / no
5. There was no physical pain for anyone.  yes / no
6. What was said was a huge exaggeration or completely unbelievable.   yes / no
7. What was said was either repeated a lot or was very short in length.   yes / no
8. What was said was completely off topic.   yes / no
9. What was said required reading between the lines to get the joke.   yes / no

To learn more, read Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life by Dacher Keltner (W.A. Norton, 2009).

[This page may be copied for use with students if the following credit is provided: ©2009, 2017 Sophie Rosen.]

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