As a happiness researcher, I’m well versed in the science of wellbeing, flourishing, strengths, joy and love. But the specifics of kissing are harder to come by. So while happiness has a ‘set-point’, learning has a ‘taxonomy’ and personality has a ‘type’, academics can’t even agree on what a kiss is. Is it a peck, a continental double-cheeker or a tongue-twisting Frenchie?
Have you ever stopped to wonder why we kiss? Lip-on-lip action, sometimes involving slippery tongues and a swapping of saliva. At that base level, it does sound a bit odd, if not a little unhygienic?
If we trace kissing back through the ages it appears to have started out as a smell, with 1500BC scriptures describing kissing as a sniff. Indeed, Inuit people still prefer to rub noses. And here’s an interesting Middle Ages fact; illiterate men would seal a contract by kissing the parchment, hence the literal meaning of the phrase ‘sealed with a kiss’.
My lazy Wiki-research tells me that Thomas Edison pretty much invented the cinema and is also credited with showing the first cinematic kiss. I’ve seen it and, my gosh, it’s pretty tame by today’s standards. But this was 1896, an era where both ‘sparkin’ (kissing indoors) and ‘spoonin’ (kissing outdoors) were frowned upon. Suffice to say, the kissing film was the Victorian equivalent of Frankie’s ‘Relax’ and got banned from many theatres.
It seems kissing is about more than love and affection. It raises your heart and metabolic rate, so is good for your general health. Factor in smell, touch and taste and a kiss becomes an exchange of sensory and biological information. Studies have even shown that women select long-term mates who have different immune systems to themselves, so it could be that kissing acts as a sort of compatibility test.
Human lips are everted (exposed outwards, not like chimps whose are inward) making them a key focal point of the face. Women often paint their lips to make them redder and fuller, a tradition that’s become part of the mating process. Factor in the fact that lips have very nerve-rich skin, so kissing sends a whoosh of signals to the brain and there’s a rush of serotonin (happy chemical) and dopamine (feel-good chemical).
But not everyone gets addicted. Spare a thought for the philemaphobics; those who have a fear of kissing. I can’t help but think they’re missing out?
On reflection, having studied happiness for twelve years, I’ve realised that you don’t need a PhD in anything to understand that kissing is great. If you do it right, it’s good for both parties. And I’d bet my bottom dollar that you can remember your first kiss?
International Kissing Day gives you an excuse to kiss those you love (be sure they love you back prior to launching yourself!). My advice is to make it a double-whammy and tell them it’s national hugging day too. That’s a white lie, but they’ll forgive you for sure.
Dr Andy Cope is a happiness expert and bestselling author of The Little Book of Being Brilliant available now on Amazon. Find out more about Andy at www.artofbrilliance.co.uk.
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