It seems to me that there is a lot more depressing news and negativity around than there used to be. Adults and children alike are significantly and seriously stressed out. Recently, I read that the number of women in state prisons has increased by more than 800 percent over the past four decades, primarily because of drugs. The New Yorker further elaborates that more than 250,000 children in the US have a mother in jail. Safe places that we used to take for granted, like churches, schools, shopping malls, are no longer safe these days. I very briefly check out the news to make sure that we are not at war. Humans, by nature, are not a peaceful species as history and the present day clearly show. So how did our ancestors cope through the millennia? They worked extremely hard but they made time to dance, to make music and they laughed. All of these qualities, survival gifts if you wish, are innate to all of us, but we seem to have lost touch.

Have you noticed how babies laugh? This laughter is not just superficial, but comes from deep in the inner core. Take a moment to check baby laughter on the internet. What you will discover is that laughter is contagious. This is also built into us. It seems that the first hoots of laughter go back to ancient ancestors of humans at least 10 million years ago. This challenges the belief that laughter is uniquely human. Dr. William Herkiewitz (Smithsonian, May 13, 2013) has explored the evolutionary history of laughing and states that the root of this behavior, his “best guess,” is to tell other humans “not to get too fussed over something that could otherwise be regarded as scary or dangerous”.

Laughter can be complex — a way of expressing how much we are enjoying ourselves or it can be used in a negative mocking way. Laughing together is a prime ingredient in bonding.

The Mayo Clinic (“Stress Relief from Laughter,” April 5, 2019) puts the stamp of approval on laughter as strong medicine in combating negativity from stress by strengthening the immune system, boosting mood and diminishing pain. The Help (Laughter is the Best Medicine”, May 21, 2019) writes that laughter and good humor are an antidote to conflict and help to bring mind and body to a healthy balance. When we laugh, our immune system triggers the release of endorphins which, are the feel good natural chemicals. More research indicates that laughter can help protect the heart by increasing blood flow which can help protect from a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems. For calorie counters — laughter burns calories. For 10-15 minutes of daily laughter, the body burns 40 calories which is a loss of 3-4 pounds in a year.

Laughter diffuses anger and conflict and strengthens relationships, enhances teamwork, promotes group bonding and makes us feel good about ourselves and others. Positive feelings linger on even after the laughter has subsided. Sharing humor is most of the fun. Most enjoyment comes from sharing with family and friends. The message is that humor and laughter are the most powerful ways to heal resentments, disagreements and hurt. Laughter unites people during difficult times.

The final and, by far, most difficult step in one’s laughter training is how to laugh at yourself. This is probably “one of the hardest human skills,” as quoted from Jennifer Hoffman who is a researcher, who studies laughter along with emotional expression from the University of Zurich, Switzerland. Dr. Hoffman refers to laughing at one’s self as on the “Olympic level.” To begin the process of self-laughter, some self-analysis is required as you have to first figure out what you think is funny and expose yourself to more of it. The hard part is figuring out what you don’t like about yourself and what you don’t think is funny. If you find laughing at yourself does not feel good, you are probably not doing it correctly. If you learn to actually enjoy being laughed at, you are experiencing gelotophilla. If this is just too much, keep the chuckles just to yourself.

Pinter is the clinical director at Psychological Services Clinic, headquartered in Sunbury.

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