Even if laughter can’t solve your problems, it can certainly lighten your load, Elana Millman writes.
Lately, I’ve noticed some of the themes on this site—and in life in general—have been really heavy and depressing. The economy is strained, many governments are on shaky ground, a lot of people are feeling desperate and hopeless. This time of year, everything looks dull, and I think it makes us all a little more cynical. But, here’s what I know: the only thing we can count on is change, and laughter is the best medicine.
Laughter is human and laughter is necessary . It is not a “man thing” or a “woman thing.” While some might argue that some styles of humor are funnier to one sex then the other, or that men are funnier than women, let’s stick to commonalities for the purpose of unification. Laughter is perhaps the universal language. It knows no cultural barriers. It’s a way for us to relate to one another regardless of background, class, ethnicity, or gender. We laugh authentically when we feel relaxed and at ease. When we are in danger, sometimes we use a nervous laugh as a way to self-soothe our bodies and assure ourselves that everything is OK.
Our basic human nature dictates that we all want to fit in and be loved; laughter is the key to making that happen. Laughter is contagious and social; that’s why it is much more fun to watch a comedy on the big screen with other people than alone on a small computer screen. When we are engulfed in a deep belly laugh, tears streaming down our faces, holding our sides in pain, it signifies positive interpersonal interactions and gives us a sense of belonging to a group. One of the sweetest joys in life is being around close friends and sharing a good laugh. Its nature’s Prozac.
Laughter serves as a primitive method of communication that predates even verbal communication. Envision our fur-clad ancestors sitting around the fire making scatological jokes and inappropriate gassy sounds when words were not available. The truth is some things remain funny regardless of time.
Laughter is so imperative to our well-being (mental, emotional, physical) that it serves a biological purpose. Studies report that people who regularly laugh have lower incidence of heart disease and depression. Laughter dilates the blood vessels and exercises the lungs. Humor stimulates all of our internal organs and reduces cortisol levels in the blood. In doing so, laughing lowers overall stress levels. And stress, by some reports, accounts for 99% of all diseases in the body. Who’s laughing now?
Some people have even taken laughter up as a spiritual exercise. Laughter yoga has exploded in popularity as a means to get to a higher state of consciousness. Started in India, laughter yoga combines uncontrollable laughter and yogic breathing. Now, 15 years later, it is commonplace to see laughter yoga in corporations and prisons, and even used with cancer patients as a way to boost their fragile immune systems.
Never is laughter more necessary than when you are in a tense moment with your primary partner. Studies have proved that interjecting humor at just the right moment will provide levity and love when we need it most. It breaks the tension to remind you and your partner of the deep connection you share. In fact, couples who can laugh while arguing tend to have closer and longer lasting relationships.
Once in India, I was humbled by a bunch of laughing lepers. That’s right, lepers. I befriended this group while staying in Dharmasala for a few weeks. One day, I innocently tried to cross the street as these people watched. Accidentally, I fell off a tall sidewalk, turned around in shock, and then dangerously skipped, jumped, and hopped across the small street, narrowly escaping death by rickshaw, cow, and taxi—all in a matter of seconds. I looked across the road to see all six lepers laughing and pointing at me. These people had been dealt difficult circumstances in life, but I was able to lighten their load, and that felt good. It also felt good to make it across the street without any injuries.
Laughter is cathartic. It’s miraculously remedial and it’s endlessly available.
Remember, Dante called his definitive work The Divine Comedy, not The Divine Tragedy. Perhaps we can all use some more light-heartedness in our lives to see that this experiment we call life is just one big joke on us.