I’ve been thinking a lot about laughter lately. After all, we laugh a lot. But why does it bring so much joy?
Ever crave a deep belly laugh, so you call your best friend? Ever watch SNL Skits on Youtube just to laugh? Ever hear a child laugh and can’t help but join in?
I had this friend in high school; she had the most contagious laugh. She was one of those people that when she laughed, everyone wanted to laugh too — even if you didn’t think it was funny, even if you didn’t hear the joke. You wanted to laugh so that you were wrapped in her laughter too, somehow a part of the magic. We have people like this to bless our lives with their laughs. Sometimes entire families are like this, and laughter is actually layered into their genetic code. Their laughs are not intentional or forced; the laughter is fluid, joyful, happy.
Laughter has me thinking though… why we do we laugh in the first place? A strange sound coming from our bodies… surely it has to release some sort of biological purpose? Right? And how does it affect our hearts, souls, & beings? It must heal in some way, no? And for goodness sake, why does it feel SO good to laugh?
Ultimately though, I was thinking about how humor has shaped my life for the better.
Biologically.. Why Do We Laugh?
Well, from what I could find searching the world wide web, it seems that laughter was an evolutionary tactic to cope with communicating with larger groups of people. As humans evolved, larger groups survived. With more people in a family unit, arose methods of coping with socializing with larger groups… laughter being one of those coping mechanisms.
When there is a larger group, not everyone can communicate at once; it’d be chaos. Enter: Laughter. Laughter is a form of non-verbal communication that keeps individuals involved in the discussion. They feel a part of the community, but don’t cause chaos.
Robert Provine, neuroscientist & professor of psychology, actually wrote an entire book on laughing, called (you guessed it) Laughter. He writes: "In laughter we emit sounds and express emotions that come from deep within our biologic being -- grunts and cackles from our animal unconscious." Laughter is a very animalistic act. The sounds of laughter could have meant understanding and agreement during a conversation. We know now that laughter has evolved beyond agreement… to entertainment, enjoyment, and joy. Regardless, the act of laughter makes us feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. When we laugh, we feel one with our community.
Laughing Will Make You COVID Free?
Not really. But yes? I guess? Positive thoughts release small proteins that help fight stress and increase your immunity to disease. Conversely, negative thoughts create chemical reactions that lead to stress and end up decreasing your immunity. So legit — next time you’re down a negative Nancy path…be like, “I’m making myself more susceptible to disease right now…. I should probably just laugh instead.” ((also right now I’m picturing scientists inputting laughing proteins into the COVID vax. This is not accurate at all and I made up ‘laughing proteins’ but it’s just making me giggle at the moment)).
Laughter Connects Us
Laughter can really bring people together. We feel a special bond when we laugh with others. But why? Well, it turns out UNC Chapel Hill was also intrigued by laughter, and did a good chunk of research on ‘shared laughter.’ Researcher and social psychologist, Sara Algoe, spoke about her findings: “Shared laughter signals that they see the world in the same way... Perceived similarity ends up being an important part of the story of relationships.” As humans, that’s what we love taking part in… finding shared perceptions, shared beliefs, or shared values.
Think about a first date — the entire time you’re basically comparing and contrasting similarities and differences between one another. What you have in common, what you don’t. And we’ve learned that a shared sense of humor is one of the most desired qualities people look for in others.
Time put out an article talking about how ‘sexy’ humor is. It referenced multiple studies that proved that females who laugh and men who crack jokes have more success getting follow-up dates. One study even suggested that laughter doesn’t just mean joy and amusment. Laughter correlates with our perceptions of intelligence, and suggests, to some degree, laughter is an intelligence indicator. When people find a shared sense of humor and understand humor, the animal ancestor in them determines they may be a better mate. ((& now every time you giggle now just think about how smart you are))
Laughter Puts Us At Ease
Do you have one of those friends that just has impeccable timing? That layers in jokes at the perfect moment to ease stress? I love these kind of people.
Truthfully, I’m a head-case sometimes. I get stressed. I leave the present moment regularly. I don’t like to, but I definitely do. But some incredible people have this amazing quality of using humor to heal.
If you think about it — laughter acts as an energy release from a discussion. Thankfully, we have magic makers who are able to steer these tense moments in a positive way. Have you ever been in a work meeting or discussion and tension just seems to build? Not intentionally, not dramatically. When we have serious discussions, there’s a pressure that builds. But suddenly, someone cracks a joke about something ridiculous and there’s a release… as if the discussion went back to equilibrium. As if the conversation itself was trying to maintain some sort of balance.
I’m thankful for these types of people. I’m thankful for these types of moments…moments of laughter that help maintain the balance of our souls.
Laugh at Yourself
Alright — so we all have shit. We all have things we worry about, things that remove us from the present moment and bring us to a place of anxiety, fear, or hate. We may hate ourselves or hate something that happened to us. We may fear our future or loathe our past. We constantly are thinking all of these (sometimes completely unnecessary) thoughts that somehow overcome our inner peace.
The more our souls experience the present moment, the more joy we have. Enjoying the present moment acts as a breath of fresh air for our minds, our beings, our souls. It brings compassion for our hearts and love for ourselves.
So what does this have to do with laughter? What’s the point? Well, I was recently listening to The Power of Now, by Eckhark Tolle. He spoke about how our thoughts are excessive. How our thoughts overcome our minds. How we think so much it pollutes the existence of our human experience. He encourages us to simply watch our thoughts, as you do when you are meditating. Watch them go by, witness them pass, and move along. He then wrote, “One day you may catch yourself smiling at the voice in your head, as you would smile at the antics of a child. This means that you no longer take the content of your mind all that seriously, as your sense of self does not depend on it.” I thought of laughter.
I think when we usually think about the concept of laughter, it’s something physical, happening around us — with friends, among people. Even from how it started — biologically — we know that it was originally for communication with people. I found this idea interesting, and it never occurred to me to laugh at the voice inside our heads. That we can be that friend of ours that has impeccable timing in a tough situation. We can be those ‘magic makers’ ourselves, amused by the workings of our own human experience. And I tell you, this helped me a lot. Because sometimes I’ll get in such a wild spiral of thoughts, a dark hole of antics, and all there’s left to do is laugh, smile, be amused at the ridiculous nature of my human mind.
I laugh because I’m a human being, having a human experience, and probably worrying about something that I cannot control.
We can laugh because our thoughts cannot control our beings. I think that’s all we can really do -- laugh, smile, shake our heads, and move along. Show some compassion for ourselves, remove the fear, soak up the laughter, and radiate joy.
So I hope you laugh today. I hope you laugh today because it’s physically good for your immune system, because it helps with stress. I hope you laugh today to put yourself at ease and connect with someone you love. And, I hope you laugh at yourself to stay present in this life. To understand, at a physical level, that it’s all good baby. It’s all just life. We can just laugh it off.
"I have a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell."
arxiv.org/abs/1010.5602: The Bonds of Laughter: A Multidisciplinary Inquiry into the Information Processes of Human Laughter
Fight stress with healthy habits infographic. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/fight-stress-with-healthy-habits-infographic#.VtB5i9j2bIU.
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Create joy and satisfaction. Mental Health America. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/create-joy-and-satisfaction.