Laughter – The Panacea For Happiness
Laughter – The Panacea For Happiness
June 19, 2013
Winston Wayne Wilson
The above quote about laughter is from a serious looking guy, William James, who was a Harvard educated philosopher and psychologist. The plaque in the picture is exactly what you will see when you walk into my home. It puts my guests on guard that if they cannot laugh then they are not welcome. Apparently, the biggest prank life has played on all of us is making laughter the doorway to happiness. By the way, laughter’s doorway to happiness is not surreptitious because it is brightly painted red, hence, we should not miss it. Nevertheless, we oftentimes do. This is ironic because, while laughter is free, unlimited and ubiquitous, there tends to be a shortage of it in our lives. Moreover, we’ve all fruitlessly spent a lot of money on therapy and medications, as well as tried to simply buy happiness, when maybe all we needed to do was laugh more.
Why is laughter so important? Well, we now know that laughter is the panacea for happiness and as Aristotle said, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” Laughter is to happiness what oil is to a lamp. If there is enough oil in the lamp then the lamp will keep burning. Similarly, if there is enough laughter in our lives, happiness will keep us alive and healthy. In many ways, laughter is also the highest expression of gratitude. An ungrateful person can barely laugh. Laughter is evidence that we are not distracted by ingratitude. When we are distracted by ingratitude, we cry, yell, scream, complain, compare ourselves to others, beg, steal, borrow and do everything except laugh.
Babies have life down pat – they will only cry if they are hungry, dirty or hurting. So, it’s all about feed me, clean me and stop my discomfort – other than that, it’s all about tickling them, playing peekaboo, throwing them up in the air, or anything else to make them laugh. Babies typically have a great sense of humor. As they grow older, sometimes the first thing to go is their sense of humor because we want them to take life “seriously”.
I’ve always been a class clown at heart; however, somewhere along my journey, I slid and fell and laughter slipped out of my satchel. Frazzled by the fall, I brushed myself off and hurried along my way, not noticing that laughter was left behind. During the years that followed, there was a palpable void but I could not pinpoint exactly what was missing. One day, I went into the Pier One Store at the corner of 15th Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan and I saw the plaque in the picture. Instantly, I had a “ding, ding, ding, ding” moment. “Laughter, that’s what’s missing!”, I proclaimed to myself. I picked up the plaque and hurried to the cashier. I got home and hung it on the wall. That evening, laughter and I had a blissful reunion. It was as if we never parted. I reconnected with my inner clown and made a vow to never let a day go by where I do not share a laugh with laughter. One of my greatest accomplishments in life is that, since that day, I have kept my vow. My reward has been an endless stream of happiness. Not “every-second-of-the-day-happiness” but enough happiness to fill the space that I dwell in with positive energy. I spoke to a college friend yesterday and, beyond my saying “Hello”, just about everything else was sheer comedy. I cracked one joke after another like I was cracking eggs for a giant omelette. She said, “My God! Nothing has changed.” I was like “Awesome!” To know that my class clown was still alive and kicking was incredibly validating.
So, yes, laughter is the panacea for happiness. One of the biggest differences between our lives at the bottom of the well and the top of the mountain is laughter. Laughter is not just the leading indicator for happiness it is also truly the best medicine. A doctor, however, cannot prescribe laughter. Only we can prescribe laughter and infuse happiness into our lives. As the quote suggests, happiness is merely a cart. The horse power comes from laughter. Hence, if you are waiting to be happy before you eke out a smile or burst into laughter, you will be waiting for a very long time. We must deliberately invite laughter into our lives; otherwise, we will not be happy. What that means is that if you have nothing to laugh about then you must aggressively hunt for something to laugh about – kind of like the way you would hunt for anti-venom if you got bitten by an Australian Inland Taipan, the most venomous land snake in the world. Well guess what? Life can be like a venomous Inland Taipan and, without laughter in our first aid kits, the poison will slowly penetrate our veins until we are no more.
