“Try to laugh, especially when you are troubled” is a piece of advice I was given years ago.

I don’t remember if it came from a senior colleague of mine, or from something I read.

As I act on this advice from time to time, I am sometimes told by my family, “You sort of creep us out.”

Still, laughing does seem to help me look at my own predicament in a slightly more positive light.

I thought all this was just in my imagination. But there appears to be some scientific foundation to it.

In “No niwa Myo na Kuse ga Aru” (The brain has some odd habits), Yuji Ikegaya reports on an experiment in which subjects were made to “grin” by clamping their teeth on a chopstick placed sideways in their months.

This, Ikegaya found, generated changes in dopamine-related neural activity in the brain.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter related to the brain’s reward and pleasure systems. People laugh when they are happy or amused, but the reverse also seems to be true--putting on a smile can induce a sense of happiness or amusement.

According to another experiment, subjects who were made to read comics while maintaining their “grin” with a chopstick found the comics funnier and more enjoyable.

My impression is that athletes who smile broadly have been on the increase in recent years. In the marathon, Naoko Takahashi became famous some years ago for her signature smile, dubbed the “Q-chan smile.”

Nowadays, it is no longer unusual to see smiles on the faces of athletes in any field. Perhaps this means we can look forward to improved performance.

On the other hand, a recent spate of scandals are probably enough to make athletes weep.

There was a case of “power harassment” in wrestling, while an American football coach was found to have ordered his player to break the rules. And problems are starting to surface in gymnastics, too.

It is as if the “disease” is spreading into all fields of sports, and this saddens me.

Ikegaya mentions in his book that a study has shown that laughter is “contagious.” That sort of contagion is totally welcome.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 4

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.