Smiling is not all lips and cheeks

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Aug 4, 2011 in Rat News | Subscribe

Did you hear about the dogs that held a convention but were so poor they had to meet in the barking lot? If you thought that was funny, maybe you need to get out more often.

Or maybe in today’s world we desperately need something to smile about. In the whole smiling and laughing routine, why anyway do we bare our teeth, curl our lips, and bunch up our cheeks when we want to show we’re happy? Unwilling as I am to be bullied by custom, I have decided to wiggle my right ear instead of the mouth ritual when delighted. When responding to a joke or funny situation, I will pull on my hair and scratch my nose. Just so you know.
It is said that the human smile is actually a fear response. Our ancestors showed their teeth when they felt unsure or threatened. Laughing when tickled could have begun when our primate predecessors had bugs crawling over them, so they shook with laughter to shake them off. Well, that should answer my questions. I need never laugh again, as long as I have no fear of having to listen to David Letterman’s jokes and I keep the crickets out of the closet.
Now researchers have scanned brains and tickled babies, chimpanzees and rats, to get some answers. It must be fun to be a researcher, though if my job were to tickle rats, I don’t think I’d ever smile again. According to the British Dental Health Foundation, a smile gives the same level of stimulation as eating 2,000 chocolate bars. Since I believe in good dental care, tonight I’m going to forego smiling and just load up on the chocolate. I’m trying to be conscientious about the whole thing.
Most laughter, though, has little to do with humor, according to researchers. We probably agree after watching late-night comedians get their audiences to laugh at their jokes by rewarding them for clapping. Since researchers love to interpret everything in terms of evolutionary survival, we might have known they’d see laughter as a way of getting along with others — and so, to survive. When they go home at night, the males among them no doubt empty the garbage as their wives tell them to do — to survive.
President Obama must have been laughing a lot in his conversations with John Boehner and the other Republicans, as he tried to survive the debt crisis. Either that or he frequently bared his teeth, to show if he felt tickled or not by the bugs in the Oval Office.
Researchers even see the “ha-ha” of a belly buster as a later version of the panting of chimps as they tickled and chased one another. And rats — who could avoid our beloved laboratory friends? — have been found to emit an ultrasonic chirp when they’re tickled. They’re showing they are ready to be friends. Even my PC has been emitting a chirp lately, but I’m not laughing, since I think it means I have to clean it soon.
If our ancestors of centuries past had lived near Socorro, they wouldn’t have bothered with the mouth and wiggle rendition anyway, since we use the two- or three-finger wave to signal our friends when driving. The hand is placed on the steering wheel in ready mode, and two fingers shows general amiability, while three fingers says you know the other driver and will lend them a dime if they need it. That’s how we smile around here, tickled or not.
Otherwise, smiles are made not just for pleasure, but out of embarrassment, to display dominance, or as a greeting. Whichever is your reason to smile, you can join the movement to replace the typical smile-and-laugh drill with the alternative described above. Start by training any pet rats or chimps, and watch as they evolve. Then turn on Rush Limbaugh at midday, and pulling your hair and scratching your ears will come natural.
Somehow, we need to smile and laugh today, as we live in a troubled and turbulent world.  So what did the chimpanzee say when he heard that his sister was going to have a baby? “I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.” If that makes you feel you’re being tickled, please call 9-1-1.

Kozeny has worked as a teacher, counselor, and in pastoral ministry. He can be reached by e-mail to
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Tags: , , , , ,

Copyright © 2019 RatChatter All rights reserved.
RatChatter v1.0 theme from