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National Kissing Day, July 6th

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? (I’m going to gloss over the obviousness of matching the right kiss with the right person. Just as a ‘mwah mwah’ air kiss isn’t right for a passionate night with your partner, a snog with your sister is a social faux-pas, even if done behind closed doors)

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. Continuing the theme of ‘back in the day’ (before blenders and Cow & Gate) mothers would chew their food before passing it into their baby’s mouth. Maybe that was a sort of slightly gross early kiss?

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 on. 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 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 then a key focal point of the face. Woman 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 lip-on-lip action sends a whoosh of signals to the brain and there’s a rush of serotonin (happy chemical) and dopamine (feel-good chemical, the same one that’s released when you take cocaine).

But not everyone gets addicted. Spare a thought for the philemaphobics; those who have a fear of kissing. I can’t help thinking they’re missing out?

On reflection, having studied happiness for 12 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? In which case, please share in the comments section below

Bon appetite!

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Posted by: Andy C