A welcoming smile, a moment of laughter…such priceless gifts of expression.
A life bereft of either of these expressions is absolutely unimaginable. When you smile with a loving intent, your eyes gleam and invite others around you to borrow a part of your disarming expression. A smile makes it presence felt first in the eyes. The face merely dons a charm to feel consonant with the way the heart feels at that moment as the smile rides silently, from one set of eyes to another.
However, when you indulge in a moment of laughter, the eyes respond much too differently. Your eyes open up wide at first in a vain attempt to contain the amazement, and soon enough, they shut shop, drawing a blind over the visual world around.
Laughing is a bodily act, where each body part joins in—in its own unique way—to celebrate a mirth-filled moment in time. First your facial muscles jiggle with the giggle, then your shoulders jig up and down as the resulting resonance reaches the epicentre of our gastronomical desires—the stomach. The bouncing belly belches an air of celebration as a loud guffaw hitches a ride on it and laughter echoes in the surroundings, arousing the curiosity of clueless bystanders. If the moment calls for an even greater celebration, the laughter travels through the spines to the legs, making it impossible to be seated to enjoy the moment fully. You stand up, stamp your legs in a vain attempt to douse the flaming source of laughter, for it only intensifies, as your hands join in the celebration in the need to meet the pressing urge of patting your own thigh, or stroking the back of a friend, or best of all, meeting another palm in mid-air to add a smack of a layer in the gamut of giggles infected by laughter.
The success of a smile is in reciprocity while that of laughter is in finding communal consonance. Both expression celebrate our similarities. A smile is an acknowledgement of how we are all seeking the same things and a shared laughter celebrates the pleasure we derive from a common occurrence.
It is interesting to observe how either expression develop in a human since the time of birth. A child learns to smile first. The capacity for laughter develops at much later stage of understanding. Then, perhaps a smile is a more natural expression, a primal state of being.
Laughter being always open to exhibition makes for an attention seeking cousin of an introverted smile. A laugh is perceptible and has more to do with the air (think of the air you expel when you go ha ha), while a smile, subtle by nature, has an almost ethereal quality.
As much solemnity as we attribute to a smile, there are instances when we are forced to smile ad nauseam (ask the bride and groom at an Indian wedding reception), where the seemingly effortless expression, by virtue of repetition, becomes a facial torment. On the other hand, we look forward to unsolicited, belly-aching laughter, as if the pain is a reflection of the pleasure we derive from it.
The extent to which you can control either expression differs greatly. No matter how hard you try, the mirth in a moment can seldom be muffled, for if something tickles your funny bone, you cannot help but let out a loud laugh, almost as if it were an involuntary psychological function.
But the case with smiles, especially as we grow up, is drastically different. We sadly hold a distinction in holding hostage an ocean of smiles, out of fear, insecurity, mistrust, diffidence, and a void of love that we feel inside. And because we withhold our smiles and exercise our control over them to such an extent, an inviting smile from someone that beckons you to emancipate your own, feels liberating, as if a caged bird destined to sing and soar under the open sky is set free.
But if a smile is transmissible, laughter is communicable. A gaggle of giggling gentlemen is bound to pique the interest of bystanders. And, depending on how funny their laughter is, there is a good chance that passers-by find enough amusement in their expression to chuckle for a moment. The tendency of our collective conscience to be moved by a spell of laugh-worthy moment has given rise to the ubiquitous feature in the sitcoms of our generation – the laughter track. It serves as a repetitive aural reminder of what we must find funny in the act. While being constantly reminded of when to laugh can cause vexation, considering how media of entertainment are consumed these days, mostly alone in a dark living room at night, the act of laughing all by yourself, with not another soul around to share the laugh with, one’s own solitary laughter can somehow seem tragic to a viewer.
Desirable as they are, there is a dark side to both a smile and laughter. Think of the smile etched on Joker’s scarred face, or his menacing laughter, think of the Monalisa’s enigmatic smile, the echoes of the laughter of a spectre, or the vengeful laughter of an antagonist that manages to infiltrate into our dreams. By virtue of the purity of either expression, the slightest aberration in delivery invites an unsettling dread. No wonder that the ever laughing is deemed a lunatic, the ever grinning a clown, and as an act of balance, the ever smiling is celebrated as the Buddha.
Nostalgia has charming relationship with either expression. The memory of laughter shared in the past invites a cherishing smile, while the memory of a smile lived in the past might invite a wistful teardrop.
If laughter is a medicine, smiling is therapy. A smile celebrates truth and beauty, while laughter celebrates our capacity for folly, a far unsettling truth that’s best tempered by our ability to laugh it away.
A smile emanates from the core of the soul and laughter springs from the core of our body. No prizes for guessing then, on how to keep your body and soul awake, alive, and thriving.