Monday, June 27, 2011


"Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul."
~ Oscar Wilde

Rene Magritte: "The Invention of Life"
Late last year I developed a strange and enduring form of laryngitis. Although my voice was completely gone for just a few days,  I could only speak in a monotone and was unable to laugh aloud for two or three months afterward.

As the problem dragged on, I realized my flattened voice was flattening my mood. And then it occurred to me — why wouldn't it? Our senses give us feedback all the time. Without a range of vocal expression, I sounded like a joyless zombie and gradually started to feel like one, too.

I started looking for scientific studies on the topic — information about how our senses influence our moods. Nothing I've come across touches on the forced silence of laryngitis, but an article titled "Smile! It Could Make You Happier" in the September 2009 issue of Scientific American had some interesting things to say about the way our facial expressions effect our moods. (You can link to an abstract here.)

Among the findings the article discusses:
  • frowning increases sensitivity to pain
  • people who were given Botox injections to prevent them from frowning were happier
  • when Botox prevented people from smiling, they felt depressed

My point here: Our bodies are trying to tell us things, and we are telling things to our bodies even when we don't realize it. I for one plan to pay more attention.

"Seeing, hearing and feeling are miracles, and each part and tag of me is a miracle."
~ Walt Whitman


  1. This is a touching piece. I am sorry you experienced this. But, I am happy you found a way to become yet wiser as a result of it. I agree with you: our body tells us things, and we tell our body things. When I broke a bone in my foot two months after both my cats had died and my husband had left, I felt as though I had emotionally and physically lost eveything, and because I was telling myself this, I was losing more things. The pain in my foot, and my limping walk began to become one with my sadness and loss. It all began to be me. I realize more each year how powerful I can be in directing my feelings; lowering my blood pressure by breathing, feeling less pain in response to a shot by relaxing and floating away in my mind. We are such powerful beings, and we don't always open our arms to ourselves. I have always felt what John Milton said was true: "The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven." I would add that the body is also its own place; we are not just a brain. The power of reframing and the power of balance are transformational.

  2. Katherine, you surely went through a terrible time, the sort of thing that can break a person. I'm glad you've turned it into wisdom. It's very hard to understand how all these things are affecting you when they're happening, but you figured it out. Some people never do. They spend their whole lives feeling like victims. I can't imagine what that must be like.

    When I was a miserable teenager my sister Barbara was the first person to tell me to take what I can learn from bad experiences and leave the rest behind. I remain grateful.

    That Milton quote is so wonderful and reading it brought to mind my late, wonderful cousin Joel Morkan. He was a Milton scholar. He died very young -- in his thirties -- but work is still cited in books and dissertations. Thank you for prompting the thought, and for your thoughtful comments.

  3. Love that John Milton quote. And it's timely for me today.

    Your post reminded me of two TED talks. One was by Roger Ebert, who talked about the loss of his voice and the difficulties he has in using a computer voice. He touched on many of the same issues you do - the flatness, the fact that it doesn't sound like him and that there is quite a bit of identity stored in the sound of one's own voice.

    The second was called the Power of Smiling, and that one I have a link for.

  4. Hi J,

    How could I have forgotten about Roger Ebert? I haven't seen the TED talk (although I just bookmarked it), but I read that remarkable article in Esquire.

    I must, must watch the Ron Gutman/smile video. It seems like it could be cause for a sequel.

    Thank you!


  5. Excellent article. I enjoy reading your work