Gelotology is the study of laughter from a psychological and physiological perspective. Laughter, unlike most of our other emotions, is produced from the collaborative efforts of several parts of the brain and it involves almost the entire body. Some Gelotologists believe that laughter has many health benefits, ranging from lowering our blood pressure and reducing our chances of heart attacks to increasing our intelligence and our ability to process and retain information. It is no secret that stress causes many of our illnesses. Sometimes we can take our jobs too seriously and we place elephant-sized pressure on ourselves. The cynical side of me would say that if your job does not involve separating Siamese twins, then it cannot be that serious. However, I understand that our jobs are like sacred cows because they represent our livelihoods and we want to preserve them. That said, when there is nothing lively about your livelihood you might risk losing it anyway to poor health and stress. The anti-depressant market is around $12 billion dollars, which means that there are a lot of people who are not laughing enough and are being affected by severe stress and emotional trauma. We are all different, but I do believe that laughter is a preventive medicine. I also believe that the presence of laughter in our lives will help our minds and bodies to be healthier.
This past Monday, a friend of mine sent me information about a documentary entitled “Happy”. In the documentary, there is a theory that 50% of your happiness is based on your genetic disposition and the other 50% is based on your mindset (outlook on life) as well as the level of your compassion for others, the presence of loving friends and family, and your ability to bounce back from adversity. All of this makes sense but I think laughter should have been mentioned somewhere in there.
You might think, “Oh Winston, there you go being silly and philosophical again. How can you laugh when you have no job? Surely, laughter cannot get you a job.” Well, two things to that thought. First, the primary purpose of laughter is not to get you a job or to fix your problems per se. The purpose of laughter is to maintain happiness in your life and to save you from falling prey to stress and depression. Second, the latent benefit of being in a happy state is that you become more attractive to people, including potential employers. So, if you look like a ton of grief is sitting on your face during an interview, the interviewer might not perceive you as being a good fit. I am not saying you need to go around being a giggling buffoon. Just smile more, perhaps. That’s it.
Every now and again, during my morning commute, I see a guy listening and disco-dancing to music on his IPhone before he gets on the train, during the train ride and after he gets off the train. He never sits down while he is on the train. He always stands in the vestibule so he can break out into dance while he eats his breakfast. One time, I saw him do a funky twirl as he popped a hard-boiled egg into his mouth. On occasion, he would mutter a few of the lyrics to the song he was listening to and released a quick chuckle. The first time I saw his theatrics I thought to myself, “This dude is seriously coo-coo. How can anyone be on acid so early in the morning?” After seeing him several times after that, I realized that there was nothing wrong with this guy. He was just getting his joy on and to hell with the rest of us. Good for him.
The funny thing is that, as odd as his antics might have seemed, he made me smile and I could see other people smiling too. Sometimes, I even let out a little laugh of my own, not at him but with him. This fella and his music, even though we could not quite hear it, lightened up the area in which he was indulging in his joyous moment. In the book, “If I Get To Five”, which I have shared in a previous article, Dr. Fred Epstein talks about how music was used to enhance the lives of the kids who had brain tumors. Music would make the kids smile, laugh, dance and forget about their pain. He shares the following quote about the power of music from one of the hospital’s resident musicians: “On a level of physics, music actually moves the air in the room; our bodies receive and perceive music's movement. Sometimes silence can be so painful, so still. Music helps circulate the emotions in a room – and a person's heart.” I believe laughter does precisely the same thing. I was driving home yesterday and this song we used to sing in Sunday school popped into my head and I sang it all the way home:
Smile awhile and give your face a rest.
Raise your hands to the one you love the best.
Then shake hands with those nearby,
and greet them with a smile.
It was hard not to grin from ear to ear for the rest of the evening when I got home and, of course, here I am today writing about smiling and laughing.
My challenge for you today is simply to make yourself laugh. Whatever brings you sadness find something funny about it and laugh it off. If your inner nay-saying curmudgeon says, “Don’t be silly! This is no laughing matter.” Say, “Sure it is!” and laugh anyway. Remember, laughter is free so grab a lot of it. Enjoy your day.