[FOUNTAIN]Laughing, with or at

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[FOUNTAIN]Laughing, with or at

Aristotle defined man as an animal that can laugh. French philosopher Henri Bergson twisted the definition and said that man is an animal that laughs at others. In modern society, we laugh at someone more often than we have a happy laugh.
We all know that having a laugh is good for health, but in fact, a sneer is as beneficial to health as an innocent smile. U.S. President George W. Bush seems to understand the physiological effect of a sneer very well.
When a reporter inquisitively pressed Mr. Bush about the Iraq War, the president silenced him by noting that the reporter’s face was only suitable for radio.
The reporter’s heart rate and blood pressure might have increased because of the adrenaline rush, but Mr. Bush must have felt satisfied with his surging endorphins.
We don’t have to go as far as that example to understand the phenomenon. A drinking party is always more fun when you have a laugh at your boss, so a sneer is apparently not an unhealthy thing.
Man is also an animal that can fake a smile. We certainly become more cheerful and giggly in the presence of a foreign guest or a boss. Whenever a foreigner opens his mouth, people show a friendly smile, and we burst out in laughs at the boss’s bad jokes.
That is a result of the cerebral order to the nerves in charge of making a smiling face. “Pretend you understood the foreigner’s words,” or “Laugh or your boss will get upset,” the brain says. Even these forced smiles are beneficial to your health.
Faking a smile is far better for your mental health than having your poor foreign language skills revealed or offending your boss, not to mention that it can help your career. Dr. Madan Kataria of India runs the Laughter Club, which encourages people to force themselves to laugh out loud as a means of mental therapy.
The International Herald Tribune ran a New Year’s special series on laughter on its front page. A movement encouraging people to laugh more is spreading around the world.
Koreans say, “A laugh bag has burst open.” While it has not yet been proven, modern medicine has identified the existence of a “laugh bag.” The A10 region in the frontal lobe of the left cerebrum is full of dopamine-releasing nerves. Dopamine controls the sensation of pleasure.
While you can open the laugh bag with sneers or fake smiles, I hope we can burst the laugh bag as we sincerely celebrate joyful and pleasant events in 2006. Let’s leave the bitter, empty and cold laughs behind with the old calendar.

by Lee Hoon-beom

The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo’s weekend news team.
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