How many times have we seen adults trying to make funny faces or talking in funny voices or playing peekaboo to hear the innocent giggle from babies? From when we are born we learn to laugh. The first laughter appears at about 3.5 to 4 months of age, long before we’re able to speak. It is a fact that laughter is a part of the human vocabulary unlike English or French which we need to learn to speak. Sadly enough, somewhere in the journey to adulthood, we unlearn how to laugh.
The Rat Race
There are many reasons we as adults attribute to justify this – from being politically correct to being too busy – or from social acceptance to depression – or even from being nutrition deficient to being afraid to laugh. While it is indeed funny to attribute reasons why not to laugh, are we aware that even rats laugh and not at jokes! Rats laugh when they play and the more they played, the more they laughed. And these happy and playful rats preferred to stay with happier and more playful ones.
For humans however, finding happiness in the rat race to success and discovering moments to laugh out loud seem to be the last piece on the agenda. Interestingly, serendipity, defined by Wikipedia is the effect by which one accidentally discovers something fortunate, while looking for something else entirely. Could this also be extended to joy and laughter?
A Beginner’s mind
Taking from the Buddhist concept of “beginner’s mind” - a baby is blessed with the ultimate beginner’s mind! Children have a built-in tendency to have fun with newly developed skills — both physical and mental. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that jazz musicians, recognised for their innovations in music, showed “dramatically reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex” when they were busy innovating new tunes and music. Surprisingly enough, this is the identical description of the prefrontal cortex found in babies. The researchers concluded that the jazz musicians were able to deactivate this part of their brain and then as they began thinking like babies they were able to invent new melodies.
Children begin to laugh more as their playful interactions increase. But, children don’t magically drop the laughing factor. In fact it stems from social and cultural behaviours. Adults laugh less than children, probably because they play less. And laughter is associated with play.
The Laughter Science
As adults we are so trapped in our things-to-do that our capability to live in the present vanishes. Unlike children who completely immerse themselves when they are playing and having fun, we as adults find reasons to not live life to the fullest. The capability to be in the present vanishes. But we can train ourselves to become present again. So what do we do to make us laugh? This make sound like a simple question, however, it has a deep association to human nature and social behavior.
Laughter expert Robert Provine, through his hours of recording conversations at public areas, offices and parties concluded that “most laughter did not follow what looked like jokes.” Provine suggested that “laughter is used to punctuate speech and is not random”. While the speaker laughed more than the audience, the most important finding was that laughter was most common in situations of emotional warmth and so-called 'in-groupness'. This strongly reflected in the co-relation between laughter and social behaviours. Perhaps the most important social feature of laughter is its contagious effect. Just listening to someone laugh is funny. :)
The simple answer to the question why we laugh is perhaps we laugh because we feel like laughing, because our brain makes us laugh and we want to fit in socially. While it is right to state that laughter evolved for social interaction and that laughter is controlled by the human brain, questions on its actually evolution and development across the lifespan remain unanswered.
Laughter as a medicine
There may be several reasons why adults are prescribed the laughing dose. The list of healthy reasons to laugh: laughter relaxes the whole body; Laughter boosts the immune system; Laughter triggers the release of endorphins; Laughter protects the heart; Laughter burns calories; Laughter lightens anger’s heavy load, and Laughter may even help you to live longer.
Laughter helps measure not just the health of people, but the relationships between them. Laughter stops distressing emotions; Laughter helps you relax and Laughter shifts perspectives.
Here is a simple laughter prescription:
Daily doses of Smile - Begin your day with a smile; Smiles can be contagious too.
Everyday Vitamin B+ - When you distance yourself from negative thoughts; you need to travel less towards happiness and laughter
Daily monitoring of What’s Funny – Move consciously towards laughter. When you hear people laugh, grab that opportunity and explore what’s funny!
A must have company of playful people- it lightens your day. And every comedian loves an audience!
A daily diet of humour is critical to your well-being. Ask yourself, the funniest thing that happened in the day, or in the week.
And if all this fails, on a lighter note, one of the best ways to LOL is to watch clips of people trying not to laugh in situations where laughter is highly inappropriate. Seriously….it’s time to Say Cheese.