“When you’re hungry, sing; when you’re hurt, laugh.”
Did you ever see Mary Poppins? The Disney movie? There is a scene in which the children and Mary visit Uncle Albert, a Benjamin Franklin lookalike. He likes to laugh. He is a fan of happiness. In fact, he likes it so much that he sings about it at great length.
His laughter and merriment contain an unusual property: if he laughs too much he starts floating through the air. As a child this struck me as incredibly strange. As an adult, it makes me wonder if being weightless might be easier on my joints, and if I should laugh more.
One day at work a woman asked me if I could help her find “a funny book.” I named a couple of David Sedaris titles off the top of my head.
“Ooohhhh. Tell me about those,” she said.
I started summarizing a couple of the stories from Me Talk Pretty One Day and she started laughing until she had tears in her eyes. Just from the summaries I was stumbling through! Part of me was jealous of her. If laughter was the best medicine surely she lived her life teetering on the edge of an overdose, but what a superior addiction!
I still laugh. I do, but I’m more likely to be laughing on the inside. Internal or external, I find that it is when I have just finished a laughing jag that I feel most grateful. Maybe that’s backwards, but if so, I can’t care about it. I don’t get it out of piety or quiet contemplation the way I do from simply laughing until it hurts. When I’m done, life is good.
Other people have ideas as well, naturally. Make me not your sole source on laughter and medicine and sunshine and jollity.
There is a lot of professional literature out there about the healing powers of laughter, or the placebo effect of laughter, or how laugh therapy is a big fat sham, and so on.
What follows is the least comprehensive review in history, but it might make you smile just to see how far-reaching some of the applications may be.
From the Laughter Yoga website:
Laughter Yoga combines Unconditional Laughter with Yogic Breathing (Pranayama). Anyone can Laugh for No Reason, without relying on humor, jokes or comedy. Laughter is simulated as a body exercise in a group; with eye contact and childlike playfulness, it soon turns into real and contagious laughter. The concept of Laughter Yoga is based on a scientific fact that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter. One gets the same physiological and psychological benefits.
For venous leg ulcers (Practice Nurse)
Laughter is the best medicine for leg ulcers. Practice Nurse, 09536612, 3/25/2011, Vol. 41, Issue 5
In the Elderly (Educational Gerontology)
Educational Gerontology; Apr2001, Vol. 27 Issue 3/4, p323-339, 17p, 1 Diagram, 1 Chart
Relaxation and distraction
The Effects of Laughter on Discomfort Thresholds: Does Expectation Become Reality? By: Mahony, Diana L., Burroughs, W. Jeffrey, Hieatt, Arron C., Journal of General Psychology, 00221309, Apr2001, Vol. 128, Issue 2
Yet, there is something special and unique about mirthful laughter, which is always an indivisible amalgam of its composite mechanisms, that has not yet been explained satisfactorily.
Suggests that the effects may be real and may be rooted in laughter’s ability to provide distraction, relaxation, or expectation (the expectation that laughing will make us feel better)
Different types of laughter (Journal of Psychology)
perceived Attributes of Health-Promoting Laughter: A Cross-Generational Comparison. Journal of Psychology; Mar2002, Vol. 136 Issue 2, p171
A Clown’s Prayer
Lord, as I stumble through this life, help me to create more laughter than tears, dispense more happiness than gloom, spread more cheer than despair…
Never let me forget that I am a clown, that my work is to cheer people up, make them happy, and make them laugh, make them forget momentarily all the unpleasant things in their lives. (104)
Mentioned as part of the Joyful Newsletter in Loretta LaRouche’s book Relax–you may only have a few minutes left
From Doris Lessing
Laughter is by definition health
She won a Nobel prize, but I can’t recall if it was for laughing prowess.
You get the idea
I can’t find anyone who says laughing is actually bad for you, except the puritanical types and stoics who want life to be all about hats with buckles on them, grim gratitude, and steely gazes as we trudge through yet another day of agony.
I’ll pass on that.
I do think the very act of laughing is a really odd response to something being funny. Humor is hard enough to define. How strange that it is accompanied by a tightening of the abdomen, a scrunched of face, and loud braying coming out of what we will now call the laugh hole.
Is laughing good for you? I think it has to be. It feels to good not to, and not in that feels-good-but-is-bad like I hear about heroin.
I still like to laugh, even though I don’t understand it.
If you like to laugh, I think you’ll enjoy the newsletter.